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The heat is on

August 22, 2014

I was grateful that I had a day of office work scheduled. It was too hot to even walk to the car today. When I got home, my weather station said it was 96 with a heat index of 108!  Even with the sprinkler system running, I have some wilting plants in full sun. The sesame seeds look a bit overwhelmed by it all, but by morning, they are usually perked back up. They are tall plants and the soil where they are growing is not the deepest or best.  Water is the buzzword these days.  Don’t even forget one day if you have containers in the sun, because it is hot and dry.

They say more of the same for the weekend, so if you do have some yard work planned, you better hit it early in the morning.

Here are the answers to the mystery plants for the week:

Mystery plant A – mystery plant a.aug18.23is a tropical plant called variegated tapioca plant or Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’  (MAN-ee-hot es-kew-LEN-tuh).  It is reportedly hardy in zone 8, but if you want it to come back for sure, I would move it into a protected spot for the winter or take stem cuttings before it freezes.  In a frost free area, these can become small trees, growing 20 feet or more.  The more common one in production is solid green, but both the green and the variegated plant have the red stems.  It is also called cassava and is a staple in many parts of the world.  Cassava meal and tapioca are made by grinding the roots in water and then evaporating off the liquid which includes the cyanide compounds. Products made from the cassava root include yuca, tapioca pudding, farinha, starch, soaps, glue, sugar, alcoholic drinks, acetone and cyanide. All parts of the cassava plant are poisonous and must be processed by peeling, pressing or cooking before eating.  I am growing it as an ornamental. It was very slow to start growing this summer but now it is doing nicely.  The new leaves have more yellow to them, but as they age they turn white in the center.  It is a drought tolerant plant for full sun to partial shade.

Mystery plant B – mystery plant a.aug18.05is actually a repeat from last year.  This is the Harlequin tree or Clerodendron trichotomum (kleer-oh-DEN-drawn trick-oh-TOE-mum).  This non-native plant is a small tree or a large shrub.  This time of year it is covered in these star shaped flowers which have a wonderful jasmine type scent.  Following the bloom, the resulting fruits are pink and blue–quite stunning.  It grows in full sun.  The downside to the plant is that it spreads quite readily.  I  share suckering plants with friends all the time and it produces even more.  I was warned about this when I got it from a MG in El Dorado, but I really like the plant–it just needs a bit of maintenance.  This might work well in a large container. It had no winter damage at all even last winter.  It is supposedly hardy through zone 6.

Mystery plant C – mystery plant a.aug18.15

is a native small tree called a sweetbay magnolia – Magnolia virginiana.  It grows well in filtered sunlight and is semi-evergreen, losing most of its leaves each winter in central Arkansas.  The plant has a narrower growth habit than other magnolias and has sweet scented flowers in late spring.  The resulting fruits pop open to expose these bright red seeds.  It can be grown from seeds or cuttings.

Great job!

The challenges of the MG program

August 21, 2014

I have said it before, and I will say it again, I think the Arkansas Master Gardener program is the best in the country, if not the world!  We have dedicated volunteers who consistently go above and beyond what we ask for.  But I also think we have challenges.  The larger we get, the harder it will become to have that personal touch.  I can tell you I do not know the name of every Master Gardener in Arkansas, but I wish I did. I daresay very few members (if any) know by name every member in their county- especially in a large county program.  The larger we get –over 3,000 active members, the harder it will be to stay connected to each other.  The mentoring program is one answer, but it is a challenge, especially for larger programs to keep the human connection alive and well.

Today I spoke to the Garland County Master Gardeners –one of the original 4 county training groups and definitely in the top 10 programs in Arkansas.  They have a great group of volunteers, led by a dedicated group of volunteer officers and a great county agent.  They had excellent attendance at their monthly meeting and the organization and commitment I have seen is amazing. One thing I cautioned them about today is that the larger they get the more the mentoring program gains in importance. Huge programs can be daunting to new trainees, who may not have the connection with other members. Making sure everyone feels included can be a difficult task, but I know our volunteers are up to the challenge–that is why they are gardeners.  Working together with a like minded goal, with a diverse background of life experiences is what makes us strong.  I cannot begin to say what a thrill it has been for me to lead such a great group of volunteers!  Thank you Master Gardeners!

garland co mg meeting aug21.14 (2) garland co mg meeting aug21.14 (4) garland co mg meeting aug21.14 (6)In addition to mentoring programs within counties, I would like to see county to county mentoring occurring to help with solutions.  They had sign up sheets before and after the meeting for various events, in addition to door prizes and more. If you live in a neighboring county, it might be good to go visit and see how others do things. They had pumpkins and gourds for sale at the end of the meeting that a few members had picked in scouting for upcoming events.

garland co mg meeting aug21.14 (7) garland co mg meeting aug21.14 (9)There was a whole lot of connecting and learning going on at this meeting, and I think everyone was glad they had an excuse to be inside instead of in their gardens!

