When Company “Drops In”: Green Snake

Opheodrys aestivus,, Rough Green Snake, native along the Eastern Coast of North America.

Opheodrys aestivus,, Rough Green Snake, native along the Eastern Coast of North America.

I was happily weeding and deadheading  the lower reaches of the butterfly garden earlier today, when I heard my partner calling to come quickly.

I heard that edge in his voice which demanded immediate attention.

So I dropped everything and climbed the hill towards where he stood.

Silently, he pointed to a Rose of Sharon shrub a few feet away.

A beautifully sinuous green snake balanced in the upper branches, staring back at us.

July 22, 2014 vine snake 003

My partner had come outside to check on me, and as he started down the hill, he saw the snake drop through the air from higher up in the garden’s canopy, landing in the shrub.

He always warns me to keep an eye out to what is lurking up in the trees, and always insists I wear a hat out into the garden.

And today, this beautiful green snake dropping down into the shrubs, near where I had just been working, made his point for him!

July 22, 2014 vine snake 009

We estimate the Green Snake to be close to two feet long, though it is very slender.  Its head isn’t much larger than that of our lizards.

We’ve never seen this snake in our garden before today.

Known as the “Rough Green Snake,” Opheodrys aestivus, these snakes are known to live near permanent water supplies, in wooded areas, where there are abundant insects to eat.

Native all along the East Coast of North America from New Jersey to Florida, Green Snakes prefer the coastal plain to the mountains.

July 22, 2014 vine snake 010

He was extremely peaceful today, visiting with us for as long as we wished.  He allowed me to take photos and approach him without so much as opening his mouth.

He moved a bit along the branches of the shrub, but stayed where he was until I returned to my weeding, and my partner went back indoors.

Non-poisonous, this little guy is a welcome visitor in the garden.

We hope we see him again…. from a distance.

July 22, 2014 vine snake 012

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“Powerful Stuff,” Epsom Salts

Like most serious gardeners, when I get a little “ding” I generally just keep on going and choose to ignore it.  That’s probably why I have absolutely no idea how I injured my thumb last week.  I get lots of dings between work in the garden and the kitchen.  They almost always heal right up and I stay in motion.

One of the best values of the home pharmacy!

One of the best values of the home pharmacy!

This thumb injury, right where the nail meets the skin, started out that way.  But, I made the cardinal mistake of working outside without gloves over the weekend.  Add in all of the dish washing, and general cleaning up, and I exposed the little nick in my skin to some nasty bacteria somewhere along the way.  It was sore on Saturday, worse on Sunday, but by yesterday it was throbbing as I typed.  And it kept getting worse.

If you’re like me, you do most of your own “doctoring” and avoid the AMA crowd whenever possible.  Trying to remember all of the home remedies for infections, I remembered Epsom Salts.  We try to keep some around all the time because it’s useful for so many things.  Well, I finally found a carton in the garage next to the Plant Tone, covered in cobwebs and potting soil.  Not exactly sterile looking.  The last time I had used it was on the roses in early summer.

The flower bed I reworked and bordered this weekend

The flower bed I reworked and bordered this weekend

Epsom salt, or Magnesium Sulfate, is not really salt at all.  Originally found at a mineral spring in Epsom, Surrey, England; it is a combination of Magnesium and Sulphate, both very healing to the body.  Epsom salt is an extremely versatile crystalline product (probably why it’s called “salts”) which enhances growth, bloom, and general vigor in many types of plants; greens your lawn; kills insects; soothes muscle aches and pains; reduces inflammation; and draws toxins out of the body.  (More uses for Epsom salts here)

By the time I realized that my whole thumb was red and throbbing, it was late in the day yesterday and I had no interest in heading to the store or the urgent care.  A long soak in a bowl of hot water and dissolved Epsom salts finally brought some relief.  Temporary relief that is.

I went on the offensive with mega doses of vitamin C, topical antibiotic cream, and even some colloidal silver; which was the antibiotic of choice before the pharmaceutical industry made so many  specific antibiotics available.  A full assault on the nasty microbes attacking my thumb at least kept the infection from spreading any more, and we got a few hours of sleep here and there.

You can feel the pain draining away during an Epsom salt soak.  Whether we’re talking tired muscles, infected finger, or any of a number of other maladies; Epsom salt is a powerful healing agent.  It can penetrate through the skin, across the cell membranes, to bring healing and draw out toxins.  Soaking for 20 to 30 minutes, every four hours or so, made a huge difference.

Snapdragons from Homestead Garden Center, grown by the Patton family, moved into their new bed on Saturday morning.

Snapdragons from Homestead Garden Center, grown by the Patton family, moved into their new bed on Saturday morning.

Given no other option, the finger might have healed up in a few days with the healing protocol I’d started.   But I’ve read too many stories lately about fast moving infections, and by this afternoon decided to pay the price and get the script.  The doc was great, except for the forceps under the nail to make sure nothing was still lodged there.   AND, she told me that she would have suggested the Epson salts soak had I not already initiated it.  So, with the antibiotic coursing through my system I’m beginning to feel better, but will keep soaking the thumb until at least tomorrow.

