Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Till-O-Ween!

With a big shout-out to Gardener Gail, who proposed the Tillandsia xerographica as a fashion accessory. I hope she'll soon be wearing one, also! I suspect she will look far more glamorous and beautiful than I do with a Tilly on her head, but I just couldn't resist....

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Annual Garden Tally: So What Am I Growing, Anyway?

I finally got around to my annual plant tally this week, and here are the results:
Type of Plant/Number of Plant

Lithops: 48. About a third now live outdoors in the ground rather than in pots. The seem to like it out there.

Tillandsias: 97. Yup, I'm closing in on 100. Good grief, somebody stop me! Most live indoors on my CD tower scaffolding, with about 7 living outside. Here's a shot from watering day (done outdoors, obviously).
Mesembs-That-Are-Not Lithops: 28
This includes quite a few Pleiospilos, Aloinopsis, Argyroderma, Marlothistella, and of course, Babytoes (Fenestraria). Others, too. About half live indoors, and half live outside.
Cacti: Mostly Mammillaria or hairy types, 17 all together....
So that's the tally, and obviously, I'd better get to watering these guys! Though my plants don't demand a lot of attention, with this many, it does add up. But hey, there's always room for one more, right? And we all need oxygen....

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Weekend Walkabout: Lantana, A Bunny, and Some Ibises

An autumn cold front finally blew through this week, lowering our temps from the mid-90sF to the low 80s. Time for walkies! What's to be seen this weekend?

The Lantana camara is still blooming like crazy....
Lantana camara, MR 2013
The Eastern cottontails are busily munching tasty riverbank salad....
Eastern cottontail, MR, 2013
The white ibises are flocking. Eudocimus albus is a friendly neighborhood bird around here. It's not uncommon to see a flock of 10-12 rooting around the yard at breakfast time, using their narrow beaks to precisely target tasty insects and worms. Apparently, only about 10-20% of the huge flocks that graced our shores are currently still with us. The demise of the Everglades, and general wetland encroachment by humans, has thinned their numbers considerably across the South. Fortunately, we have many here on the dunes, and they appear well-fed and healthy.

White Ibis Pair, MR, 2013
Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It's Time to Play...Spot the Lithops!

We all know that the genus Lithops is colloquially known as "Living Stones"- but it's fun to review once in a while why they have that name....
Nobody here but us stones....
This is a section of my outdoor succulent garden. Desert plants are rarities, and many creatures want to munch them to obtain nutrition and precious water. The cactus at top left uses spines very effectively to ward off famished critters.

Lithops use camouflage as their primary defense. Each species and subspecies lives in a uniquely colored and textured environment in southern Africa. I could not hope to duplicate the exquisite camouflage ability of Lithops in the wild, but I can manage to hint at it:
And here are some examples from my indoor Lithops garden:

And now for something completely different...a Mammillaria gracilis, trying not to be seen.
Spines and camouflage, awesome! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Just a Note

I've been in a wonderful class the last few days, and now I'm slowly getting back to the everyday schedule. I've got some ideas for new posts, but in the meantime, here's a lovely plumeria from my sand dune to contemplate.
Local Plumeria, MR, 2013
See you soon!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tales o' the Pups (Tillandsia Pups, That Is)

Tillandsias, or Tillies as I like to call them, have two methods of reproduction. One is the usual method, with flowers and seeds (apomictic or not, I do not know!). Here you see a Tillandsia juncea, a large (30-40cm) Florida native, in the seed-throwing phase of its life:
Tillandsia juncea with seed pods, MR 2013
T. juncea's flowering phase lasts a long time. The inflorescence takes several months to grow and the blooms last for several weeks in early summer (for Zone 9b). The seeds take several months to ripen, then the pods burst in fall and the seeds fly everywhere. You can see one flying away in the upper right corner of the photograph.

But Tillies also reproduce asexually, by pupping, or offsetting. Pups can grow from almost anywhere on the mother plant. For T. juncea and T. ionantha (a petite Central American Tillie), multiple pups grow from the base. They can stay attached to the mother plant more or less permanently, or drop off and grow in a new spot. Here you can see a T. juncea with pups (right) and T. ionantha (left), with pups growing from the base of the mother plant:
Tillandsias with Pups Growing From the Base of the Mother Plants, MR 2013
There are many other styles of offsets, which I'll be sharing over the course of time....

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Haworthia marxii, Curb Your Enthusiasm!

Before I get to my overexcited Haworthia marxii, I have a bit of business to tend to. An Alert Gardener wrote to me about the propagation of monstrose cacti. She wanted to know how it was done. I have not tried to grow further Ming Things from my very own Ming Thing, but Dave of Dave's Garden has a wonderful, extensive article on crested and monstrose cacti (mutant growth forms). Most of these cacti are propagated by grafting. They are trickier to grow than the parent species, as the mutations that give them their odd growth seem to make them more delicate.

Now back to my Haworthia. Though only 4cm in diameter, it loves flowering season and gets very excited about putting on a proper autumn show for all of us:
An enthusiastically blooming Haworthia.
Just how long is that inflorescence?? An amazing 64cm! This species from the Western Cape generally grows a solitary inflorescence of 40-60cm, so this one is truly remarkable. Sadly, the flowers are odorless.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Gardener's Delight: The Scent Library

I feel like we gardeners can never have too much of the Plant Kingdom in our lives. In addition to actual plants, including many smelly plants, I keep a scent library of essential oils, absolutes, tinctures, and CO2 extracts.
A Page From My Smelly Library
I have about 350 of these bottles/vials in my collection at this point. And I love to tincture. Tinctures are made from the actual plants (generally dried), plant parts, or resins, soaked in perfumer's alcohol and aged. They are lighter cousins to essential oils, which are distillations, and absolutes, which are solvent-extracted in a multi-step process to yield a denser, more complex product. CO2 extracts use no solvents like hexane, only carbon dioxide under high pressure (where it becomes supercritical, something between a gas and a liquid).

