Behind the Scenes: PEACHES!

If you saw this week’s column in the Chatham News & Record, you’ll understand why I put PEACHES! in all caps, with an explanation mark. Because PEACHES!

According to the Chatham County branch of the NC Cooperative Extension, “North Carolina’s climate and soils are well suited to grow many types of fruit trees.” There’s no shortage of full sun and slightly acidic soil in Chatham County, so it’s the perfect spot for peaches. We’ve been getting delicious peaches from the Pittsboro Farmers Market on Thursdays, and by the time we’re down to our last two in our household of three, we’ve got a Fight Club situation. 

But I caught up with Donna and Bill Moldovan of Pittsboro who have a small but enviable personal fruit tree grove. they’ve got seven varieties of peaches, along with nectarines, apples, plums, and apricots. I think if we had the same grove, I’d lay in the middle of it all summer and wait for fruit to just drop in my mouth. And die fat, dumb and happy. And full of fruit.

Shape Magazine had a great article this week on the health benefits of peaches. It said that peaches are low-calorie, a quick and easy source of fiber, have Vitamin C, help manage blood pressure, and contribute to healthy vision. So get out there and find some peaches. If you don’t have your own trees, or friends to share with you, check out the farmers markets and pick-your-own places along the Hwy 64 corridor. They’re not only tasty, they’re good for you!

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Behind the Scenes: Fruitful Vegetables

The Optimistic Gardener | Fruitful Vegetables

By Dolly R. Sickles

This week in the Chatham News & Record I’m talking to my good friend, John Davis, whose wife Jean I’ve known for 25 years. John is just the coolest guy, with a totally interesting origin story

Born in Brazil to parents who were lay ministers with the United Methodist Church, John is a peaceful dynamo. Since his parents studied agriculture at Iowa State in the early 1950s, and their purpose in the small town of Lins, Brazil was to run the farm that supported the seminary school, I knew John would have great farming insight. 

You can read about his logic for planting in the ground versus raised beds, how he fertilizes, and the cool cistern watering system he developed in the article. I wanted to use this post for a true behind the scenes look at a childhood that was so very interesting and different than most of us. The Davis family lived in Brazil until John was 14, and during that time his peaceful father, Bob, turned out to be quite the radical Renaissance man.

In 1964, when the military took over the Brazilian government in a coup, Bob Davis stepped up to the plate. “Toward 1970, when we left,” John said, “dad was spending time with other people in the Methodist Church to get information out of the country, and to help get people under surveillance out of the country to safety.” They had a small apartment out back they used as a staging area to move people out, like an Underground Railroad. 

The Davis family constantly encountered exciting things—theirs was like a real-life Indiana Jones situation. There was the time when, one night, Bob was going to take a woman they’d been helping to the bus station so she could leave the country and get to safety in Argentina. Only, the police were there so she and Bob had to wait it out in the car. Another time John came home from school and headed to the vacant lot next door where he hung out, and noticed the ground was disturbed; he found a shovel and started digging. Turned out his dad and crew had been smuggling out documentation and information to US media sources that described the torture and imprisonment happening in the country. And then there was the period when Bob delivered the mail to missionaries and ministers in the field by plane—”a big, lumbering DC-3″ that needed a dump truck to start its propeller once. I kid you not, I could’ve listened to stories about John’s family for hours. 

And not to be outdone, Jean’s family also has an interesting history of gardening. Her mother worked for the famed Weston Nurseries in New England, as an azalea propagator. Jean also worked for Weston, though she was out with the garden crew planting bushes. “That was enough experience to know I don’t want to work in the garden again,” she said, laughing. “I like flower gardening, but I enjoy the fruits of John’s garden.” She turned out pretty good, farming aside, because she’s the President & CEO of MCNC. She’s basically a badass with a cool origin story, but that’s a topic for another day.

So let me assure you, the people around you are interesting as hell. You’ve just got to talk to them. Checking out their garden is a good way to break the ice. Get out there and be optimistic, people. And dig in the dirt while you’re doing it.

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Behind the Scenes: Mimosa Trees

I took a poll to see who loves and who hates mimosas, based on this week’s column in the Chatham News & Record. It’s super scientific, y’all, so you can take these results to the bank. LOL.

Love ’em:

JL: I don’t have one but have pondering on getting one. They are so beautiful and delicate looking.

MT: I think they are beautiful. I wasn’t aware of unexpected volunteers – is that a big problem?

MCS: I’d take a mimosa tree over a redbud. Ridiculous number of volunteers.

DSE: I must admit I would love one, however, I am leery of more than I bargained for.

PS: Foe.

JG: Mimosas are lovely. When we were kids we used to pretend the blossoms were powder puffs. But they are invasive. And they are very weak trees, lasting about 20 years. They are probably less of a nuisance than crepe myrtles, which attract ants and are incredibly invasive. Chop down a crepe and leave one sprig and you’ll be fighting that sucker (see what I did there?) for years.

KSC: Even natives volunteer. It doesn’t make them invasive.

