Treasures in the Trash

Treasures in the Trash By Suzanne Milstead

Rummage around your home, resale shop, garage sales, or architectural salvage yards. You might come across a unique item to place in your garden as art!  Yes, art.  These places are a garden paradise waiting to happen. Once you look beyond what the item was once used for, you might find a different perspective that could adorn a garden nook.

 Garage sales or estate sales often yield broken and old garden tools.  Look for tarnished cast offs to hang on fences, tool sheds, or walls.  Grouped together along with metal bugs and hanging pots, and you’ve created an outdoor garden collage.

trellis                                              planter

Colorful china plates from the dollar stores or antique shops become edging.  Even one or two, ‘planted’ in the garden bed add interest.   Wine bottles make interesting edging especially when shining in the sun.

dish edging      bottle edging

No need for a fancy trellis.  Bicycle wheels, old, wire garden fencing, rusted, farm wheels all become unique holders for roses and vines.

wheel trellis  fence trellis old wheel trellis

Look beyond the typical garden pot and breathe new life into common objects as planters. Rickety chairs become new with colorful paint.  Charcoal grills, once a throw-away item, add height to the patio or garden bed. Familiar kitchen items are whimsical planters, too.

blue chair  charcoal grill  sifter planter

I’ve just ‘thrown away’ an old chandelier, but will retrieve it to make a ‘hanging planter’ and also add height.


Groupings of similar items make a statement, rather than one, placed by itself.  Try 3 or more galvanized, watering cans or buckets which add a more modern look.  Several concrete blocks, become a container for annuals or succulents.

galvanized planters                                         stacking concrete        

No matter where you look, you can find a junkman’s paradise just waiting to be planted amongst your garden.  All that throw-away stuff is garden sculpture. Breathe new life into the trash and create your own outdoor art gallery!















Springtime means ….. BEES!

In springtime a young flower turns its thoughts to bees!  Here are a few bee-facts you might not know.

Stop your neighbors from using broad spectrum insecticide.  These kill good insects as well as bad.  Sevin, seems to be one that is especially bad for bees.  If it is sprayed on a blossom, it kills all pollinators that land on it.  This is now available through local hardware stores.

30% of bees, hornets and wasps live in the ground. Leave messy borders around your yard to support them.

Grow a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the season, from early spring to late fall, and leave their blooms on as long as possible.

Plant native flowers.  Find a native plant society group in your area.  They can help you determine which plants are natural to your area and perform best for local insects.

wildflower meadow

Most people do not realize that there were no honey bees in America before European settlers brought hives from Europe. These resourceful animals promptly managed to escape from domestication. As they had done for millennia in Europe and Asia, honey bees formed swarms and set up nests in hollow trees. Native pollinators, especially bees other than honey bees, have been pollinating the continent’s flowering plants since long before the arrival of honey bees. Even in today’s vastly altered landscapes, they continue to do the yeomen’s share of pollination, especially when it comes to native plants.

The honey bee, remarkable as it is, does not know how to pollinate tomato or eggplant flowers. It does very poorly compared to native bees when pollinating many native plants, such as pumpkins, cherries, blueberries, and cranberries.  Tomatoes don’t produce nectar, but Bumblebees will pollinate them in a greenhouse as long as water and sugar water are close by!!!


Native bees come in a wide array of sizes, shapes, and colors. They are also varied in their life styles, the places they frequent, the nests they build, the flowers they visit, and their season of activity. They remain ignored or unknown by most of us. Yet, they provide an invaluable ecosystem service, pollination, to 80 percent of flowering plants. What would our world be like without the beauty of flowering trees, shrubs, and wildflowers? How many of us know that native bees pollinate approximately 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in this country?

Bees are descended from wasps. Most wasps are carnivores; they either prey upon or parasitize other insects or spiders, and use this rich protein source to feed their young. About 125 million years ago, when the first flowering plants evolved, some wasps made a switch from hunting prey to gathering pollen for their brood. Perhaps they were hunting for insects that visited flowers and ate some of the pollen or drank the nectar along with their prey. It didn’t take much to find the advantages of consuming pollen over hunting. Pollen is rich in proteins and doesn’t fight back, so it is easy to imagine why the bees became vegetarians. Gathering pollen and nectar requires certain adaptations different from those of hunters, so they started to change, to evolve to meet these requirements and consequently became bees.



