Tag Archives: alphabet project

Perennial Flock

Their relatives appear in almost every children’s book of farm animals. And they are popular with the toys teaching sounds. We never raised them on our farm, but some of our neighbors had small flocks.

The real animals are prized for their coats and their meat. They do have a reputation for demanding good fences and clipping the grass short. (Actually, at one time they roamed the White House grounds. Careful where you step, Mr. President.)

This friendly group is popular with both children and photographers.

Where else can you let a pre-schooler ride a sheep?



Zip a Zee…..


Final in our alphabet of living things. (Little did I know when I started they’d all turn out to be plants.) Certainly not last in the garden or in childhood memories.



When I was a child, most flower gardens included Zinnia. Plant them in a border after the vegetable garden is in and you’ll be rewarded by mid-summer with a splash of color which continues to frost. They make a fine cut flower to add a dash of class to the dining table. Or you can pause in your vegetable harvest and enjoy the butterflies and occasional hummingbird they attract.

They are a fitting end — planted along the end of our spring and summer exploration of plants. So breath deep, enjoy our alphabet garden. You’re sure to find something to strike your fancy and grown in your 2016 garden.



Yes. Yeah. Yup.

There you have it — three positive “Y” words.

Oh, that’s not what you asked for? Let me choose another word, this time a useful plant — YARROW.



This patch of multi-purpose plant posed for me early in July, near the end of the blooming season.

Multi-purpose suits this flower. It will make a lovely garden border in dry to medium water conditions and thrive in full sun. All of the above ground portions are safe to use for other purposes too. An accent in dried flower arrangements heads the list.

Native Americans used Yarrow as a medicine and some modern people follow their lead. You can brew a tea to sooth fever, shorten the common cold, relieve GI tract discomfort, or induce sweat.

Have a toothache? Chew a few leaves to ease the pain.

Need an accent in your salad? Add fresh leaves and flowers.


X…X…Where are you, X???

The internet and the search engines and sites it contains are great research tools. They help a blog writer such as myself, confirm facts and dig up little tidbits of trivia to pass along.

But — don’t trust them exclusively.

About six weeks ago, I strolled the grounds of the local botanical garden, keeping a sharp eye out for plants beginning with X. I knew it would be a tricky, difficult alphabet letter to find a plant partner. I went to the Latin names and snapped a nice shot — complete with official label.


Tapping in the name today gave me the “sorry, no items to match your criteria” message. (Hate that response on the rare occasions I have spelled correctly.)

One other search gave a secondary common name of Rat Aloe. The plant is threatened due to loss of habitat. Sorry, folks. This is not the common Aloe vera matching the one on my patio. Not a hint that this species is good to sooth small burns and bug bites.

The result? I’ll keep my patio plant.  I happen to like my small First Aid Kit from the Xanthorrhoeaceae family.


Wonderful, Wonderful, Weeping

We approach the final portion of the alphabet with a graceful beauty.


A person’s attitude toward the weeping willow may vary with age.

As a child, I would duck low and thread my way through the slender, draping branches of a neighbor’s tree and enjoy a quiet, cool “hiding place”.

Decades later I appreciate the effort my friend takes to trim the branches even for good appearance and high enough to permit ease of mowing.

You’ll spot these beauties along streams and rivers in the wild. They also find homes in suburban yards and cemeteries. They love water. Does your property have a low spot away from buildings? Moisten well and a playful tree like this will add interest. Allow lots of room — the house in the background is a split level (1 1/2 stories high).

Verily, Verily…

Violet. She has a reputation for shyness. I’ve not noticed it.



Perhaps the people who assign that sort of thing are referring to her presence in woods, thickets, and along stream banks. Or they’re simply comparing her to her brighter colored cousin — Pansy.

This little patch of violets shares the sunlight with early dandelions. They are growing next to a busy street, not shy about traffic or fumes or students walking to the nearby school.

Once you have violets they will stay. They love to re-seed and to be close to others. So go ahead — start them in a little border, or as ground cover in a shady spot. They’ll treat you every spring with a happy flower and a promise of warmer weather ahead.

Up, Up, Under

Quick, name a plant beginning with the letter “U”.

Yeah, I paused also. Then I went poking around on a botanical web site and found this beauty.

Umbrella tree

Umbrella tree

Tall, slender trunk with large, oval leaves. At the size of 24×10 inches you could snatch a large leaf as an emergency umbrella.

My visit was at the end of July. This is long after the white, showy flowers of May have vanished. This native of the Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge, and adjoining areas — including Missouri — will be worth a spring visit.

Thinking of planting one? Don’t venture too far north for this member of the magnolia family. It will do well in part shade and prefers soil where the moisture remains constant.


Tempting Target

Attracts butterflies. Attracts bees. Low maintenance.

This is my kind of plant. Never mind that a nickname is TICKSEED



Oh. Good. The correct common name is Threadleaf. I can deal with thread. I like most leaves. My experience with ticks? That’s another story with unpleasant overtones.

So go ahead. Plant a nice border of Threadleaf in a sunny portion of your garden. It will tend to re-seed and also spread. Thus part of the low maintenance. Clip or trim near the end of summer and you’ll encourage another burst of blossoms in early fall. It will even establish if the soil is poor. (A bonus in St. Louis with clay fit for bricks under a thin layer of topsoil.)

And don’t panic if you think you see ticks lying around after the blooms dry. These are the seeds. Hence the nickname. Unless they crawl.

Seedy Sweet

Wild ones are small and sweet. The plants hide in unexpected places such as roadside ditches or suburban berms where lawn mowers fear to tread.

Grocery stores and farmer’s markets sell the larger fruit. Whether grown on a larger commercial farm or by a traditional farm family — they are harvested by hand. Children, migrants, retirees all have put in hours in the fields harvesting the popular  STRAWBERRY.



Low to the ground and eager to spread by runners, this plant can also be useful as a ground cover. Imagine them holding the soil on a steep slope year round and furnishing an early summer treat. I’ll take mine with ice cream if you have it.

Rumored Repellant

It keeps mosquitoes away.

I’ll plant two. Or perhaps a dozen. This is one rumor I’ll act one, whether I put a lot of faith in it or not.

I do know the leaves add a great flavor to potatoes. And stews. And casseroles. (Hot dish to my childhood friends.)



May I present Rosemary as a guest in the living alphabet. She’s a native of the Mediterranean and her name means “dew of the sea”. She likes a climate on the warm side and soil that is light and sandy. Therefore: keep her in a clay pot and bring her inside when the St. Louis winter approaches.

She has a rich and varied history, earning a place in kitchen and medicinal herb gardens as well as borders. Centuries ago sprigs were woven into a headpiece for brides and grooms and wedding guests wore sprigs of it to represent a love charm. You can find it at funerals and memorial services as a symbol of remembrance.

Plus — it’s a nice name for a girl.