Nature’s Poisons

Nature's Poisons
An early 17th century “plague panel” from Augsburg. Public Domain picture courtesy of WikiCommons

It’s more than a little bit intimidating to be a part of the Garden Professors team, since I have no advanced degrees, and my undergraduate degree is in Mathematics, with no formal training in Botany, Horticulture or Plant Science at all.

I am, however, an avid and active hobby gardener; I read a lot; and I have a life-long love of learning and sharing what I’ve learned with others, which led to a nine-year stint as a county Extension Educator, implementing a county wide mosquito management program for West Nile, with additional responsibilities for pesticide education and consumer horticulture.

So, what I hope to do with my space here on the GP site, is share some of the other blogs that I read on a regular basis … ones I’ve learned to trust for either the expertise, or writing style, or some additional insight into plants or gardening, or issues that arise in gardening circles.

First up this week … Natures Poisons, a blog written by Dr. Justin Brower a forensic toxicologist – that’s someone who is employed CSI-like, to investigate possible crimes related to toxicology.

His blog isn’t directly related to his profession, however … as Dr. Brower explains:

I also like plants and gardening, and seeing how there are thousands of plant based poisons, there’s no shortage of material.

Some things I will write about:

•Nature’s Poisons – all types chemical and biological
•Interesting poisonings – recent and historical
•Old uses of Nature’s Poisons

So he’s a gardener, like me, and the rest of you folks who follow the GPs.

I like the blog, not only for the wit and wisdom, but also because it puts a realistic perspective around the idea of “natural” … something which we gardeners often mistakenly equate with benign.

Plants make chemicals to protect themselves from being eaten, and the science behind that, and our use, and avoidance of them, is fascinating.

To get you started exploring the blog, here’s one of my favorite posts there discussing Horseradish, or Armoracia rusticana

Not only do you learn a lot about glucosinolates, and other chemicals in horseradish, but also a peek into the mind of a scientist.

Back inside the warm confines of the house, I cut off the tops of the horseradish roots, rinse off the dirt under water, and scrub them clean with a wash rag.

The “typical” method of preparing horseradish is to grate or grind the horseradish with an equal amount of water, wait a few minutes for the allyl isothiocyanate to build up to the desired hotness, then quench the reaction with a tablespoon or two of vinegar. Throw in a pinch of salt, and you’re done.

You’re always cautioned to do this in a well ventilated area or outdoors.

But screw that.

One, it’s cold outside, and two, and most importantly, I’m a Scientist.

If you like the blog, you’ll likely also like this book by Amy Stewart … Wicked Plants.

Enjoy!

Welcome to our new home!

This month, the Garden Professors have moved to a new website. You can still easily find us at gardenprofessors.com (bookmark that address!), but we’re no longer actively posting on the eXtension website. This change was necessitated by eXtension’s decision to restrict leadership to faculty belonging to premium universities (those paying a sizable annual membership fee). Since neither Dr. Gillman nor Dr. Chalker-Scott belongs to a premium university, and since both are founding members of the Garden Professors, we made a group decision to host our blog independently.

We’ve been working on this transition for a number of months, which is partially why we haven’t been posting as often as we’d like. Along with our new space we’ve added some new members: Dr. Laura Jull (University of Wisconsin), Joseph Tychonievich, and Raymond Eckhart will be joining us as regular bloggers. We’ll be adding blurbs on each of these new members in our “Who We Are” section.

Ideally we’ll be posting on a daily basis, meaning more consistent posts for you. We’ll also be including posts from guest bloggers (our “visiting professors”). And you can also visit us on Facebook, where we have both a page and a group. The group is a great place for you to ask questions or start discussions on topics that aren’t in our archives.

We look forward to bringing you more good science-based gardening information in our own unique ways. Thanks for sticking with us!

IMG_7778The original Fab Four

Introducing Bert Cregg


Welcome to the Garden Professors.  I am currently an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticulture and Department of Forestry at Michigan State University.  I am also about the last person I thought would be doing a blog.  I have often wondered who has time to read blogs, let alone write one.  But I was intrigued when Jeff Gillman invited me to participate in this one.  I have a lot of respect for Jeff and for Linda Chalker-Scott.  Both have contributed a lot to landscape horticulture by critically examining the various myths that pervade gardening.

My background:  I’m originally from the great Pacific Northwest; born and raised in Olympia, Washington.  I was fortunate to go to Olympia High School, which offered courses in Botany, Ecology, and Forestry.  Mr. Walt Chance, who taught Botany and Ecology, sparked my interest in plants and trees in particular. I got my B.S. in Forest Management from Washington State University and then did graduate work in tree physiology at Oklahoma State University (M.S. Forestry) and at the University of Georgia (Ph.D. Forest Resources).   I began working on tree nursery and urban forestry-related issues with the USDA Forest Service and continued to research tree nursery issues as a scientist with Union Camp/International Paper.  Since 1999 I have been on the faculty here are MSU developing research and extension programs that deal with landscape, nursery, and Christmas tree issues.  I am currently involved in production issues related to container-grown trees and issues related to the Emerald Ash Borer outbreak.  I also write and speak on landscape conifers.  If you are interested in some of my research and professional publications you can wander over to my faculty web-page http://www.hrt.msu.edu/faculty/cregg.htm   I live on a 5-acre farm in Dewitt, Michigan with my wife (Terri, whom I also met in Athens), our daughter (Hannah), two dogs, two horses, and an undetermined number of barn cats.

