GARDENING ... AND MORE: Don’t let May weather surprises ruin your garden
by Ronella Stagner, Columnist
May 21, 2014 | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
May is a month of surprises. Just when the weather seems so perfect with temperatures in the eighties, the air conditioner going and the garden plants all planted and growing, along comes a sudden cold spell, out comes the blanket and on goes the heat. Gardening is put on hold for a few days. As I remember, that happens two or three times.

One of the plants that seem to confuse many gardeners is the hydrangea. Since the leaves are putting out now, you can tell which stems are dead and in need of cutting to the ground. The big leaf hydrangea is the most common and confuses many gardeners. Its color depends on the soil. Acid soil causes the blooms to be blue; the more acid soil will produce blue blooms and adding lime can encourage the pink blooms. They prefer light shade and rich moist soil. Fall is the best time to plant this hydrangea but if you are given one as a gift, by all means plant it now. If you buy one, be sure to buy one in bloom to be sure of the color and don’t buy one with brown or wilted leaves. Hydrangeas often have powdery mildew. If you notice it, pick off the infected leaves and burn them and then spray with a fungicide. I love this plant because the blooms dry so well and so easily. Just tie a bunch of stems together and hang them in a dry room and let nature take its course. They strangely keep their color for a long time.

I often wonder if Ma’s flowers ever had mildew. I have no memory of it but then I was not aware of mildew then and wouldn’t recognize it. I remember that Ma never watered any of her plants except for the houseplants on the porch. In the first place, if would not have been possible to water from the big rain barrel, which she used for her houseplants, or from the cistern or well. I think that gardeners today, with the ease of hoses and sprayers, cause much of our mildew. Watering in the early morning allows plants to dry out during the day but watering in the evening lets the plants stay wet through the night, causing mildew. It took me a long time to learn this because it suited me to water after work in the evening.

My grandmother may not have known all the reasons for doing some things in her garden but she knew what worked. Tobacco stalks left from stripping tobacco criss crossed in her rows of plants keep insects off the plants and the straw that Pa raked from the mules’ stalls made an excellent mulch and the manure served as fertilizer. Also when Ma cleaned out the hen houses, all that manure went to the garden and any gardener knows the value of that manure. It all worked and, in the long run, took much less labor than our methods now.

Many readers are amazed, or perhaps surprised, at the things I remember about my childhood so long ago. I think the reason that I remember them so clearly and the things that happened at their home is that I was the only grandchild to spend time with them until my sisters came along. They always talked and interacted with me. I never remember either of my grandparents saying, “Now, run along and play.” They always had time for me.

My Ma was a very quiet and dignified lady but she was a different person when there was just the two of us. I never saw Ma laugh out loud but that little chuckle let me know she thought something was funny. Ma and I spent long days together, just the two of us. I was her errand girl and I remember helping her find things. She had two pairs of eyeglasses, one she called her “reading glasses” and the other pair was her “seeing glasses” and she was always losing one or the other. Many times, when she asked me to help find her glasses, I would say, “Feel on your head, Ma” and they would have been pushed to the top of her gray hair. That would bring her biggest chuckle. She found many funny things in our days together and she never, ever found fault with me.

I remember so well our times sitting in the old swing on the shady front porch. She would talk about her own childhood and her three children’s childhoods. She could always find something funny, or sometimes just interesting, to a little girl like me. My times with just Ma and me were the happiest times of my life and I cherish my memories of my dear grandmother. Sometimes, she let me take down her long hair from the bun on her head and brush that long hair. There always seemed to be something interesting at Ma and Pa’s and that is why I remember those days so clearly.

Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632. I will answer your questions to the best of my ability and I welcome your comments.
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