Monday, January 25, 2010

Stress Response

I've been thinking about the past year and the stresses I've experienced and I've noticed a pattern.  See if you can spot it.

I can't believe the snow pile by the driveway of our new house is as tall as I am.  Why did we move to New England?  I'm a hot house flower!  Oh, yeah.  The Husband's Job.

It's March, why is there still snow on the ground?

WHAT?  There's NO insulation in our walls?

I got offered a job, it's back to work after a year off.  Better clear off the desk.

I'm going to be teaching Intro Biology, I haven't taught Intro Bio before.

Where's all my teaching stuff?  My laser pointer?  My attendance roster?  My white board markers?  My whip?

And I have to teach at night!

Wait, if I'm teaching college, that makes me a professor?  Does that mean I'm a... gasp... grown up?


Pictured are:  Curly spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum 'Bonnie').  Next hanging basket is Ficus pumilaFicus).  Then there is the sideways hanging fern (Fernus darnbloggerii).  Three primrose (Primula) and my Rosemary that's overwintering on my desk.  Begonia red, Begonia bi-color and Begonia yellow (rose style begonias, often sold as annuals but they will keep on blooming and blooming and blooming.  Expect to see these for next Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  And lastly a just bought on major sale Philodendron hederaceum not sure of the variety but it is supposed to have those chartreuse leaves. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Plants with Stories

Only a few of my plants have stories.  I've moved so many times and across such long distances (I'm up to 5691 miles of long distance moving so far, if you just count since I've become a gardener (and an adult)) that I don't have lots of plants with histories.

Mostly I just buy stuff for $4.00 a pop at the Local Garden Center (usually Kane's for indoor plants) or Big Box Retailer or even Grocery Store.  Buy small and grow large is my mantra.

But a few plants have a history.  This is a cutting from a cutting from a cutting from a plant my mom got when we first moved to North Carolina in 1976 (do I have the year right, mom?  I was a bit young to remember it.  Heck, do I have the story right?).  This Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant) has grown large for me in the past.  It's even bloomed several times.  But a large pot of Sansevieria trifasciata is hard to move long distances, especially if I also have dogs, fish tanks (and fish!), and all the other houseplants I want to keep crowded into my little car (OK, so I rented an SUV to move the big fish tank and all it's inhabitants from NC to Boston but that was a lot to deal with when driving by myself, in winter, with snow on the ground).  Since Sansevieria trifasciata roots easily I took a cutting.  It's just starting to grow new leaves this year.  I'll pot it up into a larger pot this summer and set it outside and next year - WHAM! it will be magnificent.  (Here's a hint, Sansevieria trifasciata can grow very strong roots so I always pot them in plastic.  I've had this one break a clay pot before!).

How about this beauty?  It's about time for me to root it again.  This is a Peperomia, possibly P. obtusifolia.   This plant is also a cutting of a cutting of a cutting.  Like I said it's time to root it again as this one is getting really, really pot bound and they just don't look as good in the next size pot (speaking, well, ok typing from experience).  I once won a prize with this plant at the State Fair!  This one originally came in a group of plants sent to a friend's Grandmother's funeral when I was an undergrad, long long ago.  I got the whole group because everyone else was afraid to even try the houseplants.  This is the one I kept.  I don't remember what happened with the others, I probably gave them away during one of my many moves.

This looks like just a plain old African Violet (Saintpaulia commonalia) but it's special.  When I was living in Los Angeles I noticed a leaf on the floor one morning as I headed to campus.  Hmm...  I thought.  I bet I could root that.  But I went on in to lab.  That night, weary from the lab (this was grad school after all) I saw it again but was too tired to care.  The next morning.  Hmmm...  That leaf is still there.  Still looks good, too.  But I need to think about today's experiments.  That night.  Holy Macaroni!  That leaf is still there.  That's it.  I'm picking it up and sticking it in a pot.  How much time will that really take?  I was right.  African Violets do root easily.  In fact I have two pots of rootings from this plant that I'm growing up right now.  I know, I know, African Violets are Grandma plants and I'm not supposed to have more than one for each decade of my life.   I have 5 and I'm not 50 yet!  So sue me.  They're easy and they bloom a lot (added bonus - they're cheap, cheap, cheap).  I need a better pot for this one.  Most of the small pots in the Local Garden Center look like they fit in a Grandma house.  Maybe I should take a pottery class so I can make exactly what I want. 

