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Dogs Don’t Dig Coleus Canina

This earth-friendly annual discourages pets and wild animals from digging for a place to unwind or from doing their business in the garden. It’s a worthwhile alternative to repellent sprays.

In the past, I’ve used a pair of metal coat hangers to find an underground stream of water. But that’s a story in itself that I may write about one day. Today, I’ve got a condensed version of another ancient practice that’s centred on horseshoe mystique.

During a recent visit with the Singing Gardener, Kirk McLennan and Matthew Monster brushed up on an old technique for attracting abundant growth and projecting healthy vibes on a couple of very important Coleus canina plants.

Both boys were astonished by the common names of this not-so-familiar plant: Dog’s Gone, Cat’s Gone and Scardy Cat plant. “Hold it away from your nose,” they said. “It has a strong licorice-nicotine smell.”

Kirk and Matthew are active members of the Gainsborough 4-H Club and they love it. I am impressed with the 4-H motto that Karen Olafson, head leader of the Portage-area club, told to me.

“I pledge…my head to clearer thinking; my heart to greater loyalty; my hands to larger service and my health to better living for my club, my community and my country.”

WHAT IS COLEUS CANINA?

This member of the Plectranthus family exudes an odour that is offensive to animals’ well-developed and keen sense of smell. We all know dogs and cats can be great companions, but outdoors, each in its own way can sometimes get attached to a favourite spot where they’re not welcome. Coleus canina can keep them away. Female deer appear to keep their distance, too, but some stubborn bucks tend to trample and eat what’s growing around Coleus canina.

Personally, I think it smells a bit skunkish. The scent is even more pronounced when leaves are rubbed. Besides being drought tolerant, Coleus canina also does well in containers and is easy to maintain. It can be pinched if you desire a shorter, more compact plant. Space them in the open landscape two to three feet apart (a metre or less) around areas to be protected.

For the past five years, Coleus canina has proven itself in Europe as an effective method of keeping dogs, cats, rabbits and even skunks and porcupines away from vegetable gardens, flower beds, landscape areas, sandboxes or play areas. This earth-friendly annual discourages pets and wild animals from digging for a place to unwind or from doing their business in the garden. It’s a worthwhile alternative to repellent sprays.

Naturalist organizations, city parks and landscape operators have also given the plant a “thumbs up.” Check for it at garden centres! In my area, started Coleus canina plants are available each planting season at Our Farm Greenhouses, phone 204-428-5507.

HORSESHOE HISTORY

Early horseshoes were made with seven nail holes as seven has long been considered a lucky number. When the first horseshoes were forged during the fourth century in Greece, strange beliefs soon surfaced. Here are some examples.

If you see a horseshoe, rub it seven times while making a wish. If you find a horseshoe, spit on it and make a wish. If picked up with your right hand, throw it over your left shoulder. If you pick it up with your left hand, throw it over your right shoulder.

Customs and beliefs later followed to England where even more horseshoe practices emerged. When you hang a horseshoe on a wall, make a wish for good luck or for something your heart desires. Simply hanging a horseshoe is said to be a confirmation of good growth and prosperity. There are two thoughts on this. The first choice is to hang it with the ends pointing up, so it captures and holds good luck. Hang a horseshoe with the ends pointing down so charm, magic and success pour out abundance for yourself, your family, on your garden, crops and business.

Tradition says something as basic as placing a single horseshoe on a gate or post at the entranceway to a garden, toward crops or hayfield is a symbol or confirmation of anticipating a good season and abundant harvest. Of course, we can’t take this stuff too seriously and I pass it along from the annals of long ago. I will say though that when I, Ted, pray the “Our Father,” I like to extend both my hands cupped forward to catch grace and goodness to the brim.

Blacksmiths often preferred to point the open end of a horseshoe toward the entranceway of their shop or in a specific direction. Some blacksmiths collected old rusty horseshoes and became talented metal artisans by converting them into unique and delightful horseshoe garden arbours. But, depending on the size, it could take hundreds, if not thousands of rough and rusted horseshoes to create a single, awesome structure.

HORSESHOES, THE GAME

You’ve probably played horseshoes. People take turns tossing horseshoes at stakes in the ground that are traditionally set 40 feet apart. Estimates state that close to a million Canadian enthusiasts still enjoy pitching horseshoes in backyards, recreation areas and even in tournaments. Some of today’s horseshoe gamers use a modern stylized U-shaped bar, that’s about twice the size of an actual horseshoe.

STOP THE ANT ATTACK

Enough about horseshoes. Let’s talk about ants. As I am writing this, a black ant is crawling on my left hand. Many gardeners have said to me: “Where are all the black ants in the house coming from this year?” Sounds like a perfect cue for ant remedies.

Some say the following remedy is a myth and doesn’t work. I’ve not tried it myself so can’t vouch for its effectiveness, but here it is for what it’s worth. Cut up sticks of sugar -sweetened chewing gum (such as Juicy Fruit) into very tiny pieces. Disperse some wherever ants are active such as near the base of trees, shrubs, plants and even on lawns. The belief is that ants will take the gum home and infiltrate the entire nest. Once ingested, the chewing gum leads to their demise.

If you want a remedy known to work, try boric acid traps. Thoroughly dissolve one teaspoon of boric acid (available at pharmacies) with six tablespoons of sugar in two cups of warm water. Do this in a clear jar to ensure no solids are visible. Moisten cotton balls in this bait solution and insert two or three inside empty yogurt or margarine tubs with a lid so they don’t dry out. Punch a few nail or screwdriver holes near the bottom, large enough for ants to enter.

Strategically place some baited traps inside and outside the house, around the yard and on anthills. Don’t expect immediate results. It may take two weeks for ant numbers to dwindle, but this does work. Worker ants continually carry the bait back to their nest.

After a few weeks, you can reduce the boric acid content by 50 per cent, keeping all other ingredients at the same level. This lower dose is good for long-term control.

GENTLY BENTLY

Here are some more suggestions for indoor ant control, but keep in mind, they are messy. Sprinkle dry cornmeal along borders and edges on countertops and inside cupboards. Several gardeners have told me it works for them and the ants are no more. Other people have tried dusting dry, hotred cayenne pepper here and there, both indoors and out, when ants become a nuisance.

Then there’s the combo of two tablespoons of powdered laundry borax and one cup of icing sugar. Mix these together in an empty glass container with a screw top lid and holes punched out on top. Dust some wherever ants are active, including anthills. I don’t recommend using this directly on lawn anthills, as borax kills grass. If you do want to try it on grass, try using 50 per cent less borax and experiment on an out-of-the-way site.

TED BITS

Thanks to Grainews editor Jay Whetter, who made a special trip to visit me in June. Jay took me to dinner at Canad Inns in Portage la Prairie and then we visited the garden and two “jewels” in a rail bed. This historic spot where CN and CP main lines intersect inspired me to write a song called Plapman Diamonds.

I usually hire someone to cut my grass. Here’s a sign I saw posted on a shed. It reads: Anyone is welcome to use my lawnmower, provided it isn’t taken out of my yard! Ouch!

Have you ever thought about old age? I decided that old age is when I still have something on the ball and am not too tired to bounce it.

Ted Meseyton is the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. A Persian Proverb says: The world is a rose; smell it and pass it to your friends. Meet me again for more folklore, Ted Bits and things green and growing on the Grainews garden path. My e-mail address is: [email protected]

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Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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