Do you have Epsom salts in your pantry?  It is basic equipment for a serious gardener.  It, along with pure water, is as good for the gardener as it is for the garden!

What have I learned from this little misadventure?  It always pays to reflect and tote up the lessons to carry forward.

Newly planted snapdragons

Newly planted snapdragons

1.  Always wear gloves when working in the garden.  Protect the skin from nicks, and the nicks from the nasties in the soil.

2.  Put a clean bandage and an alcohol wipe in the gardening vest, right next to the pocket knife.  I’ve never done that, but will going forward.

3.  Don’t ignore little injuries hoping they’ll go away.  I don’t mean to sound like a wimp, but a little more care on the front end could have prevented this infection.

4.  Spring for two packages of Epsom salts.   Leave one in the garage with the plant foods, but keep another one in the pantry for healing.

Tonight I’m still a nine fingered typist, but managed to get a few photos of the garden before dusk.

Here are Tuesday’s Snapshots from the forest garden.

Stay well, be careful in the midst of all that gardening fun, and keep the first aid kit well stocked!

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013


Monarda and conefowers

Monarda and Purple Coneflowers are at their peak in late June. Butterfly bushes in the background have just begun to bloom.


Management by Walking Around is a way of life in many businesses and professions.  During all of those years teaching, I walked around and around my classroom many times each day, armed with a pen and notepad, listening, and observing my students.  I answered a question here, wrote a quick note for someone else, checked homework, and kept an eye on notebooks and computer screens.  Walking around allowed me to interact quietly and personally with each child, to offer quick praise as well as quick re-direction as problems arose.

The same approach keeps me in touch with my garden.  Things change so quickly, especially when it’s hot.  The garden is never the same one day to the next, and every perambulation brings surprises.  This week the Rose of Sharon shrubs began blooming for the summer.  Each day another bush or two burst into bloom with its special color and form of blossom.


Rose of Sharon feeding a bumble bee

Rose of Sharon feeding a bumble bee


I usually wore a jacket, when teaching, with ample pockets for pens, paperclips, hall passes, Jolly Ranchers, and a notepad.  Now I have a gardening vest, actually a Bean fishing vest, covered in pockets of all shapes and sizes.  I always carry clippers, and twist ties or twine.  My pockets also hold a handful of Moonflower seeds harvested in late winter, a few stones for pushing into vole holes, and of course my cell phone. I carry a long skinny trowel with a cutting edge which can accomplish a million small chores, from a quick transplant or division to filling in a hole.


Monarda and conefowers

Both red and purple Monarda grow happily together on a sunny bank.


Even a quick trip out to water a few pots shows me that more attention is needed here and there.  A heavy stem of coneflowers needs to be staked.  Roses need to be cut back where yesterday’s bloom has lost its petals.  A vole tunnel needs to be stomped down flat, and the hole filled with gravel.  Ten minutes quickly stretch into an hour or more, and time passes unheeded as I’m absorbed in the unfolding life around me.

I saw two golden and red skinks this late this afternoon as I watered the basil.  They expected me to keep going around the house, and I surprised them by turning around before they could skitter away.  How they have grown since they first appeared weeks ago.  They happily live close to the house where they can sun themselves and always find a drink of water. I mostly hear them running behind pots or under vines.  Today I was honored that they didn’t run from me.

Walking around, daily, shows me problems when they are small, and can be remedied with just a little effort.  I can cut back the spent blooms of annuals, pull a few blades of grass taking hold in a bed, tie up new growth on a Clematis vine, prune a lantana branch away from a rose, pinch back the growth of Chrysanthemums and Coleus to make them grow bushy.  My tour yesterday showed me that deer had hosted a party in my garden the night before and made a buffet from a hydrangea and even a Persian Shield, which I thought they were supposed to ignore.  Time to spray again with repellent, and move those pots to a safer location.


Persian Shield, the day before the deer munched it.

Persian Shield, the day before the deer munched it.


Miss a few days of the daily walk, and things can definitely get out of control.  A fast growing Zinnia can fall across a path and begin growing horizontally.  A new family of voles can move in and tunnel up a whole patch of ground where they think they can’t be seen.  A fungus can infest the leaves of a rose, and a pot left sitting in rain water can steam in the summer sun and cook the plant inside.  A garden needs to feel the gardener’s touch every day.

There is research I recently read which shows that plants actually respond to our attention.  They know when they are being admired, and react with fear (according to the scientist who hooked up sensors to a plant’s leaves to measure this) when they are about to be cut back.  Just like us, they enjoy attention and respond to admiration by growing faster and stronger.  A walk of appreciation, where you notice the blooms and new growth on the plants in your garden; where you see each plant as an individual and tend to its needs; makes a difference in their growth and health.


Coleus need regular pinching to remove their bloom stalks. Once they bloom, leaf production suffers.