Last and for right now least is my Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus).  (No, I don't really hang baskets sideways with windows in the floor.  Blogger just insists this picture go in sideways.  I wish I knew why it did that and how to fix it.  Sorry, I don't.)

Not much of a story here.  Got a cutting from my mom who got it from a friend of hers.  But I have moved cuttings across the country and back so I do have a history with this plant.  It needs to be pinched back hard and often.  I'm not very good at doing that.  It isn't good for culinary uses (not a strong flavor) but it smells nice and if you set it outdoors in the summer it will grown thick and bushy.  Guess where this one's going next summer.  Plus all those pinchings?  Easy rooting for gifts for friends and family.  Does anyone need some?  No?  Really?  Hey, where'd you all go?  All I can hear are the crickets.  I guess I've given this plant out to everyone I know.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Indoor Gardening - Water Garden Edition

Hi, I'm Diana and I'm a Plantaholic. Not only are all my window sills filled with plants but I also grow live plants in my aquarium.

Growing plants indoors allows a great amount of control over conditions such as light, temperature, humidity and fertilizer.  This aquatic garden grows wholly under artificial lights.  The substrate is a special composition that includes a great many nutrients but the primary source of fertilizer is fish waste.

Yes, that's right I keep fish in my aquatic garden.  Of course when I talk to fish people I say I have live plants in my fish tank.  I like to think of it as an artificial ecosystem.  I have more control over it than conditions in my outdoor garden but I still don't have complete control (it's not Bonsai!).

Control is an illusion.  The fish breed, the plants reproduce, invertebrates like snails show up with new plants.  I have to compensate for it all.  Water changes, composting plants, filtration.  It give me the illusion of control over something here on The Edge.

You probably can't tell from the pictures (it's hard to avoid the glare from the windows) but this is my pride and joy.  And it's a great place to play gardener during the winter.  Plus it at least looks nice and tropical compared to the white wonderland outside today.  Is it Spring yet?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

It's that time again - Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (started by Carol at May Dream's Gardens).  It's the middle of January, the coldest month of the year, I have 5 inches of snow on the ground.  What can I post this GBBD? Let's see....

Are my pansies blooming?

How about my Azaleas?

This Sedum still has it's flower stalks, does it count?

What about the crocuses planted under this Contorted Filbert?

Ok, I confess all of my blooming plants are indoors this months.

Like this Narcissus (forced bulbs), almost done for the season.

My Phalenopsis is also nearly done for the year.

But my forced Tulips have just begun to bloom.

My Begonia is still going strong.  I think I need more of these.

I have one Amaryllis blooming with two more on the way.

And let's not forget George the Third, International Plant of Mystery.

That's it.  Looks like my orchids and my bulbs will be done next month.  I really do need to go pick up some more begonias before February GBBD if I'm going to have anything to post!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sea Turtles

As my regular readers know (Hi, Mom!) I volunteer at the New England Aquarium working with injured and cold stunned sea turtles.  You may also know that the state of Florida is experiencing unusually cold weather right now.  What you may not have heard is that OVER 2000 SEA TURTLES have been rescued from waters that are simply too cold for them in the past week.  For a good news story see here.

Sea Turtle rescue groups are overwhelmed, many of them are using up their yearly budget for this unprecedented event.  Researchers who do not normally do sea turtle rescue but who have facilities where they could handle them are being pressed into service.  The Kennedy Space Center is currently housing many of the cold stunned sea turtles.  Local hotels have been donating towels and laundry service.   Staff from the New England Aquarium are flying down to help.  Most of the sea turtles that have stranded are Green Sea Turtles like Goose, here.

Goose was one of the New England Aquariums sea turtles from last season.  This is a photo taken when he was released (note the satellite tag on his back).  Fortunately Goose headed out into the gulf stream and did not get caught up in this years cold weather.

