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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Three-Color Flag System

If I forget to explain, sooner or later visitors always ask, “What are the flags for?” You may have wondered the same thing when you noticed them in photographs of the garden. The flags appear in three colors: white, pink, and florescent orange.

The plants here are in two categories either weeds or “Keepers”. Keepers are plants I do not want weeded out and thrown away.

A few years ago I voiced my concern that my inexperienced helpers would weed out certain plants I had planted in the Woodland Garden. I could not think of any way to mark them so the students would know they were not weeds.

One helper, a little older than the others, had previously worked for a survey crew. He suggested I mark them with surveyors’ little flags. He even told me where there is a surveyors’ supply store that stocks them for about two cents each.

In the beginning I selected white flags to mark the Keepers. White is easy to notice and see. Then I learned he was using them to mark where he had sprayed or dug poison ivy. That way he could find the exact location in later weeks when he wanted to return to see if the plant was growing back or if gone for good. I thought that was a good idea and decided a different color was called for. That is when Florescent Orange flags arrived to the garden.

For a while the bright orange flags were used solely for marking poison ivy. Now that the poison ivy is a little less rampant, I have set aside a few orange flags and am marking them with “P. IVY” in large black letters using waterproof markers. They are reserved just for that purpose.

The rest of the orange ones have a new use: When I weed all over the property including the large steep bank, I frequently find weeds that are beyond my ability to dig or pull easily. Those are usually perennial weeds with large roots and young, seedling wild trees and shrubs with tap roots that have gotten beyond my ability and strength. When that happens, I place a bright orange flag into the earth right next to the weed plant. Later, when the young men are here to help, they go about finding the flags, and use a strong, big foot and shovel to dig out the weed. They collect the flags as they go for me to use again. That system has worked out very well. They like it and so do I.

Now regarding the third and last of the three colors: pink flags, and Lycoris squamigera. L. squamigera is known by several common names (or nicknames as I like to call them). You may know it by: Resurrection Lily, Magic Lily, Naked Lady, Surprise Lily, or another I have not heard. I just refer to it as Lycoris, because squamigera is the only Lycoris I have here.

I expected to be adding more shrubs and perennials into the garden last summer. So, when the Lycoris sprouted in the spring I knew I needed to mark where their bulbs are, because of the nature of the plant. Their habit is to put up large strap foliage in the spring that is easy to find. Here it's completely covering the much shorter Liriope.

But, it dies down in a few weeks...

Dries out...
and disappears.
Now we can see the Liriope once again.

By then there is no way of knowing where the bulb is until late summer when up pops beautiful pink lilies on tall stems. Also, the bulbs are very expensive, around $10.00 each, so I certainly do not want to be slicing into one while planting in something new.

I visited the supply store for about the fourth time. (I had not bought enough bundles of flags on a previous trip and had to go back for more.) This time I chose pink for the pink lilies. These I carried all over the property and placed a pink flag behind each clump of bold foliage.

Now they were all marked, however, circumstances prevented me from getting newcomers planted. So, we still have pink flags everywhere a year later. Sometimes they trick my eye and I think I am seeing a pink tulip. To tell the truth, I am getting more than a little tired of them, but they were cheerful during the gray days of wintertime.

The flags have come in handy for other uses as well. I cannot remember everything we have used them for, but they are in use almost daily. One example is when we start a new project; flags are used to mark out the lines and boundaries, which makes it much easier to visualize and to explain to one another. Another use has been to mark off sections of the lawn I did not want mowed quite yet. And, when I kept tripping over a metal property boundary marker that is only about an inch high that is in the middle of Cliff Walk, I stuck a flag next to it. Now, I can see and remember that it is there and hopefully will not trip again and possibly roll down the bank. If I had been a cussing person, believe me there would have been blue language in the air more than once as I tried to keep from falling due to that bit of metal stub sticking up in the path.

I recommend the flags to gardeners, because they are inexpensive, easy to see, and have many uses. The ones I bought came in bundles of a hundred costing $2.00 plus tax. Like everything else, they may have gone up in price recently.

Two references for Lycoris culture and source for yellow ones:
plantingflowerbulbs.com and shieldsgardens.com.


Alan said...

Wow! What a system. If I could get someone to pull weeds at all I would be happy. It must be nice to have so many weeders that you need to have a plan to direct them.

Steve said...

Hey, Barbee! I use flags like water. I am officially a "flagoholic" I think.

In my landscaping projects, we use different color flags to spot where: 1) Irrigation heads will be placed; 2) Where the boundaries of excavations will take place (flags are far superior to paint for this as the paint gets itself scuffed off); 3) Where unique features will go later (important when constructing hills and water features which may deter from their view. 4) To demarcate where lines will run; and 5) To locate where things no longer visible were put! Pipes, wiring, etc. real, real vital when running around with heavy equipment.

We even have a code for all this, it's gone that far! Flags are fabulous!

Amy said...

What a great idea - I bet this would be great even for smaller gardens where more than one family member is out there working. I on't know how many time friends and family have told me of a spouse pulling out a "weed" that was a treasured plant!

titania said...

