Saturday, September 28, 2013

Smelly Plant of the Month: Thai Basil

I've been growing Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora) from seed for two years now. It's similar to sweet basil, the usual kind we can buy in pots in grocery stores, but it has a delicious, minty-licorice kick. It's a native of SE Asia and is used in many Asian cuisines, not just Thai. Here's some hiding in my garden next to much showier gold dust plants and vinca:
Thai basil on the lower right, looking modest.
And here you can see the difference between the usual Sweet basil of Western cuisine, and Thai basil:
Left: Sweet basil, Right: Thai basil (Wikimedia Commons, but it looks like my yard!)
Thai basil has purple stems and smaller leaves. At first, I used it only in Asian dishes. Then I didn't have enough mint for a Middle Eastern dish. Thai basil worked! Then I tried it with a traditional mojito (the unsweet kind) because we have no yerba buena up here, and, yes, everyone loved it. Then I tried it in a traditional Italian pasta recipe with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Delizioso! Then it went straight into salads, onto sandwiches, you name it, it's become somewhat ubiquitous around here....

Thai basil is very easy to grow from seed. It germinates within a few days, and is very tough and resistant to pests and fungi (unlike Sweet basil, which is attacked by everything, it seems). I start mine in the late spring, harvest through summer, and then, by late fall, it's gone. Annuals make me sad when they leave after a few short months, but I save seed from the flower heads and start again the next spring. It's worth a spot in an herb garden whether the cook likes Thai food or not.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

More Beautiful Lithops Stamps

As if collecting Lithops wasn't eccentric enough, now I'm collecting stamps of Lithops. Good grief....

These lovely stamps hail from Benin. They were issued August 30, 1997, and are part of a set of six. I cannot find the name of the artist. From the left, we have Lithops fulviceps, Lithops helmutii, and Lithops aucampiae, all in bloom.
The other three in the set show a Stapelia, a Faucaria, and a Conophytum. If you know more about the history of the set, or who created the lithographs, leave a comment!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Weekend Walkabout: Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup

This weekend's walkabout was for a good cause. We're cleaning up the world's trashed beaches! All over the world, people who live on or near the beach are picking up the trash....
The first OCI trash team hits the beach just after sunrise.
But we're not only bagging the trash, we're gathering data. Every trash bag gets every little piece inside recorded, then crunched in a global database. We want to find out where the trash is coming from, how it landed on the beach, and how to stop more from coming. Recording hundreds of trashy bits can be odiferous and mucky, but it's worth it....
Recording the contents of a bag full of beach trash. Ew!
Our group logged several hundred "plastic bits", 12 buoy chunks, 3 flip-flops (all for the left foot), 3 balloons, 3 cans, one ancient bottle of booze, 3 fishing ropes, 50 plastic bottle tops, and over 100 pieces of food packaging. And that was just in one trash bag! Yuck! I also found some cool sea beans (including kapok prickles and hamburger beans), and earned a T-shirt, so though we got very sweaty and tired, I'm feeling pretty good. Now it's time for a cool lemonade in the garden, watched over by Jeffrey the Gnome. I was pleased to see that by the time our early-bird team was leaving, hundreds of people were combing the beach with black trash bags, as far as I could see north and south. I hope it's the same all over the planet today. Wonderful! Please leave a comment if you participated, let me know which country/beach you helped clean, and tell us what was the weirdest or grossest thing you found.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Great Read for Mesembs Gardeners: Steven Hammer Online

I confess, I am a Steven Hammer fangirl. This man just amazes me with his incredible knowledge (firsthand) of growing mesembs of all kinds. Back in 1995, he published one of the most thorough articles on growing Mesembs, with a particular emphasis on Lithops and Conophytum, in the US-based Cactus and Succulent Journal. It's now online thanks to NYU, and I have been reading it in sections (and trying hard to apply the knowledge therein) for over a year. I hope you all take a look, if you haven't already done so....

