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Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

6421 W. Poinsettia Drive

Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419





One reader said my last garden post was the longest email message he ever had, that he enjoys reading the garden bulletins, but that they are like reading history. He is not about to start gardening. As long as an anti-gardener likes them, and gardeners love them, I will churn them out.


The sunflower patch is doing well, rising up the superheated block wall that ends up being where we lay our weary heads at night. Our bedroom is opposite that wall, with our heads against it, so I am interested in generating maximum shade for the summer. As I guessed, the sunflowers have choked out the beans and radishes I planted in the beginning. However, when they rot into the soil, they will greatly improve it. Last summer the same area had a few flowers ill-suited for being sun drenched most of the day. Even the weeds struggled to stay alive last summer. Now the patch between the house and sidewalk is cooled by the mass of green and the effect of transpiration, water rising up through the plants and evaporating.


The sunflower fort is rising. God is increasing the height of the walls each day. All I do is water it. I had an immediate problem with aggressive weeds responding to the watering demanded by the new sunflowers. So I laid down plastic mulch inside the fort. The mulch blew wildly moved in the wind, so I hauled sand from the front yard (donated by a neighbor) to provide a floor and weigh down the plastic. The young children saw the area as a wonderful sand pile to play in. Toy trucks began hauling sands. Shovels dug sand. Buckets were filled with sand. The jungle gym did not rate so much attention.


Last summer the back yard was almost barren. Now many of the roses and flowers are planted and watered. The fertile soil (clay with very few rocks) is yielding a bumper crop of weeds. My mother and I are working on the weeds. Some people hate them. My mother loves to root them up. When I cut away at them, she wants to take over and root them out.  I always say, “Don’t worry. We will never get them all.” I see the crunchy greens as the best possible mulch and compost material. Today, while we were getting buckets of fresh weeds, I stowed them behind the sunflowers in the patch next to the wall. The greens will heat up from thermophylic (heat loving) bateria that need nitrogen. Then the weeds will shrink down and compost into the soil. Birds may sneak into the pile and plunder some weed seeds.


Gardening is investing in the soil. The more plants we grow, the more organic material we add to the soil. God’s nuclear power plant, the sun, is the key ingredient, producing an enormous amount of power that is converted into plant material. Roots grow and rot. Leaves sprout and drop off. Flowers and fruit grow and die. Tall weeds wick minerals up from the lowest levels of the soil, due to their deep taproots. Certain plants, weeds included, seem to concentrate minerals. Therefore, a pile of dead plants will mix many different elements together as they rot, whether as mulch on top of the soil, or as compost in a pile or pit.


God also improves the soil through the work and the death of a wide variety of soil creatures. The complexity of this operation is vast, including molds, bacteria, springtails, slugs, sowbugs, pillbugs, centipedes, millipedes, daddy long-legs, earthworms, and many more.


The ability of God’s creation to break down elements and build them up again fills me with wonder. One example will make some people laugh, but it happened today. I made a bucket of manure tea by soaking goat manure for a week. I chose an inauspicious moment to dump this brew on the roses near the front door. The cleaning ladies were just leaving when the bio-mass was added. The earthworms rejoiced but the women wept. The aroma was so strong you could cut the air with a spatula. It was not a barnyard smell. It was more of a sulfur stink bomb.


I hoped that my wife’s nose was not in good shape for smelling. We went out for dinner. I was armed with several fairly good excuses on our way out, but I didn’t need to waste any. When we came home, most of the aroma was gone, absorbed into the soil. I learned with rabbits that a shovel of soil had a magical effect on the aroma of their output. The soil is a disinfectant and a deodorizer. God’s creation will reduce the goat manure to soil elements and then produce the most beautiful roses with it. In fact, when we came home from dinner, much of this work was already done.


I planned on having Opening Night (velvety red) and Crystalline (pure white) bloom together near the front door. Both types are coming into bloom now, so there will be quite a display on Sunday, either in the soil or on the altar. No one is worried about altar flowers at A Mighty Fortress for the rest of the year.


My efforts have been minimal. Roses are a little trouble to plant. They require immediate pruning, covering of the canes, mulch, and some garlic or chives planted as a companion. But now I just water and cut off roses. God handles the soil, produces the blooms, and sends in birds to reduce insect predation.