Coleus need regular pinching to remove their bloom stalks. Once they bloom, leaf production suffers.


So the need to water in the cool of the morning is usually enough to tear me away from my coffee and morning news programs to suit up and head out into the garden.  Once outside, watering leads to weeding. Flowers and vegetables are harvested while it’s cool. Supports are adjusted, flowers are sniffed, butterflies watched, photos snapped.  On very special days, our hummingbirds will fly over to play in the spray of my hose. One small chore leads to another, and in no time at all I realize the sun has gotten very hot, and it’s on towards noon.  Management by walking around brings me out each day to appreciate, assist, and learn something new about life in our forest garden.


Rose of Sharon

What the Realtors Failed to Mention… (chiggers, ticks, flies, and mosquitoes)

tickDuring our first two weeks in our new home in the forest, I was trimming back shrubs by the street dressed for the late August weather in shorts, T shirt, hat, and Sketchers.  It must have been nearly a hundred degrees, and it was still before noon.

Our neighbor came over to chat in the strangest get-up I’d seen in a long time.  She was wearing a man’s shirt buttoned up to her chin, gloves covering her cuffs, men’s work pants tucked into heavy socks, boots, and a beat up old hat.  I knew she was over 80, and assumed she was a bit daft.  Still doing most of her own gardening, she was a delight to talk with, and I never bothered to ask her about her outfit.

It didn’t take long for me to understand her attire, and copy it.

What the realtors and the seller failed to mention, is that our new yard was literally crawling with noxious, dangerous bugs.  The first time I cut the yard, herds of grasshoppers leapt out of the way in front of my mower.  Dragonflies buzzed around keeping an eye on my progress, and mosquitoes and flies kept zooming in for a snack.  What I didn’t see, and so didn’t prepare for, were the ticks and the chiggers.mosquito

The next morning I woke up with what I believed to be a bad case of the measles.  I was covered with huge, swollen, red itching bites.  Nothing soothed the itch, and I was in misery.  My dad, an old boy scout, was able to diagnose the problem:  chigger bites.

Ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes are almost everywhere in our yard once the weather warms.  It is wise to always wear long pants, socks, long sleeves, and a hat when working in the yard, even when it is 102 degrees.  Chiggers are virtually invisible because they are so small, and you don’t know you are being attacked until the bite swells.  They always gravitate to the most dark, moist, and warm parts of your body to bite and lay their eggs.  They don’t suck blood, and don’t cling.  A single chigger makes multiple bites.

You can get a tick walking from your car to your door, so check yourself for them regularly.  Some of the ticks in our area carry Lyme disease, which is extremely dangerous and debilitating.  See the symptoms here:  http://arthritis.webmd.com/ss/slideshow-lyme-disease

White Citrus

While Citrus body cream, available at Bath and Bodyworks, is effective at preventing insect bites for me. Apply to all exposed skin before going outside. After applying it to my ankles and calves, I rub my hands over socks and pant cuffs. There are no harmful chemicals in this product. The citrus odor seems to ward off mosquitoes, Mayflies, ticks, and chiggers.

A dryer sheet tucked into a pocket helps keep the bugs away. The heavy scent seems to deter them.  We choose not to use products with DEET, or other strong insecticides.  But, we’ve learned that strong smelling citrus body lotions also deter biting insects.  We’ve found several Bath and Bodyworks products which work, and smooth them on exposed skin before going out into the garden.  Burts Bees also makes a citrus spray which can be sprayed onto cuffs, hats, socks, etc. for added protection.

The Weather Channel has produced an excellent slide show to help identify insects by their bites. It also offers tips on how to protect yourself and treat the bites.  Take a look: http://www.weather.com/health/what-bit-me-identifying-bugs-and-their-bites-20130604

If you find a tick, use this guide:  http://firstaid.webmd.com/ticks-treatment

A friend has a unique way of removing ticks which is easier than the tweezer method.  She uses Scotch tape, and sandwiches the tick between the two layers of tape, then pulls straight out.  She then keeps the ticks in an envelope, encased in the tape, in case the bite gets infected and she needs to seek medical care.

In general, we find that after washing with soap and water, bathing the bite, whether from tick, chigger, mosquito, or fly in a good antibiotic cream is good general care.  We also use Tea Tree oil also to help dry them up.  Believe it or not, we have found that clear nail polish painted on to a chigger bite will stop the itching and help prevent the bite from further developing.  This must be renewed every day or so, but provides relief.  We didn’t believe this when an old timer suggested it, and resisted trying it for a long time thinking the nail polish couldn’t be good for us on our skin.  Eventually we gave in and tried it, and learned it helps relieve our itching.

This is definitely a situation where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  We’ve learned to always leave our shoes and work clothes in the garage, and take a hot shower after working out doors to wash away any bugs that might be lurking.  From May until September we are vigilant to try to avoid these noxious bites.

Nothing in the post is intended in any way to offer medical advice.  It is simply a chronicle of my own experience. I am a gardener, not a physician.  Please seek professional medical help if you have an insect bite which is infected.

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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