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Gainesville, FL 32605

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November in the Southern Garden

November got its name from the Latin "novem" -- meaning "nine". It was the ninth month until January and February were added by Roman emperors around 700 B.C.

Ancient Saxons called this month "Wint-monat" or "wind-month" and laid aside their seafaring and agriculture until fairer weather.

For us, November's plant kingdom can continue to please the senses and provide material benefits of great variety.

This months' flower -- Chrysanthemum -- belongs to one of the largest plant families. Found all over the globe, it's been grown into countless varieties. Its name is Greek and means "Golden Flower." It is sturdy, hardy, grows in clumps with leafy stems and has a pungent fragrance. Varying widely in size and color, the Mum is ideal for outdoor growth or as a cut flower.

All forms of this plant are linked to a three-thousand year cultivation history from an unknown race of Chinese-Siberian perennials. Confucius praised this flower in five-hundred B.C. It's long been the symbol of longevity and perfection. Once considered sacred, it appears in many cultural artifacts.

The Japanese were so delighted with Mums brought by Chinese visitors that they began intense cultivation. By the 14th Century, the Mikado or ruler of Japan took the Chrysanthemum as his personal emblem -- eventually becoming the Japanese national emblem. Japan's highest honor is the Order of the Chrysanthemum. It has been suggested that the Japanese flag is not the rising sun but a Chrysanthemum bloom with sixteen petals.

Once only cultivated by the nobility, Mums are widely grown and are celebrated in numerous Chrysanthemum Festivals. By the 17th Century, the flower had been introduced to Europe. A hundred years later, cultivation there was earnestly under way.

In Los Angeles, 1954, Dr. and Mrs. Hugh Wilson patented the first scented Mum in the U.S. Its jasmine odor has been joined by other Wilson creations that smell like magnolia, rose and sweet alyssum.

Mums have been used as food and medicine. It's been claimed as a remedy for vertigo and melancholy. In Peru and elsewhere, Mums were grown and processed into an insecticide. This use is being vigorously explored.

Give this remarkable perennial flower an opportunity in your landscape.

The November vegetable garden can be very productive -- valuable, fresh food with less pests and less sweat. A vegetable planting guide is available for free from our County Agricultural Extension Office: 2800 NE 39 Avenue. They have many other free and useful pamphlets covering important details of the plant kingdom in our area.

Composting is a great idea and many people try it. But most often, the compost stays in one place and never gets distributed. Instead of a separate compost pile, put the soon-to-be-falling leaves directly around your acid-loving plants like azalea and camellia. And, put leaves directly on the vegetable garden. This will draw earthworms directly where they're needed. Pine needles are best used in pathways. A regular coating of deciduous leaves will shade the soil and conserve water.

Leaves are good for smothering weeds if placed thickly on overlapping sections of newspaper. This technique is very effective for starting a new flower bed or vegetable garden without having to rototill, hoe or shovel and rake the area. About a month or so after the blanket of paper and leaves is applied the underlying growth will be composted. A light sprinkling when rain is short will speed up the process.

If you have more leaves than you can use, simply mow them into the grass. Leaf litter is how nature makes topsoil and it takes her about one-hundred years to make one inch of it. So, regular raking is counter-productive to soil building.

Flowers and vegetables -- cooler weather is just around the corner and there's a lot to do.

Enjoy November to the fullest.

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