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Secret #8

Poison Sumac

Poison Sumac is a highly toxic plant that causes skin rashes and blisters. The rashes can become infected as you scratch. The entire plant is toxic and spreads by the oils within it’s leaves and stems. A high fever may develop in a more sensitive induvial. Those with allergies may react faster and with more urgent reactions.

It is vital to remove the oils from your skin and keep it from spreading. Dont forget to use soap and cool water and really get under your fingernails. If the oil is still there, when you scratch, you are spreading! Clean the clothing you were wearing right away, washing several times in cold water to insure the oils are removed.

Some of the common methods to use are calamine lotion, hydrocortisone creams, local and oral anesthetics.

Even if you burn it in the attempt to get rid of the plant, the oils can be inhaled, leading to a dangerous lung irritation with symptoms of coughing, difficulty breathing and wheezing. It can be fatal.

The big problem with Sumac is it is found in swamps, wetlands, pinewoods and hardwood forest from zones 3-8. It is abundant along the Mississippi River and swampy areas of the south east.

The plant itself is beautiful. In the fall it is bright red and has red stems. In the summer it looks lush and lacy with it’s unique leaf structure. There is a non-toxic variety that is used in the landscape, but take care to be sure to buy the right kind!

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Secret #7

Ahhhh…the scents of the season! It can bring nostalgic memories of past Christmas celebrations. Some smells are of baking cookies and treats, others are fresh greens and a beautiful fir tree. But what ever brings those sweet scents, they also bring a bit of the holiday into your home.

I grew up in the North; the Buffalo area to be exact. And the things I remember most from the holidays are my mother baking TONS of cookies, the wood fire place, the Christmas tree and citrus! Yes, that’s right citrus. Indian River Navel Oranges to be exact. I was in the chorus at school and we sold these tasty treats for fund raisers and they arrived in time for the holidays. There was always a big, sweet juicy orange in the bottom of my stocking on Christmas morning.

But there are other scents, that as a child, I would not have been able to put a name to it. Ready? Here we go…

Paper Whites. You must remember placing these bulbs in rocks and then adding water to start their root growth? When these cousins of the Daffodil open, their white blooms have a strong scent, enough to add fragrance to a large room.

Rosemary. It’s not just for cooking. The tightness of this plant makes it a perfect choice to shape into a small pyramid or Christmas tree shape. Lights and ornaments can easily be added for a festive touch. You can even find them in wreath or heart shapes.

Lavender, fresh and potted in a pretty pot it will add a sweet scent to any room. Bright light is needed to keep it blooming. Don’t be afraid to snip off a piece to use.

Herb Wreaths made of Rosemary, Lavender, Bay Leaves, Eucalyptus will welcome any guest that arrives at your front door for a holiday visit.

Remember I said I loved the smell of citrus? Why not add a small Lemon or Orange citrus tree to your décor. Bright light and proper moisture are a must, and then the plant can be moved outside when the holidays are over. Or when the weather warms up if you live up north.

Love the idea of a live Pine or Spruce tree to decorate, but hate the idea of cutting a tree down? There is a wonderful alternative. You can buy a potted conifer and decorate it for the holidays. Then afterwards, plant it outside in a pot or in your yard.

There is nothing as sweet or tropical as the scent of a Gardenia blossom. This is a popular plant that is forced into bloom for the holidays. So are many of your seasonal bulbs, (especially Hyacinths) and Roses.

These are just a few of the plants you can add to your home for the holidays. With their scents and the cinnamon and spices from your baking, your home will smell heavenly. Enjoy all the scents of the season and Merry Christmas!

Victoria LK Williams

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Garden Secrets # 6

Happy Holidays!

We’re all ready for some holiday cheer, but before you add that final live touch to your decorating you may want to consider; Pretty or Poison? Who will suffer from ingesting this plant-people or pets? Lets take a look at a few of the most common live plants that we bring into our homes for the holidays.

Photo by Oleg Zaicev on

Here’s the biggy- your live Christmas tree! Although not really poisonous, if it is eaten, the needles can do some serious damage to your gastrointestinal track. The sap can cause skin irritation. The real danger comes from any fire retardants sprayed on the tree.

