25 episodes

The monthly Garden Musings were written by George and Becky Lohmiller. Early recordings in the series were read by Almanac group publisher John Pierce, as well as Almanac copy editor Jack Burnett. Almanac editor, Heidi Stonehill became the narrator in 2012.

The Old Farmer's Almanac Garden Musings The Old Farmer's Almanac

    • Wilderness

The monthly Garden Musings were written by George and Becky Lohmiller. Early recordings in the series were read by Almanac group publisher John Pierce, as well as Almanac copy editor Jack Burnett. Almanac editor, Heidi Stonehill became the narrator in 2012.

    Rome-ing the Landscape

    Rome-ing the Landscape

    What do paper birch, white birch, and canoe birch have in common? Plenty! They are the same tree. Over the years people in different parts of the country have come to know trees by local names. Aspen, for instance, is commonly known as poplar or popple in some places and is sometimes mistakenly called gray birch. Maples are even more confusing. Is this a rock maple or sugar maple? Is that a striped maple or moosewood? It all depends on which name you prefer.


    The confusion does not end with trees. Black raspberries, black caps, and thimble berries are all one and the same, as is the popular houseplant sansevieria, a.k.a. snake plant and mother-in-law’s tongue. Imagine the added confusion when plantsmen of different countries want to purchase, or even just discuss, a particular plant.


    In the mid-18th century, the Swedish botanist and physician Carolus Linnaeus (aka Carl von Linné) revolutionized the study of science when he came up with a widely accepted system for classifying and naming plants (and eventually animals, minerals, and diseases). His system, known as binomial nomenclature, uses two Latinized words to describe each plant. The first, the genus name, describes a group marked by common characteristics. The genus name for any birch is Betula. Next comes the specific epithet, or species name, which is often descriptive. The paper birch classified with its Latin name is Betula papyrifera. A third or fourth name may be added to further describe a variety or cultivar. For example, the cut-leaf weeping birch is Betula pendula dalecarlica.


    Although Latin naming is the only certain way to describe plants accurately, common names will always have their place. Can you imagine a poem starting out, “Under the spreading Aesculus hippocastanum the village smithy stands”? “Scarborough Fair” would never have made the Top 40 if Simon and Garfunkel had sung, “Petroselinum crispum, Salvia officinalis, Rosmarinus officinalis, and Thymus vulgaris.”


    Common names are often more colorful and descriptive than their scientific counterparts. Flowers like Johnny jump-up and rambling rose add a poetic feel to the garden, while ironwood and rock maple make statements about strength.

    The Graceful Jade

    The Graceful Jade

    Excluding fruitcakes and zucchinis, potted jades are probably the most common gift passed between friends and family members. But it’s not a high-maintenance acquisition, for the jade plant thrives on neglect. Treat it badly enough, and this humble servant may even bloom for you.


    The jade plant, Crassula argentea, looks like a small, gracefully branched tree. Although it grows slowly, an elderly specimen three feet tall is not uncommon. Its sculptured brown trunk and branches and thick dark green leaves give it a bonsai look. It can, in fact, be pruned, trained, and even grown in ornate shallow containers like true bonsai.


    Unglazed clay flowerpots have proven the best container for growing jades because they allow the soil to dry out quickly between waterings. Jades are succulents and can’t stand to have their feet wet. Unlike most plants, whose leaves shrivel when their roots are dying for a drink, jade’s leaves will pucker when the roots spend too long in wet soil. Water jades only when the soil becomes parched.


    Although this easy keeper will tolerate some shade, lack of strong sun makes it grow leafy and weak. When grown in strong light, the margins of the leaves turn a handsome rosy red. Given hot, dry, and pot-bound conditions that would do in many other houseplants, jade plants, especially older ones, may decide to bloom for you in clusters of fragrant, waxy pink or white flowers.


    Propagation is simple: All a branch has to do is touch the soil in the pot and it readily takes root. Just prune it from the mother plant and pot it. To produce a lot of new plants, root stem-tip cuttings in sand or a glass of water.


    Small jades do best if repotted every year until they reach a desired size, but mature plants actually do best when their roots are cramped. A perfect potting mix for jades and other succulents can be made by combining two parts potting soil, two parts sand, one-quarter part bonemeal, and one-half part dehydrated manure.

    Fate With Brush

    Fate With Brush

    The ancients used brush for building boats, shelters, arrows, spears, and fences. Today we are not apt to cut more than a few bean poles or tomato stakes. If you are industrious, you might construct some winter protection for shrubs or cut up sticks for kindling. 


    But if you really want to get rid of the stuff, brush becomes a weed, and it seems that the more you try to eradicate it the more it grows. Some old-timers insist that brush cut in August will not grow back. Most evergreens if cut right to the ground will not reemerge. Whether by machine or hand, always cut brush as low as possible. If you can borrow some goats, sheep, or pigs, they can take care of the problem in a season and leave the ground more fertile as well. Otherwise, sow grass to choke out other growth, and if possible, mow the area every few weeks. If the new suckers can be held at bay for a year, most of them will not return.


    In small areas, a layer of black plastic will prevent new brush from emerging. (This will be effective only if you prevent even the slightest hole from forming in the plastic — not always possible when you are laying it over stumps.)


    Once you’ve “harvested” the brush, what to do with it? As little as possible. If you have an area where you can leave a brush pile, it will serve as a haven for forest creatures until it decomposes. Chipping it up for mulch is all right if you’ve got the equipment, but often it is just an expensive way of hastening decomposition. A brush pile for burning on a winter’s night after a skating or sledding party is a good idea. Make sure that your brush is stacked all in the same direction and close together, otherwise the fire will not catch. An oil-soaked rag wound round the end of a stick makes a good torch. Thrust it as deeply as you can into the center of the pile, and get out the marshmallows.


