Flower Poetry Fridays: Flowers

Welcome to the first Flower Poetry Fridays with Mrs. Sigourney. I’ll be posting a new poem each week from her The Voice Of Flowers.

FLOWERS.

Beautiful day lilies found by the wayside.
Beautiful day lilies found by the wayside.

SWEET playmates of life’s earliest hours !
They ne’er upbraid the child,
Who, in the wantonness of mirth,
Uproots them on the wild ;
And when the botanist, his shaft,
With cruel skill, doth ply,
Reproachless ‘neath the fatal wound,
Martyrs to science die.

Wreathed brightly mid the locks of youth,
They come to beauty’s aid,
And in this ministry of love
All unreluctant fade ;
To grace the bridal and the feast,
From sun and shower, they bring
Such robes of glorious tint, as sham’d
Judea’s gorgeous king.

And when the fallen meet the scorn
Of man’s disdainful eye,
They smile amid his path of thorn
With sweet and pitying sigh ;
And to the brow of guilt and care,
The heart by anguish riven,
Still point, with angel-finger, where
The sinner is forgiven.

They shrink not in our ghastly shroud
Their sad abode to take,
And keep their vigil o’er the tomb,
When all beside forsake ;
Down in their own dark sleep of death
They sink at wintry hour,
But in new glory rise to show
The soul’s immortal dower.

Oh ! sharers in our time of joy,
And weepers in our woe,
We bless ye, –children of the sky,
That by the wayside grow ;
That to the cottage eaves go up,
Or wreathe the courtly hall,
Still, like the Power who call’d ye forth,
Dispensing love to all.

Children pick flowers and botanists study them. We use their bright colors to adorn people and things. Flowers touch our lives at many turns, at both happy and sad events like weddings and funerals.

More than having an appreciation of flowers, the underlying message in the poem, “Flowers”, is about expressing that appreciation and delighting in it whenever we experience flowers playing important roles in our lives.

Come back next Friday for the next installment in our series of flower poems from Mrs. Sigourney’s The Voice of Flowers, “The Winter Hyacinth”.

Mrs. Sigourney’s The Voice of Flowers Slated for Fridays

The first month of Winter has given us some really cold temperatures and a bit of snow to appreciate looking out from our windows.

Spring seems far away right about now, but we can still use our words and photos to appreciate wildflowers.

To keep up in the spirit of searching for wild herbs and wild flowers, each Friday we’ll publish an excerpt from the classic book, The Voice of Flowers by Mrs. L. H. Sigourney.

The Voice of Flowers 7th. ed. 1848
The Voice of Flowers 1848

The Voice of Flowers was first published in 1845 and I’m lucky enough to have in my possession a small, 4.5 by 3 inches, hard-bound book that was my great-great-grandfather’s. It’s the 7th edition published in 1848 by H. S. Parsons and Co., Hartford, Connecticut.

The Index gives title to 43 poems written by Mrs. Sigourney in the pre-Civil War era. In the 1840s vast changes were happening in America. The Mexican-American war gave control of Texas and parts of California, Arizona and New Mexico to the United States. Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa were admitted as States of the Union. The borders between Canada and the U.S. were decided. The California Gold Rush began and wagon trains headed West.

During this time of radical change some Americans stayed in the East and put down their roots. Mrs. Sigourney, (Lydia Huntley Sigourney September 1, 1791 – June 10, 1865), was born and lived in Connecticut.

Lydia Sigourney c. 1860

She wrote poetry at first for pleasure and later her writing became an occupation. Her writings touch on the way a lady of the Victorian times should act and present herself and she wrote scores of books and hundreds of articles.

Mrs. Sigourney’s The Voice of Flowers probably stems from the times she found herself in. During the Victorian Era women were to be seen and not heard, instead fulfilling roles as the help-meet for their man.

Real gender specific.

Society dictated that a woman’s place was in the home and part of making a nice home was to have beautiful gardens and to grow flowers for bouquets and nose-gays. Mrs. Sigourney shares her flower appreciation with us in her little book of poems.

Alas, we’ll keep looking toward Spring and we look forward to our Flower Poetry Fridays with Mrs. Sigourney. I’ll be posting a new poem each week from her The Voice Of Flowers.

Dreaming of the Beauty of Spring

Cold, dark days of winter let us see straight through the trees of the forest to that grove of hemlocks on the south side of the property. A small group of 6-7 white-tailed deer bed down in there on most days.

From our higher vantage point in the house we see them going to and from the hemlock area in the early morning hours and near dusk. Once the trees leaf-in in Spring, we won’t be able to view this area from on top the hill.

During December and the Holiday Season we had evergreens and pines to appreciate in the form of wreaths and Christmas trees and boughs on the window sills.

For the last couple of months the action in the field has been harvesting of planted crops like corn, soy and sunflowers. Also, hunting of turkey, bear and deer.

Outdoors there’s nothing blooming now. Most of us who seek the company of our little green friends go inside and appreciate our houseplants.

Christmas cactus blooming in bright pink.
Christmas cactus blooming in bright pink.