So after you give to Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross to help with the disaster in Haiti, if you have anything left sea turtles could use your help.  Here are a few places that rescue Sea Turtles in Florida.  Their web sites are not up to date nor do I expect them to be since I'm sure all hands are working on the overwhelming number of turtles.


Back to Plants soon.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Winter Interest

While the cats were all snug on my bed....


And the Amaryllis was in full bloom....

 I spent some time watching the winter wonderland outside.  Now THIS is Winter Interest.

Dark-eyed Junco under Viburnum 'Burkwoodii'

 I'm not going to tell you
Really, I'm not
It's just that lots of people are prejudiced
OK, if you insist
It's a European Starling
See?  Didn't you like it better before you knew what it was!

 Poor Mourning Doves are ground feeders, this one is in a depression in the snow, under the bird feeders, where the dogs tried to dig for spilled bird seed

A Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Dark-eyed Junco consider each other

A Young Downy Woodpecker

Well, the birds were enjoying the feeders until these two came out to play!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Plant Identification

It's Indoor Gardening season.  Just like outdoor gardening but without the weather issues.  Or the outdoors.  Indoor Gardening has it's own set of challenges and rewards.  At this time of year when all the world is white (or gray) it's nice to have plenty of green.

One of the biggest challenges for the Indoor Gardener is Plant Identification.  Just like Outside you need to be able to identify a plant to determine the right conditions - should you let the soil dry out between waterings or keep in moist?  How much light does it need; is an East facing window good or does it really need a Southern Exposure?  (On the plus side a plant in a pot can easily be moved if the conditions are not right.)

Indoor Plants seem to be sold without labels more often than Outdoor Plants.  I'm not sure why.  And when they do have tags?  The names seem to be made up by some advertiser somewhere - Lavender Lace is not a Lavender and it's not lacy.  Fern does not help much (I can SEE it's a fern, give me something that I can Google!).  Blooming Plant?  Why did you bother with a tag?

Lavender Lace

So what is a Gardener to do?  I often resort to guessing.  No, not what the name is but what the conditions need to be!  If I don't know the name I call it George.  Since none of my plants come when called this doesn't cause too much confusion.

Mystery Plant, George the First

This mystery plant has dark leaves.  That's a good clue - dark leaves usually mean they can handle low light.  All of my dark leaved plants are in first floor, East facing windows (which are further shaded by trees at the edge of my property, the second floor is not as shaded by the trees, they have short trees up here).  Plants with variegation seem to prefer lots of light so they get West facing windows.  I wish the opposite were true, I could use the light colors of variegated foliage in the darker windows.

What about watering needs?  The dark leaved George The First plant wilts if the soil dries out but is very forgiving and springs right back.  That's a good clue.  Thicker leaved plants tend to like the soil to dry out but are less forgiving of wilting.  Thin leaves have less more surface area to volume (ie they're thin) so they will dry out faster so those plants need more moisture in the soil.

Mystery Plant, George the Second
Sold as "Lavender Lace"

This mystery plant (sold as Lavender Lace, see flower image above) has very thin leaves.  When backlit I can clearly see all the veining.  It, too wits readily when the soil gets too dry.  I bought this very recently in a four inch pot.  It's grown so much it jumped a size and is now in an eight inch pot.  I wish I knew what it was and how big it would get.  Right now I'm just happy it keeps blooming.

Mystery Plant, George the Third

This mystery plant has relatively thick leaves.  I got this one as a cutting from an acquaintance who's plant I admired.  About all I know about it is that it will bloom (sometime), it's a vine and it likes to be pot bound.  The relatively thick, darkish leaves suggest lower light and less frequent watering.  It's been doing great so far.

Plant Formerly Known as George the Fourth

How's this for a mystery plant?  I bought this at a Big Box retailer, unlabeled.  I decided it was so cool looking I had to have one.  I was lucky that when I looked at the plant suppliers' web site (Big Box retail plants around here all seem to come from the Exotic Angel company) it was pictured on the first page I tried.  This plant is (drum roll please) Rhipsalis capilliformis.  With that information I was able to find out a lot about this plant and it is doing quite well.  

