Elke Baxter, writer

Writing in and from the garden....

Elke Baxter lives and gardens in Philip, South Dakota. She is a Master Gardener. Her articles appear intermittently in the Bison Courier, The Faith Independent, the Kadoka Press, Murdo Coyote, New Underwood Post, Pennington County Courant and Philip Pioneer.





If you're not familiar with PROTEAS you've been missing out.  This South African native belongs to the huge family of Proteaceae or Sugarbush, sporting gorgeous blooms and encompassing hundreds of varieties. Flower shape varies and so do colors. Banksia and Leucodenron, just to name a couple belong to this family. 

If you find yourself catching some rays in Hawaii or California this winter, you might just run across a commercial grower of these beauties.  You'll have to look carefully though because there is such a wide variety of forms that it prompted  Carl Linnaeus in 1735 to name the genus PROTEA after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his form at will. PROTEAS can look quite a lot like Artichokes, but are not of the same family.

The Proteaceae family can trace its roots back to Gondwana, the southern of the two continents which made up Pangea – the single supercontinent, about 300 million years ago. Other members of this family can still be found in Australia and South America.

Proteas are most often used as cut flowers but can be grown in your garden, providing you garden in zones 8-10. Their natural habitat is warm and dry with well draining coarse and sandy soil.

The floral trade has discovered the PROTEA family and they are becoming quite popular in both live and artificial versions.  Ask your local florist for some tropical beauties and warm up the cold and dreary winter months.



by Elke Baxter


Though they're often called Amaryllis and they are of the Amaryllidaceae family, the plants I'm referring to here are actually HIPPEASTRUMS. They're great for some winter “gardening activity” and sport gorgeous blooms. Just be sure to remove the pollen on the very day each bloom opens since it stains anything it touches.

This family of beauties consists of about 75 bulbs mostly native to tropical America. Though commonly known as Barbados Lilies and Amaryllis, these plants shouldn't be confused with Amaryllis Belladonna, which is a completely different group. Hippeastrums are great indoor winter bloomers.

The bulbs of these plants are quite large. Long, strap-shaped leaves grow in a fan-shape from the bulb at the same time as the flower stalks or after flowering. A bulb must produce at least four large, healthy leaves in the summer growing season before it can send up a flower spike the following year. Clusters of two to six trumpet-shaped flowers crown a tall, strong stalk, often 16” or so high. The 6- inch blossoms come in shades of reds,whites, pinks, salmons, yellows, apricots and even pale greens and may also be bicolored or striped. Some flowers have uniform colors or patterns on all six petals while others have more pronounced colors on the upper petals than on the lower ones.

Hippeastrums are hardy from zones 7 to 11 or may be grown as houseplants. Outdoors, during the summer months, choose a sunny or lightly shaded location for your bulbs. They should be planted in well-drained, sandy, organic soil, 8” deep and 1' apart. They should be watered regularly after the foliage emerges. Before the first frost, dig them up and pot each large bulb in a 6-inch pot. A third of the bulb should be showing above the soil level. The production of flowers reduces the size of the bulbs greatly, so as soon as the flowers have faded, liquid fertilizer should be applied. Once growth and blooms have stopped, the water supply should be diminished gradually as the leaves fade. Take care not to overwater as the bulbs will rot. Be sure NOT to remove leaves before they have died on their own, as they produce the food the plant needs while resting.

A happy bulb will often create offsets or small bulbs, which can be taken off and potted in 3-inch pots. They'll flower in two or three years.

This time of year you can usually find a nice selection of Hippeastrums at either your local florist, nursery or some big box and home improvement stores.

Happy winter gardening!

Dandelions – Foe... or Friend?




Dandelions!! The mere mention of the word sends shudders down some gardeners spines. After all, they do ruin the appearance of that picture perfect green oasis we call lawn. Right? Well …. like most things, it's a matter of perspective, so let's examine the humble little dandelion a bit further, shall we?

Its scientific name is Taraxacum officinale, but it goes by other names such as Blowball, Cankerwort, Clock Flower, Irish Daisy, Lion's Tooth, Milk Witch, Monk's Head, Piss-a-bed, and  Priest's Crown. It is a member of the Asteraceae family.

A perennial, the Dandelion is a member of the sunflower family, the name comes from the French, 'dents de lion' ("teeth of the lion") due to the shape of the leaves. A native to Europe, it is now widespread as it was taken around the world for its medicinal and culinary uses. Dandelions are popular with beekeepers as they are an early source of nectar.

In my native Germany, Dandelions are used as cover crops between rows in vineyards. In that highly populated little country with few wild spaces, many folks enjoy it in their lawns as food for bees and other beneficial insects.

