Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!

"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties,
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!"
Old Cornish Prayer

Since the earliest times, the evening of October 31 has been considered a scary time, when the dead walk among us and the witches are particularly powerful. So, I thought it would be interesting to research some of the old superstitions about Halloween or All Hallows E'en. Read them if you dare.

Keep Fires Lit: In earlier times, bonfires were lit on hilltops to drive off witches: and on no account were household fires allowed to go out that night, or evil things might gain an entry. Incidentally, if your fire flame turns blue, it's said that an other-worldly being has entered the room. Consider yourself warned.

Don’t Turn Around: If you’re walking on Halloween and hear footsteps right behind you – don’t turn around. You might find yourself staring Death in the face. And who wants that?

Meet a Witch: Wear your clothes inside out and walk backwards on Halloween night. It's a sure way to run into a witch ... or at least an angry "trick or treater."

Predict Future Spouse: Eager to know the identity of your next love? Tonight is the perfect time. Here's what you do: Go in a darkened room with a candle and step up to the mirror. Look in the mirror, eat the apple and comb your hair ... all at the same time. Supposedly, the face of your next loved one – or the devil – will appear over your shoulder.

Most Importantly: Have fun, stay safe and don’t eat too many sweets.

Select resources:
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore
The Oxford Book of Days

Monday, October 26, 2009

The City of Trees Gets Colorful in Fall

One of the best places to see fall foliage in the United States may be in a place you wouldn't expect: Boise, Idaho ... also known as the City of Trees.

To give you a peek, I drove or hiked around Boise shooting pictures using only my iPhone as a camera.

Julia Davis Park in downtown Boise is a riot of colors now. Canada geese congregate down by the pond, preparing for the winter.

I hung out the window at a stoplight to capture these pink roses and colorful trees near downtown Boise. The car's rearview mirror is in the bottom right of the picture.

This colorful autumnal scene in the North End of Boise was snapped from a stop sign, on my way home from a hike. It was so pretty I couldn't resist.

Just outside the city, this scenic road passes by turning trees, rolling hills and horse farms.

A splendid tree stands in the afternoon's golden light in Hulls Gulch Reserve, which offers 218 acres covered with hiking and biking trails.

Sages, shrubs and deciduous trees prove that Idaho's drought-tolerant, native plants can be stunning in this season.

Don't those autumnal colors and textures lift your spirits? There's nothing like passing by these colorful native plants while taking a hike in the foothills.


Along one of Boise's foothill trails, this jungle of flowering sage provides an aromatic and visual treat.

Speaking of foothills, here's the summit of Table Rock. The trailhead starts about a ten minute drive from downtown and offers great views, not to mention wildflowers like rabbitbrush.

Now if I can take these photos using an iPhone, hanging out the car window and such, you can just imagine how lovely these scenes would look with a real camera.

When it comes to fall foliage, Boise really does compete well with the big boys.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Chat with the Idaho Gardener

Mary Ann Newcomer, The Idaho Gardener

Here's a Little Confession: I was trained as a Master Gardener in Idaho, but as a newcomer to these growing conditions, I still have plenty to learn about gardening here. That's why I was delighted to chat with another Newcomer recently . . . Mary Ann Newcomer, to be exact.

Best known as The Idaho Gardener, Mary Ann is a third-generation Idahoan who really knows her state. Alongside her popular blog - - she writes a monthly online gardening column for Mary Jane Butter's Farmgirl Connection Newsletter. She's also called "Dirt Diva" on Boise's River Radio Station (94.9 FM), where she dishes out gardening tips and humor regularly.

Mary Ann is a self-described "plant geek," who is trained as a Master Gardener and Advanced Master Gardener in Idaho. But she says her greatest accomplishments are the demonstration gardens she helped create for Idaho Botanical Garden. Here's what else she had to say during our chat.

Question: What demonstration gardens are you helping create at Idaho Botanical Garden?

Answer: In the late 1990s, I had the pleasure of overseeing the installation of the Contemporary English Garden. Boise's growing conditions are very different from England's. So, it was an interesting challenge to research and select plant varieties, which provided the look and feel of an English garden, yet were better suited to our arid climate.