I often take chances on unlabeled (or poorly labeled) Indoor Plants.  It's easy when they are so cheap ($4.00?  I can afford to risk that on a plant I know nothing about).  And most plants are forgiving - they wilt and you water then, sun burned leaves?  Move to a shadier space.  Not growing well?  Move to a sunnier location.  Much easier to do with Indoor Plants than with Outdoor Plants.  Besides it gives me a chance to garden year-round here in the Arctic Hinterlands known as New England.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Misc. Saturday

Today we have over 6 inches of snow on the ground with more to come.  Winter is well and truly here.  I wish I were elsewhere.

I came up with several short topics to blog about today, none of which is really enough for a whole post (unless I really run on and on) and so I'm lumping them all into one post.  Starting the year off chaotically.  Typical.
Over the holidays The Husband had over a week off from work so we decided to tackle the basement.  Having always lived in warmer climates I've never had a basement before.  Our was dark, dingy and dusty.  Probably normal for a 60 year old house.  After a week of sweeping, dusting and organizing it's better, not great but better.  What does this have to do with gardening?  Here is my wall storage area where I'm able to hang all my plant support hoops and my hoses.  A nice, tangle free solution.

And here are my shelves.  Notice all the empty pots, there are more on the floor.  Most of the tools are wintering in the garage but I might bring them into the basement for cleaning and sharpening sometime this month ( I don't really need my shovel when there's so much snow on the ground.  Even I don't try and plant in this weather).

And my wonderful indoor potting bench.  Notice that the wall behind the bench is a sunny yellow.  My Brilliant Husband decided that painting the concrete walls would improve the atmosphere in the basement.  What a great idea!  

Now that I have a (relatively) clean and more cheerful basement I'll have to do some of those winter gardening chores like organizing my seeds and planning a planting schedule, taking care of the tools, putting a new coat of poly on our outdoor furniture.  You know, the less fun side of gardening.

My first Amaryllis is pretty much done blooming.  Now I have to decide what to do with the spent bulbs.  Do I keep them alive and try and get them to bloom again next winter or just compost them and buy new?  I think I'll keep the Amaryllis bulbs but compost the rest.  The Narcissus tazetta was a bit overpowering with fragrance and tulips just don't rebloom well (in fact I'm still waiting for my forced tulips).  I still haven't decided about the hyacinths.

We went to the big home improvement warehouse to buy shelving, paint and rubber floor tiles for the basement.  I needed a pot, one pot, for a houseplant.  What I found were the post bloom orchids on sale.  I bought this Phalenopsis, with the tattered remnants of two pale blooms for $3.

I also bought three Dendrobium, no idea what color blooms, for $1 each.  I think it's worth trying to get them to rebloom.  I was careful to pick plants that looked healthy, with green leaves, good turgor pressure (the leaves were firm) and no visible pests.  We'll see how they do.  I only spent $6 on four orchids!  Well, and I've ordered orchid pots and a special potting mix for the Dendrobium and...  Even so it's a deal.  Really.

The Big Box stores typically do not take good care of their plants but it's worth checking them out.  If you know what you're doing and shop shortly after the plants come in you can get a great deal.  Or if you have a green thumb and are willing to put the time and effort into bringing back plants past their peak.  If you are a new gardener stay away from them.  I've found perennials that are not hardy for my zone, mislabeled plants, invasive plants and even plants that are banned in the state (with good reasons) for sale.  Beginners are better off at Local Garden Centers with knowledgeable staff.  Between the poor choices at Big Box retailers and the bad designs and advice on HGTV it's no wonder many beginning gardeners give up.  Oops.  Hadn't planned on getting on the soap box.  I'll get off now.


The Husband and I spent both Christmas Day and New Years Day volunteering at the Aquarium.  (I got to pet one of the Anacondas.)  Afterwards we came home and watched the Mythbusters marathon.  They demonstrated the "trick" to tearing a phone book in half.  We only had two phone books in the house so we took the smaller one.  The Husband tried and failed.  I succeeded.  This has nothing to do with gardening but I TORE A PHONE BOOK IN HALF WITH MY BARE HANDS.  Seriously.  How cool.  

Happy 2010.  Here's hoping for a good gardening year!