Friday, April 18, 2014

My Weird Little Patchouli Plant (Pogostemon cablin)

I had been looking around to buy some patchouli plants for a couple of years, but they are exceptionally hard to come by. Imagine my delight when I found 3 at a local botany festival!
Me, happy at the Botany Fest!
But two were rather moldy, and the last was clearly a sprig that had been stuck into the pot only a day or two before the festival. It also had a large frog nesting next to it in the pot. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

All the other nursery seller's herbs were in great shape, and they were selling out quickly, so I had a feeling that patch may not be the easiest plant to grow...I was right!  (The frog hopped out of the pot while I was lunching at the festival and made itself comfortable in a kumquat tree.)

My Delicate Little Patchouli Plant, Minus Frog....
Patchouli has an amazing history in India. The intensely green, muskily aromatic leaves are used to repel insects, and scent thousands of perfumes and varieties of incense. The Brits brought it to Europe in a big way during the Raj, and it had a renaissance of popularity during the 1960s and 70s. Some now think of its distinct scent as the quintessential whiff of headshop.

Patchouli grows in Zones 9-11 outdoors, and is perennial in zone 11 (aka: Miami, not here). Lots of people grow it indoors or bring it inside for the winter, though. It's supposed to bloom in the fall but mine is blooming now. It's easiest to grow from stem cuttings, like mine was. But I have to say it's a twitchy little thing. All my other herbs are growing like kudzu, even my dahlias are growing bouquets worth of blooms; but my patch plant has only grown several centimeters in diameter in 2 months, and it's still very delicate and prone to all sorts of leaf problems. Not really much of an insect repeller....

Also the leaves are not very strongly scented. Maybe it just came from weak stock? Maybe it just doesn't like me? I'm a little disappointed, but I'll keep trying.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Weekend Walkabout: The Ringling Bayfront Gardens of Sarasota, Florida

I am so very smitten by circus legend Mable Ringling's stunning gardens in Sarasota, Florida. The gardens just held their Century Anniversary last year, having been created during the boom years before the Great Depression and World Wars. Roses and Venetian sculpture were Mable's great loves, and the rose garden and gnome garden are my favorites. Here are some snapshots:
To really enjoy the gardens, you need at least three to four hours. If any of my readers have visited, let me know your impressions of this very special place!

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Plant For the Future: Purslane (Both of Them)

I'm actually speaking of two entirely different plants: Sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) and regular ol' garden purslane, Portulaca oleracea. They are both succulent, incredibly tough, and highly edible. I'm growing the latter, also known as the Dolly Parton Flower (because it blooms from 9 to 5) in my garden, and the former grows all over the place on my sand dune, with no interference from me.
Garden Purslane, MR, 2014
Purslane is a low-growing, succulent, flowering plant with a single taproot. Originally from India and Persia, purslane is sometimes considered a weed because it's so hard to get rid of once it decides it likes your garden. Mine grow under the dahlias and sunflowers just fine. The gorgeous flowers can be anything from purple to pinky-orange to golden. They are exceptionally drought-tolerant, but can handle heavy rains (the leaves flatten and shrink when there's more water). They are happy-go-lucky plants that can live in practically any conditions in most climates. They're just glad to be here.

The leaves are delicious and tangy. Most people prefer to eat the tender top leaves. Purslane is highly nutritious and contains Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A and C, while remaining low-calorie. The leaves are great in soups and salads, or for crunch on sandwiches. They can be canned or dried for year-round munching.

Thanks to our Aggie friends in Texas, you can find some good recipes here:

Sea purslane, the Sea Pickle, is not of the same genus, but looks a bit similar and can also be eaten. It tastes like salty green beans and is particularly popular in Asia.

Sea Purslane

Purslane can be grown by seed or you can just stick a sprig in some soil and wait. It's an amazing plant. Both of them!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sansevieria cylindrica blooms!