Other plant appreciation we get through eating the foods that we’ve canned or preserved from the garden, like salsa and tomatoes.

Right now the garden has baby lettuce about 3 inches tall that we’ll protect over the winter for an early start in Spring next year. Only an old sheet will cover these plants even in the coldest of Winter.

In the next couple of months we’ll dream by the fire of new flowers to seek out on walks in the woods and we’ll pour over seed catalogs to help us design the gardens for next year. Until then we can only dream of Spring and the beauty it brings.

Surprise Blooming of Stevia in the Garden

In the middle of November we experienced some low temperatures in the mid-20s. I was surprised that the Stevia plant in the vegetable garden didn’t appear to be bothered.

Even though it was covered with a sheet on colds nights just like the lettuce to protect it from frost, I was even more surprised when it actually bloomed!

Stevia flowers in clusters of five blossoms with five petals.
Stevia flowers in clusters of five blossoms with five petals.

At this late date I thought this sweet herb plant would be toast. Didn’t even consider that it would actually bloom as it’s native to semi-tropical Paraguay. Stevia is a Zone 11 plant so I’m quite surprised that it hadn’t yet withered in the cold temperatures we were experiencing in Central Pennsylvania in Zone 5-6.

Since about July the garden and grounds around here were pretty much neglected. The lawn wasn’t mowed, no weed-whacking was done, weeds grew everywhere and tomato plants weren’t lashed to their stakes like they should have been.

A couple of injuries kept me on the sidelines so about all I could do was pick a few cucumbers or tomatoes for my lunchtime salads and grimace at how unkempt everything looked.

One of the plants left to fend for itself in my absence was the single Stevia plant in the garden. It fell to one side but continued growing as best it could with the side branches now reaching for the sky.

Stevia side branch with many small white blooms.
Stevia side branch with many small white blooms.

I was totally surprised to see small white flowers blooming where small flower buds were at the tips of the side branches a couple of weeks before. The whole plant probably should have been harvested then, but I wanted to see what the flowers looked like.

Flower buds at the tips of side branches of the <em>Stevia</em> plant.
Flower buds at the tips of side branches of the Stevia plant.
Flowering Stevia
Flowering Stevia

Do the leaves taste just as sweet as they did a month ago? Yes! the plant was pulled out of the ground on 16th of Nov and hung upside down in the garage where it’s cool, yet doesn’t freeze. Leaves that weren’t damaged or look too dirty were cut or pinched off the plant and kept in a brown bag for storage in the pantry. We’ll brew them with some tea to lend a little sweetness naturally.

I’m curious how anyone else uses this plant from the garden. Sure, you can buy Stevia products from your local grocery store, but who else uses it in leaf form? Leave a comment below so we all can learn more about this interesting plant.

How To Plant and Grow Ground Cherries

Ground cherries make an excellent addition to most any garden. Especially those who have young children for visitors. Kids, even us big ones, love these sweet little fruits!

The care and planting of ground cherries is straightforward. At its easiest, plunk some seeds in the ground, make sure they’re watered, watch ‘em grow and enjoy eating them right off the ground in late summer. Read on for a few more specifics….

Planting Ground Cherries

Prepare a large container or space in the garden with organically amended soil, which is soil that has compost, rotted straw or peat moss added to it. As the summer months wear on nutrients in the organic material will become available to the plants. An alternative is to use expensive commercial fertilizers that can be purchased in any garden center. Familiar brands are Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food and Jacks Classic All Purpose Fertilizer (which used to be called Peters All Purpose fertilizer).

Plant the small ground cherry seeds about one-quarter inch deep. Cover loosely with soil and press down with your hand. Water the soil after planting and then not until after the plants germinate.

For northern climates, Zones lower than 7, start the seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the frost-free date for your area. Southern climates with higher zones have longer summers and more time in the heat to grow up these heat-loving plants, so the northern growers will want to give their ground cherries a head start. If you don’t know your growing zone, check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

As a point of reference we’re located in Zone 6b. Every year we have volunteers that germinate on their own in the garden and grow to provide fruit in the late summer and early fall. When we’ve planted seedlings a couple of weeks after the frost-free date, we’ve had an earlier crop and definitely a larger crop than what we’d get from the volunteers. Therefore, in cooler climates its suggested to start plants indoors to assure a decent crop.

It will take two weeks for germination, but make sure your growing area is warm. These plants like it hot, so the top of the refrigerator or radiator make nice warm places to start them. Germination will take longer and the plant growth will be spindly if it’s not warm enough.

We’ve been able to find ground cherry plants in early spring at a locally-owned greenhouse, but haven’t yet spied them in any chain-store type garden center. Get your ground cherry seeds from wildeherb and try starting them yourself.

Growing the Yellow Husk Tomatoes, a.k.a. Ground Cherries

Kind of like tomato plants, these husk tomatoes will spread out given the chance. It’s a matter of preference whether you stake them or not. If not, be prepared for them to sprawl and take up some room. If planted in containers definitely provide a trellis of some sort.

