Better gardening through soap, gum

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2000

Reaching for solutions to common garden problems, master gardener Ed Hume turned to the pantry, the medicine chest and the laundry rather than the garage.

Corn gluten, castor oil and soap were among the homey products he recommended to an audience that sat on the edges of its pews at the Chapel by the Lake, taking notes.

And, if all else failed, Hume recommended -- dynamite.

Hume was one of the first speakers at the two-day Alaska Garden Conference 2000, which began Friday. The fifth biannual conference -- the first statewide conference held in Southeast Alaska -- ended Saturday with a potato potluck.

In the audience for Hume's presentation was Beth Crile, a Juneau resident since 1974 who recently took up gardening. Her garden plot on Mendenhall Back Loop is well-supplied with shade as well as sunshine. Her dream crop? Tomatoes -- in honor of which a greenhouse is rising this week.

Crile figures she has a thousand plant starts in her garage, including tomatoes, snapdragons, petunias, wax begonias, hollyhocks and morning glories. The conference, she said, was a chance to learn how to make the most of them.

Local gardeners asked questions about marauding porcupines and deer. Hume gave solutions for most pests -- except porcupines, for which he jokingly recommended dynamite.

Hume, a resident of Kent, Wash., is a newspaper columnist and host of the television show ``Gardening in America.'' His show is seen in 50 million households in the United States and Japan.

He had several messages: Gardening is just common sense. Landscaping can improve your view as well as your real estate value/curb appeal. Plants purify the air as well as make oxygen.

Among the factoids and tips he passed on:

Corn gluten keeps weeds down 70 percent.

Oregon State University research shows cultivating at night keeps weeds down better than cultivating at any other time of day.

A compound in orange rind helps control slugs.

Good landscaping mixes different textures, colors, shapes and sizes of plants.

``Just average landscaping'' can increase the value of a home 12 to 21 percent.

An Alaska cedar can screen a telephone pole from view.

Dial soap in mesh bags or nylon stockings spaced every 10 feet will repel deer. ``Just hang it up in the fall before the male deer mark their territory,'' he noted.

Voles and moles can be conquered with Juicy Fruit gum. Chew half a stick lightly, then deposit in a burrow or runway. ``It gums up their digestive system and kills them.''

Mix 1/4 cup castor oil with 2 tablespoons liquid detergent. Blend. Add 6 tablespoons water. Blend again. Use 2 tablespoons of this formula to a gallon of water. Pour over crocus bulbs when planting them. Water spring foliage with the same mixture. This deters voles.

Alaska Garden Conference 2000 put on 10 workshops. The conference ran in tandem with the American Primrose Society National Show 2000, drawing attendees from as far away as New York and Connecticut.

Workshops focused on diverse topics, ranging from using stone in landscaping to gardening in Nepal. Speakers included Ben Haight, Les Brake, David Lendrum Elizabeth Cuadra and Anchorage wildflower expert Verna Pratt.

Saturday morning, audiences were entertained by Mississipian Felder Rushing, author of ``Passalong Plants.'' As organizer Sandy Williams thanked Rushing, he noted he had e-mailed speakers about their equipment needs. Rushing e-mailed back, ``I need a projector, a screen and I also need a cold beer when I finish a talk.'' He got his beer.

Rushing showed slides of local gardens, and their successes with plants such as hostas, nasturtiums, cannas, larkspur, Tete a Tete daffodils and tiger lilies. He also mentioned how much he liked the way Anchorage gardeners mix vegetables in with ornamentals.

However, he was a bit critical of local cemeteries. A cemetery is ``an opportunity for a master gardener to do a kind of demonstration garden,'' Rushing said. ``But work with the mowers; put plants between things instead of out in the open.''

Rushing twined the myth of Sisyphus around his philosophy of gardening: pass it on. King Sisyphus angered the gods with his greed. They condemned him to roll a boulder uphill -- only to have it roll down again.

The daily grind is like Sisyphus' fate, Rushing said, but we can beat that grind through gardening. By sharing our gardening knowledge and our plants, we can ``pass a piece of the rock along.'' The rock may not actually grow smaller, ``but it seems lighter,'' he said.

He gave as an example purchasing a dahlia bulb from local gardener Carolyn Jensen. Jensen told his daughter Zoe how to plant the bulb, which will become a Mother's Day gift back in Mississippi. All participants got something positive out of the exchange.

``Stop and wiggle your finger in the dirt; you never know what will happen,'' he said. He and Zoe frequently stop the car to smell the state flower, the magnolia. ``Thirty years from now, she will smell magnolias and she will be a little girl again, and her daddy will be alive.''

``We make our children shell blackeyed peas; my wife's an attorney and we can buy peas,'' he said. But as the children shell, they have to sit forward in tippy porch chairs; they chat; their knees touch; and their fingers are used for something other than Nintendo.

``It's a touching stop,'' he said. ``And when they get together 20 or 30 years from now, they are going to be a little closer because of this sharing of spirits.''

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