I wrote to the Extension Office recently with some questions about fungicidal treatments for a problem I’m facing in the garden. As an aside I mentioned chamomile tea as a fungicide, which is a remedy I have heard so often I believed that it MUST be true. Shame on me! Here is an excerpt from the email I received in response to my queries:
We did considerable research into the suggestion
that chamomile tea can prevent damping-off in seedlings (ergo the idea
of using it when seed starting). However, it appears that that this is
a bit of garden lore passed down for generations (aka an “Old Wives
Tale”) without any scientific proof that it does indeed work. In order
for us to recommend a treatment—organic or otherwise—we must follow
the guidelines of the University Illinois Extension for Master Gardeners,
which state that we can offer only “fact-based” recommendations for the
home garden. This means that if a recognized university or government
study does not support a concept, we cannot recommend it. This is
especially true in the world of “organic” treatments, where many potions
are touted as a Miracle Cure or preventative. According to the University
of Kentucky, the use of chamomile tea as a fungicide may have been
anecdotally accepted because a “controlled” test—the gold standard
for scientific studies—was not conducted. In other words, no A/B study
was performed using seeds or seedlings that were both healthy, and also
at risk of disease. So any experiments that purported to “prove” that chamomile
tea prevents damping-off were most likely conducted in the absence of any
fungus, and thus do not prove anything of the sort. If there is no fungus around,
you can’t catch it!
Plant natives, babe!
There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.
I’ve been poring over Swink’s Plants of the Chicago Region lately, coming up with a must-have list for the community garden that I tend to. It’s a little bit of a shame that after ten years the garden is still a hodge-podge of donated plants, many still unidentified, and often planted without any coherent overall strategy. It’s a far cry from the days of picking up dog shit and kicking out prostitutes, but I’d like to see a little more order out there among the weeds.
There are some treasures to be found, of course. While not at all native, we have three English Hawthorns which are quite lovely trees. Originally planted in 1994, they’ve turned out to be a little challenging in our small space. The garden was originally three lots wide, although they were not all one parcel. Two of those lots have been developed into condominiums, and we’re blessed with a little more shade than anyone may have envisioned when the garden was first thought out. I can’t criticize the founders too heavily, for they left me a lot to work with, and I’m determined not to lose any more trees (an alder and an ash were felled under my watch).
So what is my strategy for happy trees? Give them some company, of course! Swink doesn’t list English Hawthorns as growing wild in the Chicago region (duh), but he does list several other Hawthorns, and the following native plants are found growing alongside many of them. Some of them are real beauties, and adding them to our lot will certainly pretty up the place while we also work on building up our soil biology and pulling in native pollinators and biodiversity, stuff like that.
Companions for Hawthorns:
Cryptotaenia canadensis, Honewort
Clytonia virginica, Spring Beauty
Geranium maculatum, Spotted geranium
Geum canadense, White Avens
Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia creeper
Phlox divaricata, Wild Blue Phlox
Polygonatum canalicutum, Great Solomon’s Seal
Ranunculus abortivus, Small-flowered buttercup
Plants of the Chicago Region, A Check List of the Vascular Flora of the Chicago Region with Notes on Local Distribution and Ecology, by Floyd Swink
Copyright 1969 by the Morton Arboreteum
Aw yeah Chicago Public Library! I found this volume at Sulzer Regional.. It’s going to be invaluable in helping me plan all of my plantings from now on.. He lists every plant found growing wild in the 22 county region surrounding Chicago, whether it is native or introduced, in what sorts of locations it is typically found, and what plants it most often accompanies..
As I’m striving to create little pockets of biodiversity throughout Chicago, this volume will tell me which plants already have a history of playing well together in this region..
Check out the August 16 lecture on bringing biodiversity into the home landscape with Doug Tallamy.. Here is another event that my schedule won’t allow me to attend.. I’m letting you know about it here so that you might tell me more about it later..