Photo by kstankss on

The Poinsettia gets a bad rap. Eating a few leaves will make you ill, but not kill you. The sap will make you itch and stain your tablecloth. It is best to keep away from your cat if she has a habit of eating plants to keep her from getting sick and ruining your rug.

Photo by Lum3n on

Holly is a poisonous plant, both the leaves and the berries. Because of it’s brightly colored berries, it is an attraction for children and pets. Keep this holiday decoration up high and out of reach of the wee ones.

There is something wondrously fun about getting a bulb and watching the plants grow and flower from it. But beware; the bulbs of the Amaryllis and Daffodil are poisonous if eaten. Keep this away from your dog, it’s not a toy. Pot the bulb as soon as you can to keep temptation at bay and to start the growth progress.

Photo by BiZay Sunuwar on

This flowering plant is one of my favorites. You will start to see them around Christmas through Easter. They are most popular at Valentines Day. The plant should be kept away from your pets; if they chew on the stems and leaves it will cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions and, if enough is eaten, paralysis.

Another holiday favorite is the Christmas Cactus. Not poisonous to us, but it will make your cat sick!

Not as common as some of the other holiday plants, the Jerusalem Cherry is a nice addition to the decorations with it’s bright red fruit. For humans the fruit will cause vomiting, but for cats, dogs and some birds, the fruit is toxic.

And finally that one plant we all want hanging in the door way so a kiss can be stolen, is the favorite Mistletoe. All parts of the mistletoe plant are poisonous, not just the berries. Eating this plant can cause blurred vision, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, blood pressure changes and even death. So, lets only kiss under the Mistletoe, and don’t nibble on the plant.

We all want to have our homes beautifully decorated for the holidays, but remember to be safe too. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

Victoria LK Williams

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Secret of the Garden #5

It’s Halloween Weekend, so let’s talk about a plant that is often used in evil ways; a perfect poison.

poison Hemlock

Hemlock is well known throughout history, and in Ancient Greece was used on Socrates as a form of execution. There are two types to watch for; Poison Hemlock (found in Europe) and Water Hemlock (found in North America). This plant is deadly from it’s leaves to it’s roots.

The poison within the Hemlock plant is Coniine, and it will only take a dose of 0.15 grams to kill an adult. The poison works from the outside in, numbing the extremities until it begins to work on the internal organs, paralyzing the lungs causing death. Hemlock looks much like a salad ingredient, resulting in accidental poisonings (or maybe not!)

Water Hemlock

Water Hemlock contains different toxins: Cicutoxin and Cicunol. These will cause violet convulsions, cramps and tremors. If you are able to survive, you will most likely suffer long term damage such as amnesia. This plant is considered the most poisonous in North America.

Care is needed when picking wild plants! Hemlock can easily be mistaken for Queen Anne’s Lace.

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Secret of the Garden #4

There’s no secret here. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of growing or smelling fresh Rosemary, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. This plant is a good secret and one you’ll want to add to your garden.

Rosemary is one of the easiest and a hardy herb for the garden. It will even survive the hot Florida summers, not something many herbs can do. Although this herb is used for cooking, it also has many other uses. Those uses range from household, medicinal, cosmetic, decorative and aromatic. Here are a few examples.

Culinary; added to sugar to use us deserts, use the flowers in salads, garnish meats and vegetables during cooking and added to baked bread or butter. These are just a few, but I’m no cook, so I’m sure there is plenty more!

Household; boil to use with water as an antiseptic solutions, repels moths in linens, repels other insects, air freshener.

Medical; Pain reliver for migraines, menstrual cramps and arthritis Immunity booster (it contains anti-inflammatories, antioxidants and anti carcinogenic properties), added to tea it can help reduce coughs and phlegm, it can boost our abilities to concentrate & focus, helps heal brain damage from strokes, reduce pain as an anti-inflammatory, fend off infections, good for blood circulation, full of iron and vitamin B6, fights mood swings, regulate some hormones, fights indigestions IBS and some ulcers, helps prevent blood clots from developing, helps the liver in detoxifying the body.
(as with any herb please talk to your doctor before using!)

Cosmetic; fights premature aging, a natural astringent, mouthwash, a natural deodorant, acne treatment, eczema, itchy skin and scalp, stimulate hair growth, improve skin complexion, helps heal burns.