It is August in Arkansas

August 19, 2014

I think you could have fried an egg on the sidewalk today–it was hot, and it was humid! My weather station says it is still 88 degrees and our high today at least felt like 99 degrees.  It was HOT!  I wrote a few columns today and got organized before heading to Jacksonville for an annual gardening program at the Jacksonville Library. I normally arrive a good 3o minutes or more in advance, but time slipped away from me and I walked in a shy 15 minutes before I was supposed to speak. Although she didn’t say it, I think there was a bit of panic that I wasn’t coming. The room was already half full when I arrived, but they had to pull in more chairs before we started, and kept pulling chairs. It was a really nice audience and my hour talk turned into 1 1/2 hours plus with questions even after I was done.  They do a great job in promotion and really try to offer something to their patrons at the library. It is also an excellent facility.

jacksonville library aug19.141Questions ran the gamut from ornamentals to fruits, vegetables, pruning, tropicals and more.  I think if we hadn’t cut it off, we might still be there talking gardening.  I had several plant samples to look at before and after and this bug sample. I have been out of the loop and have not heard the news report surrounding the kissing bug and disease–one lady brought a sample and asked if it was a kissing bug and I had no clue. There is a disease known as  Chagas disease which is spread by the “kissing bug” or triatomines, living in Latin America.  According to USA Today “Kissing bugs are blood feeders and are sometimes vectors of Chagas’ disease, known to occur in Mexico to South America. All species of kissing bugs may harbor the pathogen, Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of this disease. Transmission of the pathogen is through the kissing bug feces that is deposited near the feeding sight and later rubbed into the itchy wound site by the victim.” I took the sample into our entomologist and got a longer explanation than I bargained for. 

assassin bug aug18.14.1He has recently done a tv and radio spot about kissing bugs so he was well versed on the subject. This is NOT a kissing bug but an assassin bug which feeds on other bugs, so is beneficial.  We do not have the bad kissing bugs in Arkansas.  I took this good bug and released it back into our garden at the office.

Here is the real kissing bug via the internet and the University of Arizona:


I had a little time to write some more and then it was time for the Arkansas Flower & Garden Show board meeting.  We are on target for a great event in February with discussion on speakers, move in time for gardens, websites, sponsors and more.

Then this evening we went with friends to the Oyster Bar to hear Tales from the South.  It was our first experience and what a treat it was.  Tales from the South started 9 years ago and airs on KUAR FM 89.1 every Thursday at 7 p.m.  Tonight’s show was taped, but sometimes they are recorded live. They are bringing back the art of storytelling.  All the stories are true and told by the Southerners who lived them.  The warm-up act while we ate dinner was a local band called the Salty Dogs, and then it was on to the main event. Tonight the storyteller was part of the southern athletes series.  Master Bao Ngo, currently a martial arts and volleyball instructor from Nashville, Tennessee shared his story of leaving Vietnam at the age of 13 and escaping with his family on a small boat, left adrift for five days with limited water and food and finally being rescued, moving on to a refugee camp and finally to Gainesville, Florida, where he went on to college and a successful career.  After his story, he took questions from the audience and he answered them all with grace and humor.  A most enjoyable evening. To find out more about Tales from the South, here is a link to their website:

tales of the south aug 18.14.1 tales of the south aug 18.14.3 tales of the south aug 18.14.5Master Ngo is the man in the first photo with dark hair wearing the checked shirt.  If you have the opportunity, I would encourage you to go to one.



