The Garden Spotter


Spotted: Crazy, Mixed Up Mother Nature


Yes, my Christmas cactus is about to bloom, a week before Valentine’s Day. But that’s the way it’s been going this winter in Maine; nothing is as it should be. In December and January, warmer than usual temperatures kept ponds from freezing and mountaintops free of snow, and some of the trees even began to bud. During this first week of February, sunshine and temperatures in the fifties set the sap running in the maple trees, prompting a few producers to put in taps much earlier than usual. And on Groundhog Day, the wise ol’ woodchuck reportedly did not see his shadow, indicating spring would come early.

Yet here we are on Friday, with a surprise snowstorm bringing us three to five inches and the first official snow day for the kids. Another, bigger, storm is predicted for early next week.

It seems we humans tend to get hysterical when our expectations of winter fall short. But in truth, there is a wide range of what is normal for New England – some days it snows, some days it rains, and some days, well, you should grab your bathing suit and head for the beach.

 February 5th, 2016  
 Kathleen McLaughlin  
 H O M E . Y A R D  
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Collecting: Garden Books

Here’s a little known fact: One of the most valuable books ever sold was a garden book. It was actually a set of books, the 16-volume Les Liliacees written by Pierre-Joseph Redoute and once owned by the Empress Josephine, which sold for $5 million in 1985 to an art dealer. The botanical masterpiece, published between 1802 and 1816, is said to contain dozens of watercolors of flowers on vellum. Even more valuable than that, according to the American Book Exchange (ABE), was an original and very rare complete copy of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, published in parts beginning in 1827, which sold to another art dealer for $11.5 million in 2010.

After several years of selling antique and rare books – many of which I now wish I still owned – I only recently started to focus on garden books as a collection of my own. I now have about 35 to 40, and like any collection, it keeps growing, and morphing. And, like any collection, I’m sure I will eventually have to edit it, and define it, by parameters like subject and date. IMG_2300

My collection now includes prized garden encyclopedias from the early 20th century, 70’s era “back to the land” bibles on composting and growing herbs, nature writing collections, garden crafts and even some school textbooks. Yes, there’s a wide range. And some of the books are pretty shabby, missing pages or a spine or a front fly paper, but that’s how a collection begins.
IMG_2267 Everything I know about rare and valuable books I learned working for an antique book dealer in Maine one summer. A one-time book seller in Times Square, B. taught me that certain things make a book valuable, and most of that information can be found right on the title and copyright page. First and foremost, book collectors look for first editions from prominent publishing companies. Usually if the copyright page indicates just one publishing date, it is a first edition. Sometimes, there is a notation that it is a second or third printing, which would indicate it is not a true first edition. Also, sometimes there is an “A” or other letter that indicates a first printing or limited edition – even more rare.

Once you’ve established a first edition, there are certain quality aspects that can detract from the book’s worth: missing pages or end papers, a missing dust jacket, a broken spine, damaged boards, folded pages, foxing (age related yellowing or browning on pages), and writing and/or the addition of a bookplate. A pristine, original, first copy is what you’re striving for as a collector.
On the contrary, certain elements can enhance a garden book’s value, particularly if it is a rare one. Colored plates and/or illustrations, the author’s signature (particularly if the author is famous) or inscription and a leather binding with fancy end papers can all make the garden book worth more.

I am not anywhere near ready to fine tune my collection, and, to be honest, I just collect books whose subject matter interests me. I love to read about how gardening tasks were carried out in the old days, and find it amusing when I see, for example, a remedy for insects from the mid century that includes DDT or pictures of hippies in the 70’s drying herbs in their kitchens. Sure, there are some good ones that got away; I would love to have that beekeeping reference from the 1880’s that I had once – what gorgeous illustrations! – or the greenhouse instruction manual. But maybe I’ll come across even better copies of those books as I continue collecting.

Maybe I will also one day find that long lost copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America.  How cool would that be, and how would I ever spend $11 million?

 February 3rd, 2016  
 Kathleen McLaughlin  
 H O M E . Y A R D  
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27 Ways to Use Baking Soda in the Home and Garden


Baking soda, or bicarbonate of soda, is cheap, non toxic, and, chances are pretty good you have some in your kitchen cabinet leftover from that last batch of chocolate chip cookies you made.  But did you know baking soda has many uses that go way beyond baked goods? It even comes in handy in the garden.

1. Laundry

An alkaline substance, baking soda will help eliminate bad odors and boost the whitening power of any detergent.  Just add 1/2 cup of soda to a normal size load of towels, t-shirts or diapers and see the difference.

2. Sports Equipment

Wipe down pads and other equipment that can’t easily be laundered with a warm wet cloth sprinkled with baking soda.  Let sit, then wipe dry. For cleats, skates and sneakers, sprinkle baking soda directly into the shoe and leave out in a sunny warm place for 24 hours or so. It will neutralize and eliminate the odor rather than just cover it up with an odd scent, as some sprays will do.