The flowers can be used to make wine, the leaves boiled like spinach or added uncooked to salads, and the roots used as a vegetable or roasted and brewed for a coffee-like beverage. Dandelions used to be grown in unheated greenhouses to provide salad leaves in winter. They contain potassium, sodium, phosphorus and iron. The leaves are a richer source of vitamin A than carrots and also have some vitamins B, C and D. It is a mild laxative and diuretic, has been used as a tonic and blood purifier, for skin conditions, joint pain, eczema and liver conditions such as hepatitis and jaundice.

It is also used as a hangover remedy: drink 2 cups of tea per day, morning and evening (steep 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 min.)

Other applications are for treating: Acne; Bladder infections; Eczema; Endometriosis; Gallstones; Hemorrhoids; High blood pressure; Liver disease and warts. Dandelions are one of the few plants where all parts of the plant are useful.

With so many beneficial uses, where did we ever get the idea that this jewel in God's Pharmacy is a “bad guy”? Is that mono culture sea of green around our homes really that attractive? Would we be better off looking at meadows, grasses mixed with lively splashes of color, bees and birds and NATURE?

It's all a matter of perspective.

More info is available on the web and through the book:

THE HERBAL DRUGSTORE by White & Foster through Rodale Press

 What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

House Plants – our All Weather Friends

Is it Spring yet?  Those of us who love to garden utter this phrase many times each winter. Luckily for us, gardening with house plants helps to keep us sane when winter winds are howling and the snow is piled high on our favorite garden spots.

Even the Egyptians planted their cherished favorites in urns and troughs thousands of years ago. With the discovery of the New World in the 15th century many species of our all weather friends started making the long journey from their tropical homes to foreign shores.

Whether you want to “green up” your thumb or try something new, you will initially need to dedicate a little time and energy as you first explore your new hobby. You wouldn't get a dog or cat without knowing their basic needs (I hope!). Plants are no different. If you expect them to not only survive but also to flourish, you will have to approach the situation with your eyes and ears wide open.

Since most houseplants hail from tropical regions, their needs are somewhat similar - but don't fall into the trap of believing that all houseplants are created equal. As their keeper you've taken over nature's job, therefore you are now responsible to recreate their natural habitat as closely as possible. The better you do your job, the better your plant will do.

Your first step in becoming the proud owner of a happy and healthy plant is to know what you have and In some instances that's easier said than done. Modern varieties are endless and whether you get a plant from a friend or buy one with an ID tag you often know as little after the acquisition as you did before. Luckily help is everywhere: friends, neighbors, garden clubs, master gardeners, books and the World Wide Web. With a little effort it won't take long before you know exactly what you own.

Your next order of business will be to find out your plants exact needs. Like us, plants need food, water and air. To provide food you'll need light since plants are able to convert light into food. The amount of light depends on the plant. Most like more rather than less but direct sun is often too intense. You may find yourself moving plants from one window into another as the seasons change. Make sure that leaves don't touch any windowpanes as some plants are quite sensitive and will “pout” if you're careless.

Interior spaces away from windows are usually too dark for plants to survive and light intensity diminishes very quickly as you move away from windows. Plant food of sorts is also a necessity but NEVER takes the place of light.

Watering can be a tricky exercise. If you own many different types of plants be aware that the “once a week watering” expedition will not necessarily yield satisfactory results. Water usage depends on the size of a plant and its pot. Plants need to be potted into the proper sized container. When a flower pot is too large for the plant, the plant will often rot from over-watering and the potting soil being too wet too long. Plants which are more sensitive to “wet feet” are especially prone to this failure. A plant in bright light will generally use more water than one in a dimmer spot. Time of year, growing cycle and blooming stages also change water needs. If in doubt, invest in a watering globe. They're available in different sizes for very little money and take all the guess work out of watering.

Like us plants also need to breathe but since they produce oxygen in the process, plants definitely help to purify your indoor air simply by being there. A nice lukewarm shower or regular dusting does much to maintain a plants breathing ability by removing dust from their leaves. Fresh air is good for both you and your plants but avoid cold drafts as much as drying air from heat vents. Most plants appreciate a fair amount of humidity in the air that you’ll achieve automatically with the ownership of multiple plants. You know you've arrived at that juncture when your other half threatens You know you've arrived at that juncture when your other half threatens to bring home a machete to clear a path through your “jungle”.

