Update on recent topics

By Tom Seymour | Jun 26, 2014
Photo by: Tom Seymour Good King Henry

Earlier this spring I mentioned several items that now need updating. First, I mentioned a safe and effective insect repellent called 'Skeeter skidaddler. Since then, a number of readers have quizzed me about its efficacy.

First, 'Skeeter skidaddler works. My first use was during blackfly season. Here in Midcoast Maine, blackflies were fierce for several weeks, tapering to bearable and finally, practically disappearing. I used the new repellent during the height of the blackfly invasion and am happy to say that it worked perfectly.

But it was on mosquitoes that ‘Skeeter skidaddler shined. My property has more than its share of mosquitoes and again, the product worked wonders. Also, last week while I was away teaching foraging to groups first in Harpswell and then in Forest City on East Grand Lake, opportunity arose to fully test this new insect repellent.

First, my clients in Harpswell own a large parcel and this includes a freshwater bog, complete with lots of wild calla lilies. I was led around the edges of this bog and the mosquitoes were near unbearable. Slathering on good amounts of ‘Skeeter skidaddler kept them at bay and not a single mosquito bit me.

Next, my trip to Forest City coincided with a storm front that brought rain and cool temperatures and, as you might guess, clouds of hungry mosquitoes. A number of participants on my plant walk tried my ‘Skeeter skidaddler and every one was immediately sold on it.

Note that I use this product only on exposed skin, mostly against blackflies, mosquitoes and deerflies. For protection from ticks and the accompanying Lyme disease, DEET remains my tool of choice. Spray a repellent containing DEET on pant legs, shirtsleeves and caps in order to deter ticks.

But in my case DEET makes me sneeze and causes watery eyes. This happens even more so if applied directly to skin, which is why I’m so happy to have found ‘Skeeter skidaddler. It causes no side effects.

Chenopodium bonus-henricus

Chenopodium bonus-henricus is the botanical name for a spinach and chard relative commonly called Good King Henry. In late winter I bought seeds and later, also purchased two plants from the local Soil & Water Conservation District tree and plant sale. The reason for buying plants was that by the time I saw the flyer for the plant sale, my seeds had not yet germinated and this was a fail-safe way to ensure that I would get to try at least two Good King Henry plants.

In the interim, my seeds finally sprouted, giving me a total of nine plants. This is a shrubby, one-foot plant with arrowhead-shaped leaves that look very much like the aquatic plant arrowhead (sagittaria). Three of my plants went into a garden bed inside my greenhouse and the balance went into a raised bed in front of my house. The plants didn’t gain much for the first month, but as soon as temperatures warmed, they began growing in earnest.

Last night I had my first meal of Good King Henry and am happy to report that it was delicious. It tastes much like spinach, but also has a distinct taste all of its own. Accordingly, since it is a perennial and shouldn’t need to be planted each year, I plan on adding another row to the outside bed. Good King Henry has earned its place as a permanent member of my collection of garden favorites.

Instant garden

Last fall I wrote a column about my “instant” perennial garden. Deciding to turn a relatively non-productive raised bed behind my house from a vegetable bet to a flower bed, I went to a local perennial nursery and bought 10 plants for $42.50. As of this June, the garden has given me more than my money’s worth in terms of enjoyment and beauty.

My goal in this project was to show, not only to readers but also to myself, that growing perennials need not be an elaborate process. Having once operated a perennial nursery, I’m aware of the lore and mystique that goes along with perennial gardening. Form, style, classic and modern garden types tend to overwhelm casual observers and in some cases, people are put off by the whole thing, believing that raising perennials is just too complicated and requires a master’s degree before turning over that first spadeful of sod. My little “instant bed” proves all of that wrong.

The one thing that I did do last year, after arranging and planting my new perennials, was to wait until the ground was solidly frozen and then applying a thick layer of fir boughs as a protective mulch. This worked like a charm and every plant made it through the coldest winter in recent memory. In fact, upon removing the mulch after the ground had thawed in spring, many of the little plants had already begun poking out of the ground, even under the fir boughs.

Fortunately for me, I thought ahead when planning and selected plants with different bloom periods, thus giving me season-long color for my perennial bed. So when late May rolled around, I had two varieties of creeping phlox and some lovely, blue Veronica all in bloom at the same time. And as a contrast to this, I also had two purple sage plants that I had raised from seed beginning in late winter. The sage plants have lovely, purple leaves and so add accent even before the flower spike appears.

Additionally, last fall a neighbor gave me some iris and these are now about at the end of their bloom cycle. My one Oriental poppy, a splendid, showy variety called Pink Ruffles, is just now coming into bloom. And later, the garden phlox, daylily and obedient plant will give me summer beauty as well.

So now I can say with full confidence that even the smallest perennial bed will provide years of pleasure for a small outlay of time and money. My bed measures 8-feet by 3-feet on the inside and it is more than adequate to hold a substantial number of perennial plants.

Start now

The saying about 20 years ago being the best time to plant a tree and the next best time being right now, also goes for starting a perennial garden. You’ll come in at a time when late-spring flowers are still in bloom and most summer flowers have just begun, or will soon begin to bloom.

So visit your local nursery and pick up some plants. Even a small bed will provide years of pleasure. And who knows but what you might really want to go into perennial gardening in a big way. All it requires is the will to do it.

Today’s tip

This will never make it into the Better Homes list of suggestions, but a good way to recycle a used tire is to make it into a squash bed. Just select a spot, plop down the tire, fill it with soil and plant seeds. Initially, the thing looks a bit unsightly, but in time, as the squash vines grow and cover it, the tire becomes hidden from view and what you have is a beautiful and productive squash bed.

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