Prickly Topic of Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia species)

This article was originally published in the Lone Star Gardener some years ago and is copied here with only a few edits


Prickly pear cactus is an easy to grow native plant with beautiful rose-like flowers. It grows best in a sunny location and well-drained soil, although it has been known to grow in the forks of trees. Large spines and the smaller hair-like spines, called glochids, around the base of the large spines, flowers and on the fruit discourage some gardeners from including it in their landscapes.

Except for the spines, most of the above ground parts of the prickly pear cactus have been used for food or medicine. Many medicinal uses have been studied, including: antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, reduction of alcohol hangover symptoms, and diabetes. The fruit, also known as the pear, tuna, or fig, is eaten after removing the prickly parts by cutting, rubbing, pealing, burning, or straining if a jelly is made. The pads are eaten like a vegetable, also known as nopalitos, and like many vegetables, has a low glycemic index. The flowers are used to make tea, often combined with other things. Native Americans used prickly pear medicinally for many things, including applying it to external wounds. Consultation with a healthcare provider knowledgeable about complimentary medicines is recommended before using this or any plant for medicinal purposes. A red dye for use on yarn or fabric can be made from an insect that lives on the prickly pear cactus.

Consider adding prickly pear cactus to your landscape for its beauty and interest, if the thought of removing spines from your body parts does not scare you.

More than just a pretty flower: getting to know the name behind the species!

Ever wonder where those names that end in “ii” come from?  What do they mean?  Some of the answers are easy to find on the internet, others pretty much impossible. However, inquiring minds want to know, and if you have the curiosity and the time, there’s a lot of information “out there”!!!  Interestingly, much of this plant exploration took place in the so called “Age of Enlightenment” during the 18th Century.   So, here are six well known names to start with.

Drumondii: -Thomas Drummond ca. 1790-1835

                                                                                    Phlox drummondii

Many plants (including Phlox drummondii) were named for Thomas Drummond, Scottish Naturalist.  In 1830 he made a trip to America to collect specimens from the western and southern United States. In March, 1833, he arrived at Velasco, Texas to begin his collecting work in that area. He spent twenty-one months working the area between Galveston Island and the Edwards Plateau, especially along the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe rivers. His collections were the first made in Texas that were extensively distributed among the museums and scientific institutions of the world. He collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds. Drummond had hoped to make a complete botanical survey of Texas, but he died in Havana, Cuba, in 1835, while making a collecting tour of that island.

Wrightii: -Charles Wright 1811-1885

                                                                                   Datura wrightii

Charles Wright, American-born world-wide botanical collector collected extensively in Texas (1837-1852), Cuba, and his native Connecticut.  Plants named for him include Datura wrightii, the genus Carlow wrightii (wrightworts) and Geissorhiza wrightii (Baker). George Engelmann named a small cactus after him, Wright’s fishhook (Sclerocactus uncinatus var. wrightii.) He is also commemorated in the name of the grey flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii ) found near El Paso. Tropidophis wrightii (Wright’s dwarf boa) was also named after him


Anthonyanus: -Dr Harold Anthony (Can’t find image of Dr. Anthony!)


                                                       Selenicereus Anthonyanus,
Rick Rack Cactus, Devils Backbone Cactus, Fishbone Cactus – is named for Dr. Harold E. Anthony, who first flowered this species in June 1950. The former generic name Cryptocereus (literally, “hidden cereus” recalls the fact that the species remained long unknown in a region that had been thoroughly investigated.  Mr. Thomas McDougall found this species in 1946. He thought he had found a close relative of Epiphyllum anguliger.  When it flowered in the greenhouses of Dr. Harold E. Anthony in Jersey in 1950 it was obvious that this was a great novelty. The species is rarely collected and most plants in cultivation descend from this first collection.

Greggii: -Josiah Gregg 1806-1850

                                                                                                   Salvia Greggii

Josiah Gregg was a merchant, explorer, naturalist, and author of Commerce of the Prairies about the American Southwest and Northern Mexico regions. He collected many previously undescribed plants on his merchant trips and during the Mexican-American War after which he went to California. He reportedly died of a fall from his mount due to starvation near Clear Lake, California, on 25 February 1850 after a cross-country expedition which fixed the location of Humboldt Bay.

Fortunei: -Robert Fortune 1812-1880

Osmanthus fortunei

Born in Scotland, he took a 2-year trip to China about 1845 and wrote a travelogue which captures the imagination of Victorian Society; he was approached by the Dutch East India Company to return to China on a “secret” mission.  He came back with more plants, and more importantly …………. TEA!!