While they need attention and some TLC, for us “plant freaks” houseplants are a worthwhile effort. When the winter doldrums hit and you admire your new orchids blooms and discover the sparkle on that African violet blossom remember this quotation;

"If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change."....Buddha

Small Choices - Big Impact

We do it a hundred times a day. We make choices; big ones and small ones. Since we're busy people, we rarely stop to think those choices through to their conclusions. Each choice however can have a big impact. If we're inclined to think that “little old me” can't make a difference, I would remind you of the impacts of Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, The Wright Brothers and other historical figures.

“Big deal” you say? You're right. Your first choice of the day is served with your morning coffee. Would you be surprised to learn that your decisions have worldwide consequences? Most of us have no idea that our coffee purchases make a difference to the birds in our gardens. That little choice comes down to buying shade grown vs. sun grown coffee. Here, we help our feathered friends preserve their Latin American wintering habitat while providing above average wages and cleaner water for local farmers. Search SHADE GROWN COFFEE online for more information.

For examples closer to home, let's looks at local shops, grocers, and farmers markets.

The simple choice of shopping at your local shops versus the big box stores keeps your community alive. To your local grocer your choice is a big deal indeed. His family gets to eat another day. Supporting that local farmers market is also significant. Perhaps you just want to shop there, but maybe your job could be to help supply it with your own garden fresh produce. Don't have a farmers market yet? Make a choice to start one!

How about the choices right in your own yard? The choice to replace a few flowers in your garden beds with veggies helps you save some more money, let's you harvest your own food and teaches the kids about food. They really do need to know that milk doesn't grow in cartons.

If you take this tiny little choice another step further and multiply the same action by say a mere 5% of our world population, which comes out to a whopping 35 million people, you begin to see how it saves tons of oil by keeping trucks from having to haul in YOUR lettuce or radishes. Furthermore it saves on water since we're now growing food instead of ornamentals, reduces chemicals and keeps the air cleaner.

Perhaps that tired old lawn could find new life supporting your community. Be sure to read about 'LASAGNA GARDENING” in an upcoming article for a simple way to transform any area into a new garden. If you're in a hurry, read the book of the same title by Patricia Lanza.

Staying right in your yard, you can make many more consequential choices. If you choose to include some milkweeds, goldenrod or cosmos with your flowers, your little corner of the world can be host to a beautiful family of Monarch butterflies.

Choosing to read labels thoroughly can make the difference between controlling pests or killing all the good bugs in your yard. The perhaps difficult choice to wait with planting your potatoes until the beginning of July will help you miss the potato beetles altogether and you won't need to deal with more toxins in your food supply.

Choosing to use compost in your garden beds, on walks and in between rows (available in bulk at larger local landfills) helps to conserve water, suppress weeds and keeps more chemicals out of your environment. As a bonus it saves you money and work.

Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes.” The choices truly never end - make yours count today!

Time to Plan 

Winter - most gardeners' least favorite season. But it can be the perfect time for planning that new gorgeous yard you've always dreamed of. If you are frustrated with your current garden design or lack therof or you're just bored with that same old lawn, now is the perfect time to garden in your mind - and on paper. So when those seed and plant catalogs arrive, go ahead and dream but don't fill out that order form just yet. Follow the steps outlined below. They may be detailed, but then you wouldn't build a house without blue prints. Your garden is no different. Make good use of these winter months and by spring you'll be ready to jump into action.

Start thinking - DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT FROM YOUR GARDEN. Should it be a flower garden? a place to sit and relax? a children's play area? a dog yard? a show piece? Should it be visible to the public or a private? or landscape to be seen by you and your family? Look to see if you can BORROW LANDSCAPE ideas from your neighborhood. Perhaps you can incorporate a view or other desirable landscape outside your own property into your garden design.

Landscape style - Think about which appeals to you more - a formal or an informal style. If you're not sure what either looks like do a little research. Use garden magazines, books or the Internet to find examples of all of the above and pick your favorite style. Look at surrounding gardens for ideas and remember to TAKE HINTS FROM YOUR HOME'S ARCHITECTURE.

Make your plan CREATE A FOLDER OR NOTEBOOK and write it all down - do research. Good old fashioned books, seed and plant catalogs and the Internet are wonderful tools. MAKE NOTES OF LOCAL PLANTS WHICH APPEAL TO YOU and those things you see growing well in your area and the time of year when they are most interesting. Include notes on their color and the exposure (site, sun, shade, etc). TAKING ADVANTAGE OF WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE sounds too easy. But why not make the most of that old tree and established native shrub in your yard? RESPECT THE CHARACTER OF THE LAND. Don't try to force your yard into becoming an east coast woodland or English lawn if you live in the prairie. A native garden (one featuring native plant materials) will be far easier to take care of and will fit into its place far better than alien (introduced non-natives) plants. Trying to force your landscape to be something it is not and cannot be is only an exercise in frustration. MAKE A PLAN FOR THE TOTAL DESIGN even if you do not plan to complete it for several years! Eventually you will have one cohesive design and you will avoid the expensive and frustrating risk of construction (gazebo, swing, water feature) and plants in the wrong places. 

