Have you tried growing Castor Bean?

It's one of Michael Pollen's favorite plants.

Check out the way he starts his article on the plant called, "Consider the Castor Bean":

"Pretty they are not, but a garden can labor under a surfeit "surfut" of prettiness, be too sweet or cheerful for its own good. Sometimes what’s needed in the garden is a hint of vegetal menace, of nature run tropically, luxuriantly amuck. For this, I recommend the castor bean."

While most of us have heard of castor oil (extracted by crushing and processing the seeds), growing the castor bean plant can be a new adventure for gardeners.

The castor bean plant is the only member of the genus Ricinus communis and belongs to the spurge family. Unlike other members of the euphorbia family, castor bean does not have that milky latex sap, the sap of castor bean is watery.

The giant, tropical leaves and peculiar seed pods make the plant an exotic addition to your garden. A native plant from Ethiopia, castor bean can grow to 40 feet tall when it can grow year-round. For most gardeners who grow castor bean as an annual in a single season, castor bean will grow quickly and vigorously, but it will only reach about 8-10 feet.

If you grow castor bean, you need to be aware that the seeds are extremely poisonous. If you have kids around, keep plants out of reach, and eliminate the seeds altogether by cutting off the flowering spike. As you probably suspected from the Latin name, the toxin in castor seeds is ricin (RYE-sin), one of the world's deadliest natural poisons.

During the Cold War, the Bulgarian journalist, Georgi Markov, was killed when an umbrella rigged as a pellet rifle, shot a small BB into his leg as Markov stood in line at a bus stop. After he died in 1978, Scotland Yard investigated and found the BB; it was the size of a pinhead, and it had been drilled with two holes producing an X-shaped cavity, and the holes had been packed with ricin. The holes had been coated with a sugary substance that trapped the ricin inside the BB. The coating was designed to melt at body temperature, at which time the ricin was free to be absorbed into the bloodstream and kill him.

Despite their unnerving history, castor beans are still good garden plants. They look beautiful with cannas, bananas, and elephant ears for a tropical garden. They make a beautiful backdrop for grasses. And, they shine at the back of the flower border where they create a magnificent screen in no time.

Castor Beans do best in full sun, and they don't like wet feet - so plant them high and dry or in well-drained locations.

 

 

 


Brevities

 

#OTD It’s the birthday of Emily Brontë, who was born on this day in 1818.

Brontë wrote:

Reason, indeed, may oft complain
For Nature's sad reality,
And tell the suffering heart, how vain
Its cherished dreams must always be;
And Truth may rudely trample down
The flowers of Fancy, newly-blown.

 

 


#OTD It’s the birthday of Ellis Rowan, who was a well-known Australian artist and botanical illustrator, born on this day in 1848.

In a 1994 newspaper article, Sarah Guest described Rowan this way:

"She was an explorer. She set off alone at 68, for Papua New Guinea - who died in 1922. She dyed her hair red; had a face-lift; left her husband (the suggestion is that she was bored); was a member of one of Victoria's great pastoralist families; was a much-admired, prolific, technically proficient and joyous painter of plants and birds; and a conservationist she campaigned to stop the slaughter of birds for the decoration of ladies' hats... in her day she was known as "Australia's brilliant daughter" which, indeed, she was."

Rowan discovered painting after her botanist husband. Frederick encouraged her to develop a talent. Rowan developed her passion into her profession, and it led her into unknown parts of Australia. During the First World War, Rowan was living in New Guinea. At one point, she painted 45 of the 62 known species of birds of paradise.

As a woman living during the mid-1800s, Rowan minded the dress code of her era. Wherever she went, whether on exploration or back at home, she was always impeccably dressed, wearing heavy ankle-length dresses, high collars with full sleeves - complete with crinolines, corsets, whalebone stays, and a hat.

Just before Rowan died, the federal parliament in Australia debated whether to buy 1,000 of her paintings despite the Australian artist and novelist, Norman Lindsay, who called her work vulgar art. Lindsey didn't think wildflowers were worthy of subjects of real art. Ultimately, the paintings were purchased for $5000. They are now part of Australia’s national library.