Decorative; Rosemary is used not only as a potted herb but will also make a beautiful hedge for a herb garden. It is easy to shape and often is used in creating topiaries. Cut the branches to use as a wreath or in centerpieces. It also grows in several form, including cascading, making it a nice addition to a container garden or on its own in a pot. Rosemary will also repel some insects.

Aromatic; use to mix in potpourri, use as an essential oil to ease stress, help focus, relieve headaches, relieve fatigue, energize, boost memory.

So, you can see for yourself that Rosemary is a secret weapon to add to you garden!

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Secret of the Garden #3

Foxglove ~~ Digitalis purpurea


I have to admit, Foxglove is one of my favorite flowers, and I often use it in the garden. It can grow wild or added to your gardens for color and interest. Bright colors and it’s upright stem full of bell-shaped flowers will attract bees and butterflies.

BUT the flowers, berries, leaves and stems are extremely poisonous.

This is the poison plant that would make Agatha Christie smile. It is common in most old-fashioned gardens, especially shade gardens. And it’s leaves can be mistaken for borage, an herb that is used in salads, teas or for medicinal purposes. Do you see where this could be a problem?

Used in the proper way, Foxglove can provide live saving medicines: digitalis is a heart medicine. But in unknowing or evil hands, Foxglove can kill.

The raw digitalis in Foxglove will have the opposite effect of working with an ailing heart. It will slow down the rate of the heartbeat, causing a person to become nauseated, weak, and dizzy. With too much, or over an extended time, Foxglove consumption will slow down the heart to the point of stopping it, causing death.

flowers of Foxglove

You can enjoy the beautiful flowers of Foxglove, if you remember the dangers of this plant. Do not ingest any part of the plant. Be cautious with animals and small children, be sure to keep them away from the plants. Teach them to enjoy the garden’s beauty without touching the tempting flowers.

If you ever think you have ingested any part of Foxglove, get immediate medical attention.

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Near Miss

Wow! There is nothing like the threat of an approaching hurricane to make you take stock of your garden.

This past weekend Hurricane Isaias quickly formed in the Atlantic ocean and headed for the Florida coast. There was no 4-5 day preparation with this storm. Luckily it broke apart before it could do much of anything, and passed us by, just offshore.

Even though we decided to not put up our hurricane shutters, there was still work to be done. And every time we have to do this, we moan about all the garden “stuff” my husband and I have added to our yard.

one of my many orchids

So, we start with the orchids. I had just repotted them together in large wood orchid baskets, so that cut the number down considerably, but there were still a couple dozen that had to be taken out of the trees and placed in a protected area. Then there was the shade sail (shade cloth) my husband put up over my fountain to protect more orchids and foliage plants from the summer sun.

Then we move to the decorative pieces. Wind chimes hang in the larger trees and had to be taken down and laid low into the bushes. The wind spinners were taken apart and placed in a corner, and we gathered the decorative statues and animals into the garage. The large umbrella that covers the table and chair was tied up and laid on the ground.

the backyard is the last to clean up; we want to keep the animals happen as long as we can.

The lawn furniture and cushions had to be stacked in a protected corner of the front porch, and finally the bird baths were emptied and turned upside down. I held out until the last possible moment before taking down the bird feeders. Which were also the first things to go back up. The bluejays sat outside my window, all but tapping on the glass for food when the winds died down.

The largest potted plants were laid on their side to keep the wind from snapping them in half, and they were also watered for extra weight.

And then we “hunker down” and wait for the storm to pass. Of course, with a storm that was stronger, there would be more work to do; put up the shutters, get gas for the generator, mow the lawn, and the list goes on.

Then, after the go ahead is given, we return everything to its rightful place until the next storm is approaching. And each time we promise ourself, we will get rid of the lawn art and make our life simpler.

But we don’t. Because the storms are for brief intervals, over quickly and with the promise of better days ahead. Creating the garden we love to be in takes time, effort and patience. And the knowledge that the storms will pass and better weather is just around the corner to enjoy.

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Gardening and Writing

Did you know that I’m not only a gardener but also a writer? I write cozy mysteries; all set in South Florida and all with characters who love to garden!

Cover for a new series I’m starting!

I find I do most of my writing either in the garden or from my office looking out into my garden.

Looking out into my garden from my desk

The garden is the perfect place to plot. Often you are working on your own, doing tasks that allow your imagination to wander. That’s how it all started for me. I was tending a secluded garden and started wondering what if a crime were to take place in or around a beautiful garden?