    Ya Vole

    Ya Vole

    The field mouse, a.k.a. field vole or meadow vole, inhabits just about every region of North America. An important part of the food chain, these cute little critters are a favorite snack of snakes, foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey. House cats often test their hunting skills by stalking field mice through tall grass, and even weasels seek them out.


    One would think that with so many enemies field mice wouldn’t be much of a problem for farmers and gardeners, but this is not the case. Female field mice reproduce when about a month old and can have up to six litters of three to ten mice each year.


    During the summer, these mice of the meadow generally leave crop plants alone and dine on grasses, succulent weeds, and the occasional insect. They travel under the cover of grass “runways” just at the surface of the ground or burrow through loose mulch and leaf litter.


    As fall approaches, mouse damage starts to show up as they start gathering and storing seeds, grain, rhizomes, and bulbs. Ground covers may provide hiding places for foraging mice, so trees and shrubs that are surrounded by myrtle or pachysandra are at risk. In areas with snow cover, field mice use this cold camouflage to tunnel between woody plants such as fruit trees, dogwoods, berries, roses, and lilacs, stripping the nutritious bark under the snow and leaving the plant girdled. Girdled plants usually will not survive the next season.


    Sanitation is the key to mouse control in the orchard and around the home. If lawns and fields are kept mowed, mice will be more exposed to predators. Keep a minimum thickness of mulch around trees and shrubs to discourage burrowing, and remove thick accumulations of leaves around perennials. Protect small trees and shrubs by wrapping their trunks with plastic guards or (loosely) with wire mesh. Repellents are also available and may be useful in ground cover and other difficult areas.


    You may recall that Robert Burns wrote “To a Field Mouse.” But did the mouse ever write back?

    Walking on Herbs

    Walking on Herbs

    Anyone who gardens seems never to have enough time on their hands. You can, however, enjoy “thyme” at your feet. An herbal lawn or pathway is somewhat more difficult to install than a conventional grass lawn, but in the long run it is much easier to maintain and is less subject to destruction from disease or insects. The appearance of an herbal lawn is more interesting than plain grass, and the aroma is enchanting.

    Low-growing thyme comes in several distinct varieties. Creeping thyme, woolly thyme, and lemon thyme are the most common. Once established, thyme can endure a fair amount of foot traffic.

    Chamomile is more delicate than thyme and will not hold up to major traffic, but interspersed with other plants it will be reasonably durable in the lawn, offering yellow, buttonlike flowers and a sweet, pineapple-like scent when stepped on.

    While it might be anathema to Americans, the dandelion is popular in England as a ground cover, and like many herbs, it has medicinal value as well. Likewise, violets and Johnny-jump-ups, commonly considered pests in the grass lawn, make for lovely sights and smells and can be part of your herbal lawn.

    And then of course there is mint, which may be the most appropriate plant for a pathway: It’s named after Mentha, a mistress of Pluto who was trampled by the jealous Proserpine and transformed into a plant to be forever walked upon. Pluto eased her fate by willing that the more she was trodden upon, the sweeter she would smell. Mint varieties include gill-over-the-ground, peppermint, spearmint, catnip, and many others, all of which are quite invasive. Mint welcomes mowing.

    In an herbal lawn, grass becomes the weed, so you will want to start with a well-cleared area. Herbs do not like rich soil, but the healthier the soil, the easier they will become established. Regular watering is important, and weeds must be pulled until the herbs predominate. Mowing a couple of times a year will help to eliminate other high-growing weeds and will encourage bushiness in the herbs.

    Mullein It Over

    Mullein It Over

    Growing to a height of 8 feet or more and topped with a bright yellow, cylindrical flower, mullein is one of those plants that have acquired many popular names throughout the centuries because of its myriad uses. The names Aaron’s rod and Jacob’s staff certainly refer to its sturdy stalk and quite possibly to its strength as a medicine. The nicknames torch, hedge taper, and candlewick plant were used in medieval Europe, where the tall plant was stripped of its leaves and the flower head saturated with oils and set ablaze as a ceremonial torch in funeral processions.

    Velvet plant and old man’s flannel refer to mullein’s soft, gray-green, fuzzy leaves. Said to possess antibacterial properties, they have been used for dressing wounds and as poultices to cure aches and pains. Early American settlers who brought the seeds across the Atlantic steeped the leaves and flowers to make a soothing tea. (The seeds, however, are poisonous.) Mullein also was respected as a beautiful accent plant for the perennial border, and beekeepers grew it as a late-summer pollen source (it blooms from July to September) and because it readily perpetuates itself from seed.

    A true biennial, mullein lives its first year from seed as a low, fuzzy rosette of gray-green leaves. The leaves keep their color through the winter, and in the spring the stalk rockets from the center of the rosette. Many gardeners cut off the flowers before the seed ripens to keep volunteer plants from taking over the garden. The seed, once dried, can be sown in fall. Its deep taproot system makes mullein hard to transplant but at the same time almost indestructible. It withstands drought and strong winds.

    Today, mullein still enjoys a place in the perennial garden. Besides the common yellow or “great” mullein, there are white, blue, purple, and red hybrids. The towering flowers make an impressive background plant and are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.

    If you are “mullein over” a new plant for your garden, this could be the one.

Customer Reviews

Lauraeb896 ,

Great Podcast!

Great informational podcast. Love the temperament and lulling tone. Wish there were more episodes!

Salmon Dinner ,

Nice Job


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