And now, a few mesembs photos from my increasingly organized archive:
Clockwise from top- Argyroderma, Crassula, Faucaria, and the Inevitable Blooming Babytoes
Blooming Lithops Basking in the Sun
And here's the man himself:
Steven Hammer, Mesembs Expert
Happy gardening, everyone!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mesembs Art: Stamps by Hein Botha

I just wanted to share two lovely South African stamps from a set painted by Hein Botha in 1988. The top stamp is of the gorgeous diva mesemb, Frithia pulchra, and the lower is of the very popular and distinctive Lithops dorotheae.
I have both plants in my collection, so I couldn't resist adding their portraits!

Frithia pulcra, MR
L. dorotheae
I looked up Hein Botha and saw that he is still painting, and has a website. Here's the Bio page for those interested:

I'm always happy to share the work of a Lithops artist! To all my readers, have a wonderful, creative weekend.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Autumn- The Busiest Time of Year

I'm glad the plants in my gardens are mostly on break this time of year. My one and only orchid, a Catasetum, is now going into rest-and-retreat mode, its lower leaves yellowing and falling off. It will come back in the spring. My cacti are starting to lapse into dormancy as well. My Tillandsias have all bloomed and pupped. Lithops marmorata, aka, "The Brains" were the last Lithops to regenerate this year:
Lithops marmorata, aka "The Brains"
I have a whole stack of skyscape photos that I've begun using as my "models" for painting skies and clouds, and I'll be training as an official weather spotter for the government this month. Will I start chasing tornados? We'll see....Right now I'm mostly observing sunrises, peacefully.
Lots of work in the studio, ceramics and painting, much of it for charity.
And school, oh yeah! Middle schoolers are tough, but fun. Looking at the whole picture, no wonder I wake up tired...and it's only Wednesday! Hope you're all having a good week. And don't forget to (not) water your Lithops.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tilly of the Month: Tillandsia juncea

Tillandsia juncea is a vital part of any air plant collection. Tall and graceful, it resembles pampas grass. T. juncea grows to nearly a half-meter in height. It flowers and pups rather spectacularly.  Here is the main pup from one of mine (you can see "The Spirit of the Lithops" peeking through the leaves):
Tillandsia juncea, MR 2013
T. juncea grows in many countries- Bolivia, Brazil, and Venezuela in South America, and Costa Rica and Mexico in Central America. It's a very tough Tillie, but needs excellent air circulation. If it is kept damp without a good breeze, it will quickly rot at the base. It should never be "pseudo-planted" in moss or dirt. Give this Tillie its space and fresh air, and it will really take off. Medium-bright light is best.
As you can see here, after blooming its one and only time, T. juncea pups at the base. Several pups will grow, but only one will be dominant, in this case, the one on the far left. You can just leave them to grow in clumps, or separate the pup with it's about the size of the large one above. I do not know if, when you separate the dominant pup from the mother plant, other pups will begin to grow more vigorously. I'll let you know what happens if I decide to experiment.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Weird Wednesday: My Petrified Lightning Collection

I have some weird stuff in my flotsam and jetsam collection, but nothing quite as strange as fulgurites. Fulgurites are strange, sandy-glassy tubes left by lightning striking the beach (or any area with suitable levels of silica in its soil). The lightning is so hot (well, it's plasma!) that the sand forms glass tubes in the shape of the actual lightning forks. Not surprisingly, fulgerites are known colloquially as "petrified lightning", and I live in one of the major fulgerite hotspots on the planet.
Fulgurites, MR, 2013
Way cool! I had been looking for these for years, and finally, when I was meandering around the beach, I found a whole pile of them. I sent a few to my science-savvy relatives who like this sort of thing, and kept the rest. They are certainly the crown jewels of my flotsam and jetsam collection.
A side note, the longest fulgurite in the world was also found in Florida, and it was 4.9m long! Too bad I missed that one....

Monday, September 2, 2013

Every Garden Needs a Gnome....

And I finally found one for mine!
Spot the Gnome
I splurged on a vintage 1960s ceramic garden gnome for a big ten bucks at an antique store. Well, the 1960s isn't quite antique yet, but the gnome is cute, sun- and rainproof, and keeps an eye on my plants while I'm away. Doesn't quite go with the stone meditating Zen monk sculpture, but we're very multicultural around here.