The last few seasons, I've worked with Ann DeBolt and Tim Zofran from the Idaho Botanical Garden to create the Lewis and Clark demonstration garden. It's a gorgeous garden, if I do say so myself. Here we're using Idaho native plants and their cousins to show how these low-maintenance plants can be combined to create sustainable, colorful gardens in the home.

Question: As a third-generation Idahoan, what common gardening mistakes do you often see newcomers make?

Answer: People new to this area often want to plant their sentimental favorities, like rhodies, fuschias, aspen and weeping white birch. Sadly, this arid climate with its intense light and alkaline soil conditions are not always what they are used to in their gardens.

Question: What makes gardening in Boise challenging? What makes it rewarding?

Answer: A lack of water and lean soils are some of the biggest challenges we face in Boise. Creating lush-looking gardens in spite of the high desert environment is my biggest reward.

Fortunately, we're located in Idaho's banana belt. (Boise is UDSA Hardiness Zone 6.) So, our winters aren't as severe as in other areas of the state. Also, we can grow wonderful fruit trees in our valley. I've espaliered apple and pear trees in my garden, which provide delicious fruit in the fall.

Question: What are some of the biggest surprises people tend to have about gardening in Boise?

Answer: Well, the main surprises are often the negative ones. For example, pastels don't work well here, unless you live in the older parts of the town where there are more trees. In the foothills and open valleys, our bright harsh light calls for more bold colors in the garden. We have such low humidity, it causes great stress on plants not acclimated to this region.

Question: What's the best advice for starting a garden in Idaho?

Answer: Get a soil test. No really, I mean it. Learn how to work with the Idaho environment, not against it. That's the best way to create a stunning garden here. Know the lay of the land.

Question: Anything else you'd like to add?

Answer: Even if you don't like playing in the dirt, Boise still offers plenty of ways to get outside. Hang out at the Idaho Botanical Garden and listen to live music in the summer, or experience the garden decorated with thousands of lights in the dead of winter. Check out our city parks too. They are truly some of Idaho's gems.

Learn More:
Mary Ann's blog -
Mary Ann on Twitter - @idahogardener
Idaho Botanical Garden -

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Going Native - North Carolina Style

The North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill knows plenty about going native. In fact, this 600-acre botanical garden is all about helping the public better understand and appreciate native plants. As you can see from the praying mantis above, the beneficial insects feel quite at home here too.

The conservation garden is affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and features 2,500 of the 4,700 native or naturalized plant species known to grow in North and South Carolina. Not to mention herbs and other plants from around the globe.

Recently, I had the good fortune to see several of these native plants myself during the Garden Writers Association 2009 symposium.

The garden's trails travel through various natural habitats. Above Coreopsis gladiata (aka coastal plain tickseed) mingles beautifully with Euonymus americanus to create a stunning late-September scene.

Euonymus americanus can be found in forests throughout the southeastern United States. Other names for this pretty perennial include 'strawberry bush' and 'hearts-bustin'-with-love.' Incidentally, I called upon Helen Yoest of Gardening with Confidence for help in identifying this eyecatching plant.

One of my personal favorites was the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), which has the most luscious purple berries. The long-lasting berries are an important food source for many birds, as well as foxes, racoons and white-tailed deer. I particularly liked the way the shrub was pruned to grow up this trellace by the lily pond, which is home to colorful Koi fish. It's a great example of how native plants can fit easily into different home garden settings.

More than 40 pieces of sculptures by 24 artists are scattered around as part of the garden's 21st annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibit, on display until Nov. 15.  This spiral sculpture is named "Mandala of the Earth and Sky," and was created by Frank Holder.

Watch out bugs! This pitcherplant has tubular leaves that snatch up insects, making it a very effective bug catcher as well as a lovely addition to your garden. You'll find plenty of unusual plants here. In fact, the North Carolina Botanical Garden has one of the best carnivorous plant collections in the Southeast.

Nestled among the rare plants are a number of stunning cacti, which just happened to be blooming during our visit. Aren't those flowers a heavenly pink?

Sculptures. Native and rare plants. Well-shaded walking trails. The North Carolina Botanical Garden has a little something for everyone and it's definitely worth a visit. Best of all, it's open year round. So, if you're in the Raleigh-Durham area, take some time to go native. You'll be glad you did.

Learn more about the North Carolina Botanical Garden.