One person we know is a young teenager. She is homeschooled and works with her mother. She hinted very gently that she loves white roses. I cut the next two Crystalline roses for her, the buds closed, the 5 sepals (green bud leaves) open, indicating a complete bloom to follow. She asked, “Will they get as large as the white ones on the dining room table?” I said they definitely would. Several women have taken home bunches of roses, various colors, all clashing beautifully together. My mother takes them to the senior center every time she can. Roses never fail to please the giver and receiver.

Some current favorites, as they bloom:

1.     Liverpool Remembers – I would put that at the top of any list for early, frequent, and colorful blooms.

2.     Opening Night – One forerunner of Opening Night is Olympiad, a pure red rose. I would call Opening Night a velvety darker red.

3.     Perfume Delight – I would suggest Perfume Delight for anyone who wants to be battered by aroma from a deep pink bloom. I sniffed French Perfume at the store tonight, but smelled nothing from a bloom that looked spectacular. So far, I think only Fragrant Cloud is equal to Perfume Delight  in perfume potency. Fragrant Cloud is also an amazing bloomer.

4.     Don Juan is my only climber this year. If you grow Don Juan, people will ask, “What IS that rose?” If you grow other climbers, they will say, “Oh, you have a climber.” Most climbers are not so noted for the quality of the bloom. Since climbers can vary so much, I would study them in a few rose books before growing one.

5.     Tree roses, or as rosarians call them, standard roses. If you want to be a rose snob, always call tree roses “standard roses.” Many people will think that is a class: standard, sub-standard, etc. The standard is a rose cane connecting the wild rose roots with the hybrid rose on top. They are more trouble, normally requiring staking and special winter protection, and often cost much more. If you like to spend money, you can get them for $50 each, but Wayside Gardens has them for about $15. If I can get them at that cost, I may have a group of them next year.


Plants and Hummingbirds

I am trying to add to my collection of hummingbird plants. They love red, tubular flowers. Some bee balm (monarda) came in the mail. I do not like plants in the mail. They always seem to be near death when they arrive. However, I cannot find my favorites locally. So I soaked the bee balm for a couple of hours. Then I planted them and mulched them. I also bought butterfly bush (buddleia), a plant you will be without, once you have it for a summer.


I got some red salvia plants for the hummers. The joke is – I have some spitoonias, so now I need saliva plants to go with them.


Jackson and Perkins had delphiniums on sale. I bought nine and planted them. They are drooping down. I bought one at the store for $10. It is in full bloom already. It also took the shock of transplanting much better. Delphiniums are tall plants to be placed behind other plants. They also like the shade.


Foxgloves are wonderful for the shade. Very few people seem to know what they are. The leaves are coarse looking, but the flower stalks are full of tubular blooms. One can picture a fox from Wind in the Willows putting them on his fingers. The plant produces digitalis, used to treat heart disease. It is said that too much of this made Van Gogh paint weird scenes.


Hummers like a wide variety of plants, but experts claim that bee balm is sure to bring them into the yard. Once accustomed to feeding in the yard, hummers will stop by often. I think a good start is a gaudy, ugly, bright red hummingbird feeder with red nectar inside. If one hummer drives the others away, it is likely a male defending his food. The answer is to set up a feeder on another side of the house.


The members and I see hummers in the yard all the time. They often hover nearby, whether investigating or begging for more food. Their faces are frozen into a mischievous look, not by accident, I think. God has also put the same look on certain children and dolphins.  Hummers are known for their antics, so I think they have earned their cheerful little faces. When one swept in and out of my hose spray, to get a bath, I was struck with the feeling of elation many people enjoy from seeing hummingbirds.


I have started a second trumpet vine for hummingbirds. One (yellow) is behind the waterfall, to keep it out of the way while getting established. Another (orange red, the traditional color) is behind the feeding area. I recall one climbing up our garage at home. I found the sprouts coming up through the yard annoying. Now that I know the price of a vine, I would like some sprouts back. We seldom appreciate what we have in abundance. God lets them be taken away to teach us gratitude.


Trumpet vine and raspberries love to share once they are well rooted. They send sprouts all over the place. If you have a friend with trumpet vine, dig up a sprout and nurture it up a tree. To do this, start the vine well away from the trunk, with plenty of soil underneath.

Hang down twine for the vine to grasp. Circle the plant with fencing, to protect it from the Neanderthals who stand on new plants while asking how the garden is doing. Mulch and water. The vine will climb into the tree and bloom.


At the beer garden in New Ulm, trumpet vines are so old that they have the ancient gnarled and woody look of a spooky cartoon feature. The hummingbirds are so well established there that they hover over the blooms constantly. Peacocks also roam the grounds, looking for handouts.