Draw your design - Decide where your garden area should be. If you have a large property to work with, go ahead and start drawing. If you are on a city lot, just go outside and START DRAWING YOUR EXISTING BUILDINGS, PROPERTY LINES AND FENCES free hand on a piece of paper. Include all your buildings - home, barn, shed, etc (exclude your existing yard if you are planning major changes.)

Once you have a clean freehand drawing (the bigger the better), add measurements to your drawing. MEASURE EVERYTHING - walls, open spaces, anything permanent.NOW RE-DRAW AGAIN TO SCALE.

Graph paper is a huge help in this part of the project, but a ruler, pencil and eraser will do. MAKE COPIES! Save your original.START DRAWING GARDEN AREAS INTO YOUR PLAN. Include all the trees, walks - the shape of everything in your garden. Make several different designs - don't be afraid to revise often. It's far easier on paper than with a shovel in hand.

Finish your design - When you are completely happy with your design, RE-CHECK IT OUTSIDE AND RE-MEASURE to be certain that everything is to scale. MAKE COPIES. You have done a lot of work and don't want to risk losing all that effort.CHOOSE YOUR PLANTINGS. Only now add plants to your plan (with the exception of established landscape elements - mature trees, shrubs, etc). You may make several plans as you assemble your plants for color through the seasons, food sources for birds and insects etc.) CHOOSE YOUR COLORS. This is important for it determines your  garden's appearance - happy-go-lucky casual and informal or determined and formal. Color your plantings in your group with colored pencils or patterns for proper distribution of color. If you are looking for continuous bloom, be certain to properly group perennials and annuals (consider spring, summer and fall bloomers in each group). PLANT SPACING SHOULD BE BASED ON THE SIZE OF THE PLANT AT MATURITY.

That tiny tree you will plant will eventually grow up and you want to be sure that you left room for it and its roots - even if you need to remove a few perennials. Remember that certain areas in your plan might be in sun or shade so choose your plants for the proper exposure and also group them by their water needs. (If you mix high water-use plants with water-wise natives, someone will be unhappy.)

Get gardening - Now it is time to get dirty! Be certain you have any permits you might need if you are going to build things and have all utilities marked before you dig. THE FIRST CONSIDERATION IS WATER USE. Will you use soaker hoses? underground sprinklers? When you start GRADE THE GROUND PROPERLY SO WATER WILL RUN OFF-  perhaps into your new rain garden. BE SURE TO INSTALL WATER SYSTEMS AND HARDSCAPES (walkways, fences, any permanent structure you will build or move in) IN THE PROPER ORDER. (For example, underground sprinklers and their pipes may need to be installed beneath the new gazebo or walkway but soaker hoses can be laid down after the hardscape is in). AMEND YOUR SOIL (an entire topic for a later time). Great soil is the best insurance for a great garden.

FINALLY - GET YOUR PLANTS. Now go shopping, BUT STICK TO THE PLAN! Don't let "good deals" and pretty things at the nursery throw you off. If ordering by mail, be aware that plants are usually very small and not always true to color. BE AWARE OF THE PROPER COLD HARDINESS PLANT ZONE. If you live in Rapid City or Pierre you are most likely in zone 5. The rest of South Dakota is in zone 4. Check by looking on the Internet for USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map. It is YOURresponsibility to purchase the right plant. The nursery staff is there to help but they don't know your yard or even your intent. When you are in doubt, find the plant's Latin name and do your research about the plant before making a purchase - that might not make it in YOUR yard. REMEMBER THAT NATIVE PLANTS EVOLVED WITH THE LOCAL BIRD AND INSECT POPULATION AND WILL MAKE FOR A MUCH HAPPIER AND HEALTHIER ENVIRONMENT IN YOUR YARD.



6 Delicious Edibles You Can Grow Indoors All Winter


Most homes are heated to a comfortably warm temperature range of 65 to 75F during winter. This is ideal for growing many vegetables, so the winter cold is not as much of an issue here as low-light conditions. Your choice would be limited unless you provide sufficient grow lights to imitate the sunny outdoors.

    As a general rule, leafy vegetables can manage with much less light than root vegetables. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants need more light to ensure a good yield.


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