Barbee thank you for your visit and nice nice comment.) The markers are a good idea. I am the only one who does the weeding but it has happened when I wanted to plant something new that I have hacked into a bulb! I grow the "naked ladies" they are beautiful when they are mass planted like in your garden. I have mass plantings of Hippeastrums and Agapanthus. I always look forward when they are flowering in spring.

Barbee' said...

Alan: Yep, it sure is. I don't have many this year, but some years there were several, and riding herd on them was challenging. They are students from the local university, Univ. of Kentucky (for those who do not know this area).

Steve: Hi there, flagoholic! With major work jobs like you do, I am not surprised that you use a lot of flags. They are great aren't they! Easy to use, inexpensive, bright and easy to see, and easy to code the colors to certain meanings. I think you get the prize for flag work!

Amy: I know exactly what you mean. I have heard that story more than once. My husband has been banished from helping, unless he has camera in hand :)

Titania: Yes, it is sickening when I slice into a precious bulb. Wish I could grow Hippeastrums and Agapanthus. I will just have to enjoy looking at yours.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

great idea. love the lycoris. I have a pretty yellow variety.

Lucy said...

What fun!

But are visiting children tempted to 'rearrange' them?

Lucy Corrander

Brenda Kula said...

I don't have to worry about the Liriope, because it has about taken over. A year ago springtime I spent countless hours out there trying to dig those things up and dispense of them when I ran out of places to transplant them. Yeah, I had that many! I've been in the house three years, but someone before me must have gotten them going. It was a jungle when I moved in! Love your "flag" idea. I don't have as much land, obviously, as you do. Just live in a garden home. But the idea is a great one!

Barbee' said...

Debbi: Wow! I didn't even know it came in yellow. I need to look that up. It might be, however, one that grows for you in Texas that can't survive in Kentucky. I will check and see if I can find info about it. Thank you for your comment.

Lucy!!! Hi there and welcome! So nice to see you around. Hope you had a wonderful holiday. If you ever see her again, please tell Esther, "Hello and we miss her". Visiting children would be apt to 'rearrange' the flags, if we ever had any. The grandchildren are getting older, and no children come visiting any more. Our neighborhood of seniors is gradually seeing a few young families moving in. The moms keep tight reign on them, however, and so far none have come visiting. Thank you for visiting.

Hi Brenda: Welcome! I don't have to worry about the Liriope, either. Isn't it a wonderful tough plant! It is evergreen, takes hot, cold, wet, dry and just keeps spreading. I dig it and share with others, put it into plant sales, and move it about the place. We lined that whole long path with it, and use it for erosion control. It doesn't mind being covered with the Lycoris foliage at all.

Cinj said...

What a great idea! I enjoy having helpers in my garden too. So far we just weed in the same area and I point out a specific type of weed for each of them to be in charge of pulling.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Barbee'! I LOVE what you're doing with the flags! We have exactly one flag, begged from a visitor, that we use to mark our dog Molly's droppings until we can collect them. I never knew where to get more. Now we'll try to get a bundle so I can mark the location of daffodils and not plant over them. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Sunita said...

What a great idea, Barbee! I'm getting notions of adapting this for one of my gardens when I'm away. Only problem is a very rumbunctious puppy. I think I may come back to find all the flags deposited on my verandah and chewed to toothpicks : (

Barbee' said...

Cinj: That is a good system and good way to teach. With a new helper, I usually show them two kinds and let them work on those, then gradually over the weeks (sometimes days, depending on how quickly they learn) I add another one. And, so it goes; then when they have learned and are finally good help and worth their pay, most of them move on, and I have to start all over with a new person. But, that summer in the woodland garden, there were too many young people for me to supervise closely and I knew the weak little Phlox divaricata would get obliterated.

OFB: I wish I could hand you a handful. I am very, very happy to have been of some help to somebody. Actually, it might not hurt to plant over the daffodils. They are usually so deep. I find the "high-rise" planting interesting. You probably already know this, but that is where a tulip or daffodil bulb is planted deeply, then smaller bulbs are planted in the same hole in succession gradually go up with the different bulbs planted at their recommended depth similar to the floors of a building. Supposedly, they all find their way around one another.

Hi Sunita: Thank you. Oh, yes, puppies might consider them play things, and the wire could be dangerous.

Kate in NJ said...

I like this idea for my small garden too, DH and I are often working in the yard at different times, and we sometimes "weed" incorrectly. ;-)

P.Price said...

What a great idea. Would that two year olds could follow the system...
The lilies are gorgeous.

Kathleen said...

ingenious system Barbee and great post. I haven't visited in awhile but it was delightful to read this post.

Barbee' said...

Hi there Kate: I even pull something by mistake sometimes. Hate it when I do that. I tell my young helpers that, sooner or later, they will do that and not to get too upset, for I have done it myself.

P.Price: Thank you. Your 'helper' is much younger than mine :)

Kathleen: Happy to see you back, and thank you very much!