Four of the best-known plants that were named for him are:
Euonymous fortunei – Winter Creeper
Trachycarpus fortunei – Windmill Palm
Osmanthus fortunei – Tea Olive
Hosta fortunei

Thunbergii: -Carl Peter Thunberg 1743-1828

                                                                               Spirea thunbergii
Carl Peter Thunberg, also known as Karl Peter von Thunberg, Carl Pehr Thunberg, or Carl Pet Thunberg, was a Swedish naturalist and an apostle of Carl Linnaeus.  He has been called “the father of South African botany”, “Pioneer of Occidental Medicine in Japan” and the”Japanese Linnaeus.”

At 18 Thunberg entered Uppsala University i Sweden where he was taught by the famous Carl Linnaeus.  He was skilled in botany and medicine, and joined the Dutch East India Co. as a surgeon in order to travel to South Africa.  He is credited with naming some 254 species of plants and animals, including:
Allium thunbergii, Amarantus thunbergii, Berberis thunbergii Geranium thunbergii, Pinus thunbergii, and Spirea thunbergii!!




Three more Euphorbias!

My last post was about the Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, probably one of the most popular and well known Euphorbia in the world, especially at Christmas!  Such an interesting plant family, Euphorbia is a very large and diverse genus of flowering and non-flowering  plants and commonly called Spurge.

Three more Euphorbias that I am currently growing are Pencil Cactus, Crown of Thorns, and African Milk Tree – none of which resemble the Poinsettia in appearance, but all of which have the irritating milky sap (irritating not in the sense of annoying, of course, but as a potential irritant to the skin!!)

Euphorbia tirucalli – Pencil Cactus:

Greenhouse.Euphorbia Tirucalli  Like many succulents, tirucalli is easy to propagate by cuttings.  Sometimes I leave the cuttings out in the air to callous over the cuts, sometimes I stick them in with the sap dripping.  It doesn’t seem to make much difference!  Pencil Cactus can grow into large bushes and trees in it’s native habitat of semi-arid tropical climates, but is easy to control in less hospitable climates by taking cuttings.  Chop off it’s head, stick in potting soil, and share with your friends!!  I have never seen flowers on this plant, only teeny-tiny leaves.

Euphorbia milii – Crown of Thorns, Corona de Cristo


Again, easy (but not fast!) to grow from cuttings.  These come in several colors, and have vicious thorns.  It is easy to see where it’s common name “Crown of Thorns” came from.  Care (and gloves) is required when handling this plant.

Euphorbia trigona – African Milk Tree


This plant will grow to a decent sized spiny shrub or tree, with it’s origin in Central Africa.  It is easily grown from stem cuttings – most sources recommend letting the cut edge callousing over prior to planting to prevent rot.  Interesting to see the color change in the second picture.  The bottom of the plant is scarred from excess sun I think, so now I’ll be keeping it in afternoon shade once it goes back outside for spring and summer.

The best thing about these plants is that they are “pass alongs”; E. Tirucalli came from a friend at church who knew I was looking for some starts for a friend; E.millii came from the Rector at my church; E.trigona came from a dear friend.


Poinsettias for Christmas.

Before coming to the United States, I was not familiar with the tradition of Poinsettias at Christmas.  I was used to plants such holly, ivy, cyclamen, Christmas cactus and amaryllis.   Research sources such as Wiki, cactus/succulent websites and Brookwood Community where they grow thousands each year, has helped explain!!

Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–4 metres (2–13 ft). The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres (2.8–6.3 in) in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color. The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to and. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl, meaning “flower that grows in residues or soil” Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as Flor de Noche Buena, meaning Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor de Pascua, meaning Easter flower. In Chile and Peru, the plant became known as Crown of the Andes.  In Hungary, it is called Santa Claus’ Flower, and is widely used as a Christmas decoration.

The plant’s association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. The poinsettia has been cultivated in Egypt since the 1860s, when it was brought from Mexico during the Egyptian campaign. It is called bent el consul, “the consul’s daughter”, referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett. There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.

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In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering poinsettias can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as they are kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates such as Australia, Rwanda and Malta.  The plant requires a daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order to encourage it to develop colored bracts.  Any incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set, from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights) hampers bract production. Commercial production of poinsettia has been done by placing them inside a greenhouse and covering the latter completely to imitate the natural biological situation.  To produce extra axillary buds that are necessary for plants containing multiple flowers, a phytoplasma infection—whose symptoms include the proliferation of axillary buds—is used. The discovery of the role phytoplasmas play in the growth of axillary buds is credited to Ing-Ming Lee of the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Poinsettia tree growing in Guatemala

In the United States and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common misconception that the poinsettia is highly toxic. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf.While the sap and latex of many plants of the spurge genus are indeed toxic, the poinsettia’s toxicity is relatively mild. Its latex can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. It is also mildly irritating to the skin or stomach and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten.  Sap introduced into the human eye may cause temporary blindness.