For my part, the theme of the blog follows Will Rogers’ famous line, “It’s not what we don’t know that causes us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”  As Jeff and Linda have documented in their books and articles, there is a lot of science related to landscape horticulture that we choose to ignore.  So, if you don’t like the facts getting in the way of a good story then this blog is probably not for you.

As we launch this blog, I’d like to add another quote from Will Rogers, the one he used to end every show.  He stated simply, “I never a met a man I didn’t like.”  The quote is remarkable because Rogers certainly met a lot of people that didn’t like him as he used his razor-sharp wit to carve up politicians and public figures of every stripe.  But Rogers’ too-short life proved that we can disagree without being disagreeable; something sorely lacking in all forms of discourse these days.  As we grope our way through the electronic age, many people hide behind the anonymity of the internet to spew all sorts of venom.   By intent, this blog will touch on some controversial issues and we don’t expect readers to agree with everything we write.  Our goal is to raise the level of dialogue about Horticulture; put some ‘meat’ and some science in the mix.  This blog has a ‘comment’ bar and we encourage you will use it, but ask that we keep the focus on content not character.

Introducing Holly Scoggins

Greetings from the southernmost member of this squad!  I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech and Director of the Hahn Horticulture Garden, our fabulous 6-acre teaching and display garden on campus. Blacksburg is in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia, USDA Zone 6-ish,  elevation of 2,080 feet. I teach Herbaceous Landscape Plants, Greenhouse Management, Floriculture, and  a Public Gardens course. My research focuses on nursery and greenhouse production of perennials. In both sharing my research and in learning what’s new and improved, I interact extensively with the state and regional green industry – growers, plant breeders, landscapers, and garden centers. I love the business side of things – and am a rabid plant shopper, so this works out well!

I’m originally an Army brat but spent most of my formative years (the 80’s and 90’s) in Athens, Ga.  My B.S. (Agricultural Economics) and M.S. (Horticulture) are from the University of Georgia, and my Ph.D (Horticulture) is from North Carolina State University.  So lotsa Zone 7 experience under my belt.

Professional credentials aside, I guess I would describe myself as a card-carrying plant dork (actually, I’m just a dork, period). Love, love, LOVE to garden, whether at work or at home. My partner and I have a 19-acre farm stuck on the side of mountain – we have four acres of u-pick blueberries along with Christmas trees, honey bees, chickens, a small greenhouse, veg gardens, and lots and lots of ornamentals, of course.  Just in case you were wondering where I was coming from. I’m so pleased to be working with such talented and clever folks on this blog!

Introducing Linda Chalker-Scott

I’m an associate professor in the department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State University.  I’m also an Extension Specialist in Urban Horticulture, meaning that I have a global classroom rather than one physically located on a college campus.  I’m trained as a woody plant physiologist and I apply this knowledge to understanding how trees and shrubs function in urban environments.  This is a fancy way of saying I enjoy diagnosing landscape failures – sort of a Horticultural CSI thing.

I’m a native Washingtonian, but I spent my academic life at Oregon State University and then moved to Buffalo for my first university position.  I moved back to Seattle in 1997 and worked at University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture.  In 2001 we were fire-bombed by ecoterrorists (and yes, the irony of the greenest center on campus being targeted by ecoterrorists is not lost on me) and I lost my ability to do lab work.  During this time I developed a more applied research program and in 2004 I began my Extension position with WSU.

Jeff and I have never actually met, but we’ve been chatting via internet for some time.  Apparently he manages his time better than I, since he has the ability to spearhead this blog on top of everything else he does.  I know I’m looking forward to this new venue for discussing the science behind America’s favorite outdoor activity (assuming that’s still gardening and not Ultimate Frisbee or frog licking).

Introducing Jeff Gillman

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I’m an associate professor in the department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota.  Officially I work mostly with trees and shrubs, but I’ve also been known to test things like egg shells for stopping slugs, beer for its qualities as a fertilizer, and milk for its fungicidal qualities.

I come from a small town in Pennsylvania, just west of Philadelphia, where I first learned about growing trees in my parents’ small orchard.  I attended Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster PA, then earned a masters degree in entomology and a Ph.D. in horticulture from the University of Georgia (which, incidentally, is also where I met my wife).  After Georgia I came north to Minnesota.

I’ve been itching to do a blog for about a year now, one where I could share my “adventures in horticulture,” but I never felt that I had the time to actually put one together.  Then, a couple of months ago, Linda Chalker-Scott (who you’ll meet shortly) from Washington State and I had a conversation which resulted in our getting together with Holly Scoggins from Virginia Tech, James Nienhuis from the University of Wisconsin, and Bert Cregg from Michigan State and setting up this blog.

For now, each of us will be posting one day a week starting on August 3rd.  Before that each of us will post a short introduction of ourselves so that you can get a sense of who we are.  I look forward to blogging soon!