My thought raced. There were so many weapons at hand: shovels, shears, poisonous plants, pesticides and small garden statuary. But my thoughts weren’t all dark. The garden is the perfect place for secret meetings, clues to be planted and maybe even a romance to bloom.

My current titles

If you would like to find out more about my mysteries or sign up for my newsletter, visit my website. Starting in August, the newsletter will feature an extra item called Garden Secrets. You will get a password from the newsletter to have access to these blog posts here in the Gossip from the Southern Gardener blog. Here is the link:

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Back to the Basics

A beautiful garden takes work…

With the start of a new year, I thought it might be prudent to get back to some basics of gardening. It can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to start in your gardening adventure. So, let’s start at the beginning!

The ABC’s of Gardening.

Teaching a novice to have a successful experience in gardening can be as easy as teaching a child their ABC’s. Regardless of whether the gardening experience will be for a few houseplants, a container garden, a large courtyard garden or even your entire landscape; these three principles apply to all. And if you follow them, you have a successful gardening experience. Let me explain more…

Photo by Bess Hamiti on

 A is Anticipation.

When you walk into your garden, look around you before you do anything. Anticipate what your garden needs are.

Do you have some wilting plants? Watering is an issue here.

Are the leaves yellow and pale? Maybe you need to consider a fertilizer application.

Do you see webbing or curling leaves? It could be a have an insect problem that needs your attention.

Looking around your garden before you start can give you an idea of what jobs lie ahead of you. This can also help you be prepared and have all of the essential tools that you’ll need to get your job done thoroughly and correctly.

Photo by Pixabay on

B it’s for Balance.

There has to be a balance between what you want the plant to do and what the plant is physically capable of doing. You need to know what your plant’s needs are; does it need a highlight, low water, or good air circulation. Placing plants in a location that doesn’t provide what they need, is the surest avenue for poor growing results.

Photo by Katarzyna Modrzejewska on

C is for Consistency.

It is essential to be consistent with your maintenance methods when you’re dealing with plants. A good example is this; if you water to your houseplants every Saturday afternoon, then you should do it each and every Saturday afternoon. It might even be a good idea to keep a log of your gardening activities, to be clear on what you have done and still need to do.

The plants will adapt to the way they are treated, but if there’s too much time between maintenance the plants get confused and they don’t know whether they should be stressed out or whether they are in a regular pattern. Consistency should also be for your fertilizing methods, your cleaning process, and your pruning techniques. Waiting until a plant is in need of something may not be the best way to be consistent in your gardening habits.

Be proactive; anticipate, balance, and be consistent for a successful gardening experience!

Of course, there are a lot more steps to a successful garden, but if you can start with these three basic steps, then you will enjoy your time with the plants and gardening all that much more.

For more gardening information, check out our book. Or visit our website

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A tiny little secret…

20151117_115818One of my all-time favorite books is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read it as a child, and have re-read it many times as an adult. I have always been fascinated by the work and comradely that went into bringing that old garden back to life. The many other facets of the book thrilled me as I read, but it was the garden I remember the most. And then when the book became a movie-well, I fell in love all over again.
As a southern gardener, I may not be able to re-create the old English garden from the book, but I can create a garden that will bring joy, wonder, solace and contentment. I simply need to be a bit more creative.
The flowers of the tropics may not be the same, but I can use color, texture and scents to achieve my goals.

Finding little corners tucked away from view, planting taller bushes and trees to create a special spot or boldly creating a niche out in the open to take in a special view, will all work towards creating your own secret garden. Don’t forget to include a few unusual plants and/or containers to finish off the plantings.
Adding a beautiful bench, a bistro set, or a couple of comfortable chairs will help claim the niche as your special spot. And the garden can be used year round down here, allowing you to enjoy it even longer. Don’t forget the evenings in the garden. Torches lit to guide your steps to the garden, a small fire-pit to relax around or fairy lights sprinkled into the branches overhead will all work towards a wonderful spot to enjoy the evening sounds.

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As you work in your garden, don’t forget to take the time to notice the results of all your efforts. Seeing a garden come together, plant by plant, can be as rewarding as opening a secret door, with a long-lost key, to find a beautiful garden.