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August Garden Care

by Wes Porter

Thursday, August 3, 2006

In moist lightly shaded woods and close to swampy areas the pinkish-purple heads of Joe-Pye-Weed, Eupatorium, bloom this month. According to some sources, Joe Pye was a native aboriginal medicine man or shaman from the New England area. Wee Yeow Chin and Hsuan Keng say, however, that he was a 19th-century Caucasian ‘Indian theme promoter’ who used the root to induce sweating in typhus fever. It is sometimes available from garden centers and specialized native plant nurseries. Kept moist until well established, it is an attractive, no-nonsense perennial for the rear of the border.

Tomato plants also call for moisture and plenty of it. A single plant uses at least two gallons a day, perhaps even more if growing in a pot on a baking, breezy patio, deck or balcony. There are still 8 or even 10 weeks for them to bear bounteous crops. An old trick to increase photosynthesis and hence cropping is to feed cautiously every couple of weeks with a teaspoon of Epsom salts per plant. Sprinkle in a circle around but well away from the stem, then water in carefully, avoiding splashing the foliage.

Clematis seems to be making one of its periodic comebacks. As with so many plants, some people seem to have all the luck. Probably they planted it in excellent, compost-enriched soil made alkaline with several handfuls of granulated lime. Or save eggshells, turn them into a slurry with water in the blender and add to the soil. The roots were given the cool shade they desire by planting annuals or shallow-rooted perennials over them.

Controlling flies is easy, according to Jack Reiding of New Westminister, B.C., as quoted by Michael Kesterton in The Globe and Mail. "All you need is a good vacuum cleaner. You just wait until they land and suck them up . . . If you’re good enough, you can suck them up mid-flight." This might not be such a bad idea. Innovative gardeners have discovered dust-busters are the perfect pest control device, sucking numerous nasties off plants. And a few years back, an inventor on the prairies perfected a similar, more powerful device to suck gophers out of their holes.

When the fun is over, there are still weeds to remove, deadheading to continue with and dying perennial stems to be clipped back to ground level. Do it the real gardener’s way — a little each day. It isn’t the green thumbs that separate gardeners from everyone else. It is the daily dividend of a peaceful pottering.

This is the month when the Niagara Peninsular produces a plethora of peaches. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries passengers on the many ferries plying western Lake Ontario remarked on sharing space with the distinctive conical baskets filled with the luscious, scented fruit being hurried to Toronto markets. Now they come more prosaically by truck in heavy cardboard boxes.

Prunus persica, or Amygdalus persica to be bang up-t-date, despite the botanical nomenclature, is native to China although it was once believed to have originated in Persia. Prunus is simply Latin for "plum." Like many such in this genus of some 400 species, the kernels, along with the bark, leaves and flowers contain poisonous hydrocyanic acid. The "penalty of the peach" was a grim expression from ancient Egypt signifying a convict was be executed by being fed crushed peach kernels. In merrie olde Englande, they boiled them in vinegar and applied them to hairless heads, which sounds infinitely more appealing than the Egyptian hair-restorer of crocodile dung. This item is dedicated to Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc.

If the lawn exhibited irregular patches of dead grass this past spring, suspect white grubs as being active. Hard to control, chemically or otherwise at that stage a fresh generation of white, C-shaped grubs have recently hatched and are commenced repeating the whole cycle. Now is the time to launch an effective, safe campaign against them with predacious nematodes. Not that the soil must be kept moist for these wee beasties to attack their targets. Check out the local garden centre or visit, the website of Natural Insect Control. The lawn will then be restored to a safe haven for other wildlife:

There once was a spinterish lass

Who constructed her panties of brass.

When asked, "Do they chafe?"

She said, "Yes, but I’m safe

Against pinches, and snakes in the grass."

Finally, what happened to all those environmentalists who are fighting the good fight against global warming last 20 July? According to an item a year ago in the U.K.-based New Scientist, if a minimum of 600 million people in the western hemisphere co-operated, it would be possible "to stop global warming, extend daytime hours, and create a more homogeneous climate by putting planet earth into a new orbit." Professor Hans Niesward and his colleagues at the department of Gravitationsphysik at the ISA/Munchen estimated that the desired effect could be achieved if at 11:39:13 GMT on 20 July, 600 million people jumped together. The event was being organized at How Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Jack Layton et al missed this defies belief. So much for frost free-gardening in Ontario.

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. He has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.