Many hands make light work and a promise of rain

August 18, 2014

The skies darkened yesterday and the winds blew and the thunder rumbled, but no rain materialized.  This morning, I drove in rain all the way to Garvan Gardens for our final landscape class (and the first day of school).  rain

Traffic was definitely worse even at 7 a.m. with the rain and the start of school traffic, but I made it to the gardens in plenty of time for our early morning consultations. Each week the class had homework.  They had to create a base map, then design their specific project.  Bob and I tagged team their designs helping to review their plans and make suggestions.

landscape construction sherre.aug18 (3) landscape construction sherre.aug18 (8) landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.01 landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.06

Because of the early rain, we decided to do part of the classroom lecture before heading outside to install their class landscape project.  After my session on proper planting and care, Bob went over the plans and we went outside and they got to place the plants where they thought they looked best.  Some were in too much shade and we moved them around before planting. It is always a good idea to put the plants in their pots where you think they want to go before planting.  It is much easier to move a pot around versus digging multiple holes.

landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.08 landscape construction sherre.aug18 (5) landscape construction sherre.aug18 (10) landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.05Then they started planting.  It is pretty amazing how fast a landscape can be planted when people work together.  It was also amazing how little rain actually penetrated the ground. As they started digging, about 1/4 of an inch was damp, and the soil beneath was bone dry.  A few started with shovels and moved to a pick to penetrate the soil, rocks and roots.

landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.15 landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.17 landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.22A comment was made about the great volunteer labor, when in reality they PAID to help us plant!!  I think we should have this workshop at my house next time and I could get a project quickly completed!!LOL.

The group even tackled planting the larger variegated dogwood.  We offered to let the crew plant it, but they insisted on doing it. What I have learned from past classes is they really take ownership in their project and will come back to visit to see how it grows. I think they did an outstanding job.

landscape construction sherre.aug18 (14) landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.27Then Sherre came and got a group photo of our crew next to their finished project.

landscape construction sherre.aug18 (18) landscape construction workshop garv aug18.14.32Then it was back inside to eat lunch and finish with Bob’s presentation on energy-wise landscaping and the final plan review.  Many have suggested we offer this class multiple times a year–but it is pretty time consuming.  I also have several in the class who want to take it again the next time we offer it, which will be in 2 years.

Bob and I had time to make a quick run through the gardens to see how things were going.  The plum leaf azalea was in full bloom and the summer color is still looking great.

garvan gardens aug18.14.04 impatiens garv aug18.14.2 plum leaf azalea aug 18.142I drove home in a light rain and the skies look promising now at home, but so far I have had a whopping .09 inches!

I am getting soft

August 17, 2014

I think the mild summer has made me less resilient to the heat and humidity of a normal Arkansas summer. I was outside by 8:30 a.m. but although the temperature was only 76, with the 85% humidity, the heat index was already 85 degrees and climbing (this is all thanks to my new weather station!)   I weedeated, edged, pruned, harvested, weeded, fertilized, watered and planted, and I looked like I had been swimming, but didn’t feel like I had. After two hours I was worn out!  I had to sit for a few minutes just to get enough gumption to walk inside, and I needed help getting my boots off. When I use the weedeater, I wear long pants, boots, gloves and safety goggles. I did have on a short sleeved shirt, but I was drenched!

My garden is coming along. I harvested a mini pumpkin from a volunteer vine from last Halloween.

pumpkin mini aug17.14The tuberose begonias are thriving–I have never had any last past June before.

tuberous begonia aug17.14.

I had the first bloom of many for the next round on my Jubilation gardenia.

mystery plant a.aug18.09My common impatiens got a bit dry while I was gone and look awful. I am trying to salvage them, so I have cut them back hard and fertilized and watered. Time will tell, but the Sunpatiens sure put them to shame, not missing a beat, although one in full afternoon sun does have a bit of sunburn on a few blooms. impatiens sunpatiens. aug17.143 mystery plant a.aug18.11impatiens sunpatiens. aug17.141

I saw so many birds and insects buzzing in the garden today.  This green spider was pretty and waiting on its prey in the midst of my sesame seed plant–I am going to have tons of sesame seeds–and I am not sure what I will do with them all!

sesame seed plant and spiders.aug17.14.1 sesame seed plant and spiders.aug17.14.3

I waited until I had dried off and then did the grocery store run, the gym, another grocery store and then came home and cleaned house.  My family has been filling in for me on the home front while I traveled, but today we did a bit more deep cleaning.  By 3:30 we were done, and so was I.  Did you notice that inconspicuous three letter word gym?  I am not a gym person, but I am trying to be one. Katie and I have now done three trips. Our goal is three times a week, so we will see how long it lasts.  I do reps on all the machines and then Katie and I race on the stationary bikes.  Time will tell.

A friend came to dinner tonight and we had a nice visit and now I am wrapping up for an early start tomorrow morning. It is the final class of our landscape design course at Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs, and then I am meeting with the Garland Co. MG’s.

Here are the answers to your mystery plant challenges from last week and your new ones.  Good Luck!