Sansevieria is a very popular genus of semi-succulent plants, because they are tough and can grow in relative shade without much water. They do like the sun, however, as they come from southern Africa and Arabia. If they are grown with adequate sunlight, they do indeed bloom! I grow 3 kinds of Sansies outdoors, but my favorite is S. cylindrica, often called the African Spear Plant. This one has tripled in size in one year, and now really needs to move out of its pot. But where to plant it?? It's huge!
Sansevieria cylindrica, "African Spear Plant", MR 2014
The thick, nearly cylindrical leaves grow from multiple fan shapes at the base. Here are the lovely blooms:
Sansevieria cylindrica blooms. MR 2014

Soil for Sansevieria should be porous and well-draining. Occasional supplements of cactus fertilizer help it grow and bloom. Watering should be the same as for other succulents. The soil should never be wet for long periods, but prolonged drought is not good, either. Mine get water once a week, which is the same schedule that my cacti have. They send out offshots from the soil, and the small new clumps of spears can be split off from the mother plant and put straight into the ground. They root and grow quickly. Sansies can tolerate high temperatures and sun, and some cold, but not hard freezes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Breaking News: Lithops Elected Mayor!

Young Lithops Stony Wrinkleman was voted Mayor of the city of Boca Loca, Florida in a landslide victory today.
Stony Wrinkleman, Lithops Leader
Wrinkleman's campaign had a rocky start, as it was not known if Mesembs could actually run for mayor of the city. Once the matter was settled in Stony's favor, voters were charmed by Wrinkleman's "down-to-earth" approach to daunting civic problems like creeping bureaucracy, corruption, and bad gardening techniques.

"I believe he's the one who can turn things around and regenerate this town," said one happy citizen. Wrinkleman promises to keep a low profile and to solve civic problems in a practical manner. He is a firm advocate of slow growth for cities.

Wrinkleman follows in the footsteps of Stubbs, the feline mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, as the second non-human elected official in the United States. We're all rooting for him and wishing for his steady growth as a new leader. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Smelly Plant(s) of the Month: Basil(s)

Ocimum basilicum has so many varieties it makes my head spin. Each variety has a distinctive leaf type and scent profile. Most are annuals, or are grown as such. I've heard that basil can be grown here as a perennial, but my experience says "annual". Maybe in the true tropics, it grows all year.

For the last several years, I grew only Thai Basil (var. thyrsiflora). This year, I got hold of some Lime Basil seeds, which can be hard to find. I also found Spicy Globe Basil, Columnar Basil, and Cinnamon Basil. They are all growing beautifully and my cooking has really gone up a notch as a result. Here is the gallery:
Lime Basil has a gorgeous olfactory profile: a low hum of sweet basil, with a massive hit of lemon verbena and key lime peel on top (courtesy of citral and limonene). The flavor is citrusy. The leaves are smaller and more tender than with ordinary Sweet Basil. It's very easy to grow from seed and fairly tough against pests.
Cinnamon Basil is much more like Sweet Basil in flavor and scent. It does have a spicy kick reminiscent of cinnamon leaves (not bark). It's a fun alternative to Sweet Basil.
Spicy Globe Basil has rounded tufts of small, very tender leaves and stems. There is a mild basil flavor with a peppery kick to it. Lovely in salads and veggie stir fry. I find it a little too delicate for heavy cooking.
Columnar Basil is a very robust, sturdy basil with spicy tones of clove and allspice. It's easy to grow in a container because of its columnar shape; it never sprawls around the pot like Sweet Basil. It seems tougher than Sweet Basil against pests, also. The leaves can be used raw or cooked.

All the basils need plenty of sun and water. Here in Zone 9 (subtropical), they need refuge from direct afternoon sun and heat. I keep them in a west-facing, covered patio, and in a north-facing alcove. That way they get either direct, cool morning sun, or indirect afternoon sun. I water daily and use a well-draining soil, but their schedule will depend on your climate zone and soil type. I use a general fertilizer once a week. They'll flower in late summer (harvest and save the seeds for next season!), then die back in November or December.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


It bloomed!
Lots of water, extra fertilizer, and a sun shade when necessary made the difference. My first dahlias! What firsts are you trying this spring?