I use these items for my hobby of perfumery, and also for health reasons. For example, if anyone in the house shows signs of developing a respiratory infection, they get a nice steaming with Oregon Peppermint and Austrian Silver Fir, with a little Red Thyme thrown in.

Basically, collecting these extractions helps me learn more about many plants that I grow, and many others I don't or can't. And playing with them, and sharing them with friends, is a never-ending delight.

So for this blog, I may, from time to time, extol the virtues of a particular extract, or give a recipe, or some such thing. Any other gardeners out there who do likewise? You are welcome to share!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Annual Verus Perennial

I've always had a strong bias toward pernnials in my garden. These plants are defined as having a life span of two or more years. If a plant lives a year or less, it's an annual. The somewhere-in-betweens are biennials.

Crassula, a Favored Perennial
Every once in a while, I get a hankering to grow an annual. Not because it's a short-lived plant, but because of some other quality I admire despite its short life. Sunflowers are a case in point:
In other words, they have to overcome, with their marvelous beauty or intriguing aspects, my aversion to annuals. Poor flowers!
Perennials, on the other hand, are the gifts that keep on giving, right? I mean, they can go on for decades with good care. That's a big plus! Bamboo can take over your whole garden if you give it just a little love (not that that is always a good thing).
Black Bamboo CU, MR 2013
But as I've grown older, I've begun to appreciate the fleeting beauty of annuals a whole lot more. I've been growing them more often, and I don't get as melancholy as I used to when I pull up the wizened husk of an exhausted annual, and toss it in the trash. It's become more of a Buddhist Moment for me, a brief meditation on impermanence-- from the trash grows the flower, and in time, the flower returns to the trash. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So now annuals are welcome in my garden. My closest analogy to growing both together is that perennials are like the basic ground of a painting. The fundamental shapes, the background colors, and so on. Annuals add that zip that can transform one painting into a series. Each one somewhat alike, each one different. I tried this approach with a series of photos I'd taken of some beach shells, so see if you agree with me....
Plate of Shells II, Marla Robb, 2013
Plate of Shells V, Marla Robb, 2013
Plate of Shells VI, Marla Robb, 2013
What are your thoughts on the short-lived versus the long-lived plants in your garden? Have you changed over time?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thank You, Readers of the World!

I was so pleased to see the list of countries/territories/protectorates that my readers hail from. 76 countries, to be precise! In not-so-alphabetical order, they are:

Argentina, Australia, and Albania; Brazil, Belgium, Belarus, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Botswana, and Barbados; Canada, China, Chile, Croatia, Cayman Islands, Czech Republic, Colombia, and Chile; Denmark; Ecuador and Estonia; France and Finland; Germany, Greece, Georgia, and Guatemala; Hungary; Italy, Israel, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Iceland, Isle of Man, and India; Japan, Jordan, and Jamaica; Lebanon, Latvia, and Lithuania; Mexico, Malaysia, and Morocco; Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway; Puerto Rico, Poland, Philippines, Portugal, and Pakistan; Russia and Romania; Singapore, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, Slovenia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, and Somalia; Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, and Trinidad & Tobago; United States, United Kingdom, and the US Virgin Islands, Venezuela and Vietnam. I hope I got everyone. If you hail from a country that's not on this list, drop me a comment!

I'm so pleased and happy to see that people from all of these countries have an interest in, and may even be growing, the wonderful plants I love to write about. Carry on, gardeners of the world!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: My Vanity Protea

About 6 months ago, I bought some Protea seeds, thinking I might try to grow them on my sand dune. The time to plant them is autumn, so I'm ready to roll. I really love these flowers and, though my chances of successfully growing a Protea to adulthood are slim, I'm willing to give it a go.

Proteas grow mainly in South Africa and are known there as "sugarbushes". They were named after Proteus, the ancient Greek shapeshifter god, because there are so many varied types. They are a bit like Euphorbias in that sense. Proteas are a particularly ancient flower; their ancestors flourished in the southern supercontinent of Gondwana, 300 million years ago.
Protea neriifolia from Wikimedia

The seeds need a pre-sowing treatment with a Smoke Germination Stimulant. You can see this clever device in the lower left corner of my instruction sheet. So why am I calling this my "Vanity Protea"? Well, Proteas are threatened in their native habitat. According to National Geographic in 2010:
"The Cape floristic region was given international recognition as South Africa's sixth UN World Heritage site in June last year. More than 9,000 plant species make up the region, 6,000 of which are found nowhere else on Earth." Ironically, I am attempting to grow a Protea far from its native land at the same time the latest IPCC report is published. Our climate is undergoing drastic change, much of the change is human-induced, and many unique botanical treasures will be leaving us in the coming decades. Will my New World Protea thrive here? Is it a waste of time to grow them ex situ? Would it be better to spend my money on something that will directly curtail climate change where Proteas grow naturally? Should I spend my time lobbying instead of gardening? I don't know. But it's sure got me pensive....