3. Refrigerators and Freezers

Are you met with an odor of rotting food or sour milk when you open your refrigerator door?  Sprinkle some baking soda on a clean cloth and wipe down all surfaces, then rinse well with warm water. You’ll eliminate any bad smells. The baking soda will not scratch the surface, or leave film.

4. Coffee Makers

Run the coffee maker as usual, but, instead of coffee, use the same amount of baking soda.  To rinse, run through a second time, but use only water and no baking soda. The hot solution will help remove coffee oils and residue that build up on the inner workings of the machine.

5. Food and Drink Containers

Mix a small amount of baking soda with water and rinse ice buckets, lunch boxes, cups and other food containers to remove odors and eliminate soap build up.

6. Silverware

Instead of traditional silver polish, spring a small amount of soda on a cloth and wipe away tarnish without scratching the surface.


7. Porcelain and Ceramic Bath Surfaces

Again, sprinkle a small amount of bicarbonate of soda  on a sponge or cloth, followed by a hot water rinse.

8. Sink Odors and Clogs

Pour 1/2 cup baking soda in drain followed by a half a cup of vinegar. Let stand for a bout 15 minutes before running clean, warm water down the drain. This will help  keep your pipes clean and odor free.

9. Marble

Add three tablespoons of baking soda to one quart of warm water and apply solution to marble surface.  Let stand for several minutes, then rinse with clean warm water. Wipe dry. For stubborn stains, try making a paste using water and soda, and follow the same steps.

10. Rugs

To eliminate odors, sprinkle baking soda on rug, wait about 15 minutes, and then vacuum as usual. Odors vanish!

11. Combs and Brushes

To freshen and deodorize, soak your brushes and other hair tools in three tables of baking soda and one quart of warm water. Rinse thoroughly in warm water.

12. Burned Food on Frying Pans

Moisten the surface if needed, and then sprinkle with baking soda. Stuck-on food comes off much, much easier.

13. Onion and Fish Odors on Hands

It happens: You cook something and your hands smell for days. Keep a box of baking soda handy for those times. Just sprinkle on hands and rub hard, using a bit of warm water.

14. Baking Powder

If you ever run out of baking powder, just remember that baking soda is a good substitute with some additives. Combine one part soda with two parts cream of tartar. Mix thoroughly. Use immediately.

15. Produce Wash

Dissolve wax and oil from the surfaces of fruits and vegetables by wiping with a damp cloth sprinkled with a bit of bicarbonate of soda. Rinse with water.

16. Upset Stomach

Tummy aches and heartburn are often the result of too much acid in the foods we eat. To counterbalance the effects, mix one-half teaspoon in one-half glass of water and drink. (For long term digestion problems, it’s best to consult a healthcare provider because it might be indicative of a more serious problem.)


17. Bad Breath

Use the above solution, but gargle with it as you would any over-the-counter rinses.  It will be just as effective, but cost a lot less.

18. Toothpaste and Whitener

Baking soda’s gentle abrasive and stain fighting properties make it an excellent substitute for toothpaste. Sprinkle a little  bit directly on your toothbrush and clean as usual.

19. Clean Hair and Scalp

Soap and shampoo can build up on hair and scalp, causing dullness, itchiness and even dandruff. For a clean rinse, mix three tablespoons of soda with a quart of water and pour over head. Let sit for a minute or two, then rinse. Repeat if necessary, or massage into scalp, if needed.

20. Insect Bites

For isolated bites, apply a paste of water and soda directly onto wound and let sit to help relieve irritation and any pain. Rinse thoroughly with water.

21. Poison Ivy and Other Rashes

Soothe the widespread itchiness by adding a cup of baking soda to a tub of warm water. Soak. The soda will help dissolve the oils that seep from poison ivy blisters and spread the rash.

22. Small Fires in the Kitchen

When a grease or oil fire starts on the stove, dumping water on it may only worsen matters. Instead, keep a box of baking soda nearby. When heat is applied to the soda, it produces carbon dioxide – the same stuff that makes fire extinguishers so effective.

23. Pet Odors

Sprinkle baking soda in kitty litter boxes and around pet beds to eliminate odors. It’s effective and, more importantly, non-toxic.

 24. Fungicide

Baking soda won’t hurt your roses or grapevines, but will kill black spot fungus. Mix 4-5 teaspoons of soda with one gallon of water and spray on plants.

25. Eliminate or Prevent Powdery Mildew

Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of dish liquid to one gallon of water to reduce this problem that can devastate some flowers and vegetables. Using a sprayer, apply on a cloudy day, as bright sun could cause the solution to burn foliage.

26. Weeds

Sprinkled between the cracks on the sidewalk, sodium bicarbonate may discourage weed growth. But some researchers say it’s effectiveness may depend on the acidity of the soil, and the type of plant.

27. Ice Melt

Use baking soda instead of kitty litter or a chemical de-icer to provide traction and melt ice on your steps and sidewalks. It’s less toxic to plants and less abrasive on outdoor surfaces and shoes.

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