Harden off seedlings before transplanting them into the garden by placing them in a garage or other protected area before putting them outside. Wait to plant them until the ground has warmed up.

Plant seedlings about 2 feet apart in the garden. They can be spaced about a foot apart when trellising them. Make a hole, water the hole, put in the plant so its roots are deeply covered, pack the soil around the roots firmly and water again. Plant in full sun.

Ground cherries are like tomato plants as the parts of the stem that are covered by soil will root. This means that you can plant the seedlings deeply and you should so do especially when the seedlings are leggy or spindly. Planting them deeply will give the plants that much extra support and allow more roots to develop which helps them grow well.

Water a lot when really hot outside and give them an inch of water each week for sure. Keep containers watered but don’t let sit in water. Use foliage as a key as to the need for water. If drooping, get the watering can!

Fertilizing isn’t necessary if there is a lot of organic material in your soil. For pots, use a fertilizer like Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food or Jacks Classic All Purpose Fertilizer according to the package directions.

Harvesting Yummy Ground Cherries

The only thing to do for harvesting these tasty fruits is to have patience. You need to wait for the fruit to drop off the vine and then you need to wait a little longer if the fruits are still green.

The fruit must be yellow to eat. The more golden the sweeter! Peel back the papery husk and enjoy. Pluck the fruit from the husk if you’re gathering a quantity to make a sauce, jam or pie.

This is the only fruit I know of where you can just drop it back on the ground to ripen some more if it’s not ready to eat!

You can gather husk tomatoes off the ground and bring them inside to ripen to a golden yellow. The harvest can begin about 70 days from the time the seedlings are transplanted.

Take notice to the squirrels around the garden. We’ve seen them come take the fruits, so just beware that you may have to chase them off. Squirrels don’t seem to come to the garden in hoards for the ground cherries like they might for sunflower seeds at a bird feeder, but let us know if you have any trouble with them in the comments below.

Geranium-like Yard Weed Pretty in Pink

This little hot pink weed drew my attention as I was weeding the herb patch.

It looks like a miniature Wild Geranium which blooms in late Spring, but this plant grows its vegetation in the summer and blooms a few months after the wild geraniums are done blooming for the year.

Hot Pink Geranium
Hot Pink Geranium

It is a geranium for sure, take a look at the simple flower construction and the long “beaked” seedpod at the top left.

How to find out which geranium, you ask? Of course the Internet can be your friend in seeking answers to all your questions, but sometimes an old-fashioned book is worth its weight in gold.

Try flipping through the color sections of Peterson’s Wildflower Field Guide to find a similar-looking drawing and read the specifics about your look-a-like plant. Match up the flower and leaf descriptions and you’re good to go!

Another great book to use for flowering plant identification is Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. It uses a key system to identify our pretty flowering friends. Decide if the flower construction is simple or irregular. If simple, how many repeating parts are there? In this case each flower has “5” pink petals. Answer similar questions to identify the plant type and leaf type and Newcomb will lead you to your flower.

If it’s a flower I’ve seen before and just can’t remember the name, I’ll flip through Peterson’s guide and usually find it quickly. Sometimes Newcomb’s guide can help you find a new plant faster, especially if it’s a flowering vine or shrub. Each book has their strengths and both are invaluable in the field, so take one along on your next wildflower walk.

Blooming Anise Hyssop Attracts Bees and Butterflies

Anise Hyssop or Giant Blue Hyssop has been blooming at the edge of our garden for a couple of weeks now.

This purple-flowering plant is native to the American plains, but we have found out that it grows quite well in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania.

The blooms are pretty spikes of purple that grow longer as the plant blooms for a few weeks time. That’s a nice thing about anise hyssop in that the blooms are long lasting.

Anise Hyssop in full bloom will attract bees and butterflies.
Anise Hyssop in full bloom will attract bees and butterflies.

Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers like crazy. Standing near the hyssop one can hear the buzzing of the bees that visit constantly. We’ve seen several kinds of butterflies and hummingbirds visit the blossoms as well.

The leaves smell of anise and can be used to make a tasty tea that is sweet enough to not require sugar or honey!

All-in-all Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, is one nice garden plant because it attracts pollinators, provides beautiful flowers to look at and leaves for tea, and it’s a perennial too!

Joe Pye Weed and Loosestrife Purple Along the Roadside

Several purple flowering plants can be seen along most country roads that haven’t recently been mowed.

Most notable among these pretty flowering weeds are the tall Joe Pye Weed and Purple Loosestrife.

Joe Pye Weed can reach more than 6 feet tall while Purple Loosestrife tops out at 4-5 feet tall.

The flowers of Purple Loosestrife are held in spikes with a vertical look to them, while the purple flowers of Joe Pye Weed are more like rounded clusters. The purple color is similar between the two plants.

Joe Pye Weed (left) and Purple Loosestrife (right) flowering along a country road.
Joe Pye Weed (left) and Purple Loosestrife (right) flowering along a country road.

Other purple flowering weeds are yet to make their presence known, including New York Iron Weed and New England Aster. Look for them to start flowering at the end of the month and well into September.