Garden adventures, thoughts and ideas…

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Is It Poison Ivy or Oak?

I had someone ask me that question the other day – and either way, you don’t want them in the garden.

Both are plants that cause a red, itchy rash – sometimes blistering, as a result of contact with the oil contained within the plant – urushiol (yoo-roo-she-all). You will get the rash from contact with any part of the plant, flowers, berries, leaves, roots – even dead ones – so always wear long gloves and eye protection when erradicating poison ivy or oak. You can even get the rash from touching something that has come in contact with the plant – clothing, tools, even pet fur.

Eliminating poison ivy and oak takes time. Don’t burn it, inhaling the smoke can cause health problems including inflammation of the nasal passages and lungs. Smaller patches can be dealt with by regular hoeing and breaking up of the plants. They won’t continue to grow or spread if they don’t flower and develop berries.  Regular mowing of larger patches will eventually eliminate the weed, but be sure to wear protective clothing and boots to avoid rashes on your legs or feet. Wash your clothes and boots well after a task like this, the oils will remain until safely removed. Poison ivy and oak do take time to remove and you may see the odd stem sprouting up over the season, but as long as you know where it is, you can avoid it until it’s no longer a threat.
And if all else fails – get a goat! Goats actually enjoy muching on this plant. They’ll have it gone in no time!




Both plants can be identified by their distinct 3-leaf arrangement. Poison ivy can grow as a shrub, reaching up to 4-feet high, as a groundcover, or climbing vine. The almond-shape leaves range from light to dark green and turn brilliant red in the fall. Poison ivy produces flowers, and then small berries that are a beigy-grey-white shade.



Poison oak has a scalloped 3-leaf arrangement that looks very similar to true oak leaves. Grown as a dense shrub or climing vine, the leaf shades vary from bronze to bright green to red, depending on the season.


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April Showers Bring…Purple Dead-Nettle?

If I could make money selling purple deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule) I could retire tomorrow. The wonderful April showers, that as we all know, will bring May flowers, have also brought a plethora of purple deadnettle. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen quite this much in one place.
Also known as henbit, dead-nettle is a member of the mint family and forms groundcover mats very early in the season. An annual weed, It sports fuzzy, spade-shaped leaves and delicate purple-pink flowers. Unlike most nettles, this one doesn’t sting – hence the name “dead”.
Each plant grows to 40cm / 15″ tall, has a very shallow root system and develops around 200 seeds (yes, each plant). So pull these early spring darlings out as soon as you can – or it might become a full-time job!


Dandelion – Weed or Wonder?


Steep the plant for a refreshing, detoxifying tea. Make an energizing breakfast smoothie. Add the leaves to salad greens for an impressive vitamin boost. Make a soothing cream soup, or boil the roots to create a supportive liver tonic. Any way you pull it, this misunderstood and unwelcome harbinger of spring packs a punch when it comes to overall health benefits.

A flowering herbaceous perennial native to Europe and Asia and believed to have evolved roughly thirty million years ago, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) was introduced to North America by early colonists in the 1700s. Quickly acknowledged by the native people as a beneficial herb, the dandelion has been utilized since that time for both its medicinal and nutritional benefits. The Greek botanical taraxacum, meaning, “remedy for disorders” indicates that the dandelion has a long history as a beneficial plant, and the designation “officinale” refers to its value as a recognized medicinal herbal remedy. Common folklore names include Irish daisy, blow ball, bitterwort, wild endive and pissabed, the latter likely due to its diuretic properties.

The name “dandelion” is derived from the French “dent de lion” – tooth of the lion, referring to the irregular, jagged tooth-like edges along the plant leaf. The dandelion leaves are basal (sprouting from the base of the plant) and grow 5 to 40 cm long. The longest blooming of any perennial, the round, bright yellow flower is comprised of hundreds of small florets to create one single flower head, which sits atop a hollow, leafless stem that can grow from 10 to 20 cm high. As the flower fades, the dandelion develops a round seed head, complete with white, feather-like tufts to carry the more than 200 seeds per head along with the wind to a new home. The fleshy taproot grows up to 45 cm deep into the ground, helping to aerate the soil and bring nutrients up to surrounding vegetation. Fast-growing, adaptable and very hardy, the dandelion will sprout in any soil type, in full sun to part shade, in any hardiness zone except those with temperature extremes. Reproduction is by seed only.

The dandelion has more nutritional and medicinal uses than any other common garden weed, and the entire plant contributes to both. Nutritionally, dandelion greens are high in vitamins A, B and C, protein, omega 3 fatty acids and iron, and also contain potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and fibre. Medicinally, the roots can be boiled and the broth used as a drink or tincture to aid in the cure of liver infections and kidney stones, and the juice taken from the stem and leaves can remove warts, reduce calluses and relieve sores. The plant, when eaten helps to cleanse and detoxify and has strong diuretic properties. The leaves, when cooked help to treat various skin conditions including acne and eczema, and the entire plant contains antioxidant properties and helps boost the immune system. Not a single part of the dandelion goes to waste.

With all this in mind one cannot help but wonder why the dandelion is tops on the most loathed garden weed list, rather than revered for the truly beneficial herb and stunning summer flower that it is. Gardeners yearn for blooms that show their brilliant shades for weeks – the dandelion does just that. The deep taproot aerates the soil and the flowers feed bees. Consumer’s travel to the store to pay for healthy greens that Mother Nature delivers, and millions take medications that could be replaced by dandelion roots, leaves or stems.

If dandelions were endangered, would we show this plant more respect and embrace its benefits, enjoying the long-lasting blooms and health offerings provided? If it were a pricey restaurant entree, would we rethink the never-ending spring weeding rituals and stop looking for effective, but dangerous herbicides? Would the perfect lawn continue to be a priority, or would we realize we have a free and delicious source of optimal health right at our fingertips?

Perhaps then, we might also recall the fun of this much-loved childhood plant and instead of attempting to destroy it, pick up the round, puffy seed heads, blow them onward, and make a wish for more.