Garden Catalogs, Mini Horticulture Guides

catalogs“Garden Catalogs, Mini Horticulture Guides”

By Suzanne Milstead


Winter arrivals of plant catalogs bring expectations, and many hours of contentment to all of us gardening enthusiasts.  We can’t wait to thumb through the mirage of old and new favorites, and new trials of hybrids.

Before ordering give careful consideration to the special conditions of your own yard:

  • The most important information to know is your plant zone (USDA Hardiness Zone). The Bryan/College Station area is zone 8b.
  • What kind of soil and water do you have? (Soil testing is available at AgriLife Extension
  • How much sun does it receive? Full sun, Morning or afternoon sun?

What you need to know about the plant itself:

  • Is it an annual or perennial?
  • What’s the mature size, blooming season, and special features of this plant?
  • Do I want to experiment with something new or use the tried and true favorites?

After placing your order and receiving the seeds or plants, what then?   My advice–don’t toss those catalogs.   They are a wealth of information for planting successful gardens. Place a sticky note on the front of the catalog and list the items with page numbers.  Circle in bold permanent markers, those plants you did order so you won’t forget.

However, best of all, seed and plant catalogs put faces to names.  Colorful, plant pictures help to make good choices for the landscape and garden along with the description.  I really like the new introductions and unique colors of a commonly, grown plant and those designated as All-American.  (All American Winners have been tested by a network of independent judges who determined their garden performance was superior, usually consistent and reliably good varieties.)  Catalogs may also offer ‘heirloom’ plants with desirable traits for growing. And if these advantages aren’t enough, consider this: seed catalogs put in your hand a mini-horticultural reference.   As with anything, beware of descriptions that seem too good to be true. If it claims to grow 25 feet in one year-will it take over the entire garden and be difficult to eradicate?  Also seed companies that are based in northern states are usually describing how a plant performs in northern states. 

Catalog highlights might include any of the following:

  • Time to plant-Planting dates depend on site location and geographic weather patterns. Dates for planting are gauged on seasonal rainfall in your area rather than by temperature.
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Map-Present a range of average annual minimum temperatures for each zone with recommendations for spring or fall planting. Variations within each zone are factors to be considered such as altitude, exposure to wind, proximity to bodies of water and excessive or minimal rainfall.  Best bet is to contact your county extension agent for local information on planting considerations.
  • Starting from Seed-Consider site location, soil type, hours of sunlight and shade, drainage, weeds or nearby trees. Select a site that drains well.  Germinate in trays or out in the flower beds?
  • Seed Germination– Depth, germination days, optimum soil temperature.
  • Controlling the Elements– Watering frequency by hand or irrigation; fertilization, sunlight.
  • Factors Causing Poor Results-Impatience, poor drainage, deep soil planting covering too deep, inadequate watering, and planting at wrong time of year.
  • What do the Symbols Mean? Life cycles of plants indicated by A=annual; An annual plant is a plant that usually germinates, flowers, and dies in one year.  P=perennial; A perennial plant is a plant that lives for more than two years.  B=biennial; A plant that completes its life cycle within a two-year period. Germinates in the spring, overwinters, flowers the following spring or summer and dies back the following fall.
  • Herbicides which are safe to use with your plants.
  • Special Collections-Examples such as butterfly and hummingbird seed blends and mixes usually in larger quantity and how much to use per square feet.
  • Additional Information-Latin name and cultivar, description, size, suggested use, range map.
  • Disease Codes refer to what diseases the plant is resistant to. A rule of thumb,  the more letters or codes after the plant, the better.  Usually, definitions of each letter are referenced in the catalog.  Example: In tomatoes,  “F” or “FF” means the plants are resistant to the Fusarium oxysporum fungi that cause Fusarium wilt.


Catalogs help you make better choices at purchase, but also later when the seeds or plants arrive, you can use it as a reference for where to plan, how to plant, what color to expect, when it should flower, and how to care for them.  Keeping the ‘free’ catalog guide helps you become a more successful gardener while saving money.


On-line Catalog Resourses:

All American Selections:

Free catalogs:

Ten Seed Catalogs:

Pinterest: search for seed catalogs