Hate ’em:

PD: Foe. Had one and got rid of it but they keep coming up and then I spray. They drop all their flowers just like magnolias. Ugh

JGM: I truly admire them only on someone else’s property …

It looks like the Friends have it. Form over function.

Our son used to play video games with a kid named Kyle, who was super smart and a nice little dude, but he constantly changed the rules of any game on the fly. You had to stay on your toes with that kid. That said, since I’m a writer and not a math-er, I’m going to say that eight out of nine of those polled in my widely acclaimed Facebook poll like mimosa trees. There were two questionable yes’s, so I’m not sure if they should get a full point.

Photo by Dolly R. Sickles.

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Behind the Scenes: Cut Flowers

For the next couple OG columns, I’m going to focus on supremely summertime topics in the garden: flowers, vegetables and fruits. To kick it off, I caught up with Nicole Rosenberger, who owns Turtle Rock Gardens and is part of the Red Roots Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription program. Her combination of annuals and perennials paints the county in blooms.

When I asked if she brought in any cut flowers for herself, she said: “I always have lots of cut flower around the house–I’ll never get tired of them! I grow them because I love them so much.  I mostly just have the cast offs from making bouquets though, rarely do I go out and make myself my own.”

Nicole grows a regular cadre of annuals, including zinnias (her fave), dahlias, snapdragons, lisianthus, nigella, cosmos, ornamental tobacco, celosia, amaranth, sunflowers, scabiosa, and marigolds. And when I asked if there was something she’d like to try, she said, “There are so many flowers out there I would love to grow but I only have so much space!  I try a few new things every year.”

That’s some pretty sage gardening advice that applies to everything in life: try a few new things every year.

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Reader Question: Poison Ivy

The publisher over at the Chatham News & Record let me know that a reader wrote in with a question.

Can you specify which Tecnu product your husband uses in the shower? Scrub? Lotion?

Greetings, reader. Thanks for the question.

My husband uses “Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser.” A bottle typically lasts about two years because he does heavy yard work in jeans and boots. It’s when he’s lazy and doesn’t change out of shorts and bare feet that he gets into trouble. In the article I mentioned that he waits about five minutes before washing it off, but the truer timing is that the whole process, from starting to scrub to full coverage (arms, legs, torso), is about five minutes. A quick Google search shows that Tecnu is available at most pharmacies (like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart), at Amazon, and through Technu directly. Hope that helps!

Thanks for reading The Optimistic Gardener!

Here’s the original Behind the Scenes post about Poison Ivy.

Behind the Scenes: Poison Ivy

This week I caught up with Chatham County Horticulture Extension Agent Matt Jones to discuss poison ivy. I’m strictly of the opinion that the only good poison ivy is dead poison ivy … or maybe the poison ivy that’s still growing over in your neighbor’s house who you don’t like. LOL. But Matt reminded me there are some good things that come of the weedy native vine.

According to the Smithsonian, “Poison ivy fruits, called drupes, are an important food for birds. Deer and insects eat the leaves. People think of it as a weed but in an ecological sense it is an early successional plant that is mostly found in disturbed areas.”

As a hater of the allergic reaction my husband has to the urushiol oil in poison ivy’s sap, but a friend of nature, I find myself vacillating between leaving it alone at the back of the property and mowing it down like Bill Duke in Predator. Maybe we could get a goat like we saw at the Louvre who’s sole purpose would be poison ivy eater. Hmm …

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And finally, I have it on good authority that Matt Jones will be developing a video for poison ivy this summer. I’ll post it when it’s available, but until then, check out the Chatham County Cooperative Extension Office for all things agriculture and natural resources.

Behind the Scenes: Garden Yarns

I had a nice stroll down memory lane today, recalling how fun it was last spring when my friend Jenny called and asked if I wanted any bulbs. “Come on over,” she said. “Okay!” I replied. She gave me so many irises, ajuga, daffodils, daylilies, and nandinas that she had to follow me home with her trunk filled, too.

This week’s Optimistic Gardener talks about the importance of sharing plants among friends, and the stories those plants have to tell. Jenny’s irises are at least five or six decades and four generations old, and the red cannas Pat Decator is sharing with Denise Effrein are a century old. When I ran into Denise while on a walk, her car was filled with irises (from another friend down the way) and Pat’s canna lilies.

And then there’s Maggie Zwilling–my former supervisor at CCCC, a good friend, and to top it off, a real pistol–who found out I was writing about sharing plants and brought over about 30 gladiolus and rain lily bulbs. There are so many things in life to be thankful for, and good friends are definitely top of the list. Quite frankly, it feels as good to share plants as it does to receive them.

What plants are you sharing? What’s their story?

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Behind the Scenes : Beekeeping

The Optimistic Gardener ran in today’s Chatham News & Record, and we talked about keeping honeybees: The A-to-Z’s of Bees. This week’s community gardener is my friend Brian Flick, who is also helping my husband get his hive up and running. Here are some photos from behind the scenes, taken by photographer Peyton Sickles. Be sure to check out the article in the paper (either online or in print), and subscribe to the CN+R if you’re local.

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