Mystery plant A – mystery plant aug 11.14This plant is an annual called diascia or twinspur.  Look closely a the picture and you can see the two spurs handing down from the back of the flower.  They did better this season in our mild summer but normally like a cooler climate. I have grown them as a late season annual and they actually overwintered in a mild winter ( not last year).   Diascia comes to us from South Africa, and is a close relative of the snapdragon–so it likes similar growing conditions.  Flower colors range from his orange to pink, purple and white.

Mystery plant B – mystery plant b August another annual flower called euphorbia–Diamond Frost was the first in this series and is still good, but there are several new introductions.  I have been blown away by how well they have performed in the ground and in containers. They are growing quite large and have not stopped blooming since they were planted in full sun to partial shade.  If you haven’t tried this plant, put it on your list of must haves next spring.

Mystery plant C – was the stumper. One of you got it with a hint from me.

pittsburgh garden tour aug16.044The plant is Orixia japonica, ‘Pearl Frost’.   This deciduous member of the citrus family grows to 8′ or more tall with a graceful habit. The original Orixia is a green leafed plant, but Pearl Fost is streaked in creamy white. Though tolerant of full sun, they prefer the edge of woodland with darker plants behind. Slower growing than it’s great parent but vigorous nonetheless in medium drainage in medium shade to full sun.  Many of us at our recent Garden Writers conference had never heard of it, but I bet many will be buying it to trial it.


New plants for the week:

Mystery Plant A- mystery plant a.aug18.23is a sub-tropical that may overwinter in south Arkansas.

Mystery plant B – mystery plant a.aug18.04 mystery plant a.aug18.05is a deciduous shrub that is in full bloom now.

Mystery plant C – mystery plant a.aug18.15is  a deciduous small tree or large shrub with its seed pod.


Good Luck!

Advanced MG Training – Harrison

August 16, 2014

We had a really nice crowd this morning for the advanced MG class on drought tolerant landscaping.  Many of the 100 plus Master Gardeners stayed at the Hotel Seville which is across the street from the Durand Center where the class was held.  If you ever are in Harrison and you need a place to stay, it is really quite nice. It is 85 years old this year.  They had a nice welcome letter for all of us in our rooms. It is just a neat place.hotel seville.2014.4 hotel seville.2014.5 hotel seville.2014.6The Durand Center is also a wonderful facility to have a conference.  I don’t know what my camera did to get this picture, but it really isn’t this higgledy-jiggledy, but it is an interesting shot, so I thought I would use it anyway.

advanced Mg training Harrison.2014.0101The Boone County Master Gardeners were very well organized and had registration running smoothly with a wonderful array of goodies at all the breaks.  Lunch was also amazing.  They had a good line up of speakers covering drought tolerant plants, how to use those in the landscape, caring for trees, container gardens and xeric landscaping.  The centerpieces were handmade by one MG and were coveted by all the attendees.  It was a well oiled machine.  Kudos to all involved.

advanced Mg training Harrison.2014.0102 advanced Mg training Harrison.2014.0103 advanced Mg training Harrison.2014.0105 advanced Mg training Harrison.2014.0106 advanced Mg training Harrison.2014.0108 advanced Mg training Harrison.2014.0109Advanced Master Gardener classes are sponsored by our state advisory board called County 76.  Individual counties come up with the concept and submit it to be approved and then they conduct the training.  Advanced classes are open to all Master Gardeners who have been active a minimum of three years in their county program.  Different topics are held in different parts of the state, but are attended by folks from all over the state.  There was a lot of learning going on, both in the training and through discussions at the tables during breaks and lunches.  If your county is interested in conducting a class, let us know.

Then it was a nice drive home, but it sure did heat up today. My garden needed a long drink when I got home. Then tonight we went out with friends for dinner.  Tomorrow I plan to hit the garden early to try to avoid the heat. August is finally here!


August 15, 2014

This morning was my annual checkup with my oncologist and I am happy to report I got an all clear! 7 years and counting! Woo hoo.
We got in a slew of MG business card orders today and also finalized the MG 2015 calendar. Then I loaded up and headed north to Harrison. Driving behind this vehicle, I hoped they weren’t headed to where I was.

They are a zombie eradication team! Yikes!
I checked into the lovely Seville Hotel in Harrison and had a bit of time to visit with arriving Master Gardeners and explore.

I am in town for an advanced MG class tomorrow. Tonight the host committee treated me and another speaker to a wonderful dinner.

Tomorrow we have 102 in the class.


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