 

 


#OTD And it was on this day in 1901 that the General assembly of Arkansas selected the apple blossom as the floral emblem.

This selection was not without controversy.

The Floral Emblem Society, led by Mrs. Ed Barton, had supported the apple blossom.

The Arkansas Federation of women’s clubs wanted the passionflower. The disagreement between the two groups became known as the battle of the blooms.

Barton became a one-woman crusader for the apple blossom, writing articles and memos to newspapers - even personally mailing letters to affluent citizens. Whenever she sent anything, she included a promotional pamphlet that she had created praising the apple blossom. In an ingenious move, she not only promoted the apple blossom, but she also dissed the passionflower, saying it was "as pretty as a non-native of Arkansas," and saying that it would "grow anywhere the farmer's hoe let it." Ouch.

When the legislature was set to vote, Barton appeared at the capital wearing ... wait for it.... a bright apple red dress.

And, she pulled a Martha Stewart and personally gifted every lawmaker with an apple and a note that said, "These are the results of our beautiful apple blossoms. But, what is the result of a passionflower? A dried, shriveled pod."

Indeed.

 

 


Unearthed Words

"Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it."
- Russel Baker

"Dirty hands, iced tea, garden fragrances thick in the air and a blanket of color before me,
who could ask for more?"
- Bev Adams, Mountain Gardening

 

 


Today's book recommendation: Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood by Martin Wood and Judith Tankard

Gertrude Jekyll was one of the most influential garden designers of the early 20th century. This excellent book explores her life and works at the home she created for herself at Munstead Wood in England.

The book is a fantastic collection of all things Jekyll; her writings and photographs, as well as personal accounts from friends and acquaintances.

 

 


Today's Garden Chore

When you are done harvesting blackberries or boysenberries, it is time to do a little housekeeping.

Cut this year's fruit-bearing canes back to the ground and tie up the new green canes to take their place.

Once all the fruiting has finished, you can begin to trim back your blackberries and boysenberries. The canes that just produced the fruit will start to dry and become woody and brown. Now is the time to cut them right back to the ground.

While you’re at it, cut back any diseased or damaged canes.

Next, look for anything too long or out of control. Try to make your plants have a beautiful, pleasant form.

Take the new canes and train them where you want them to go. Make sure to spread them out so that they get good airflow. Remember, taking the time to do this right now will make them easier to pick from next season

Thornless varieties make the job of pruning blackberries and boysenberries much easier. Don't forget: The fruit grows on new wood.

And be sure to remove all dead or broken limbs - and suckers as well.

 

 


Something Sweet
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

It was on this day in 1932 that Walt Disney premiered his first academy award-winning animated cartoon.

The short was called "Flowers and Trees," and it was the first cartoon to use technicolor.

Flowers and Trees was supposed to be a black-and-white cartoon, but Walt Disney decided it would make the perfect test film for the new technicolor process. The vivid colors of the natural world were the ideal subject for a technicolor production. Meanwhile, the Mickey Mouse short features were judged to be successful enough; they remained in black-and-white until 1935.

Flowers and Trees premiered at the Chinese theater in Los Angeles on this day and won the Academy Award for animated short subject.

In the movie, the trees and flowers are anthropomorphized; they wake up at the beginning of the day and begin lifting their heads and stretching.

In short, a beautiful lady tree is wooed by a suitor, while an evil old leafless tree attempts to steal her away. The two trees dual, and when the old tree loses the battle, he sets the forest on fire. The plants in the natural world work together to put the fire out. The two trees end up happily together, and they get engaged in the final seconds of the movie. The lady tree is presented a ring made from a curled up caterpillar. As the trees embrace, the bellflowers begin to play the wedding march, and the other flowers dance around the hugging trees.

 

 


Thanks for listening to the daily gardener,
and remember:
"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."

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