Monday, November 25, 2013

Feeling Grateful

Grateful for family, friends, and of course, Lithops, Mesembs, Cacti, and Tillies!
What an amazing array of leaf shapes these guys have. Lucky I don't have to put any CDs on that rack....

I will be taking a few days off for the Thanksgiving holiday, which is rare for me, but I need it. For those in the US, have a wonderful holiday!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Smelly Plant of the Month: Yerba Buena

Yerba Buena, or "good herb", is common in gardens all over the New World, from Chile to Alaska. I have a big pot of it in my front yard. Unfortunately, when I photographed it, we were having our usual 70kph winds and I couldn't get a good focus. But you can see it's green and minty!
A not-terribly good photo of my Yerba Buena in high winds.
Yerba Buena refers to different species of mint or mint-like aromatic plants. Each region has its own. In the US and Philippines, Yerba Buena usually refers to Clinopodium douglasii.  It's used in tisanes for headaches, stomach-aches, and coughs and colds. In parts of Central America, it is Mentha citrata, a true mint. Good old spearmint, Mentha spicata, is often labeled Yerba Buena as well.  In Cuba, it's Mentha nemorosa, or apple mint.  All Yerba Buenas can be used in cooking, and medicinally, though obviously the Clinopodium has slightly different properties than the Menthas.

But the most famous use of Yerba Buena is for the traditional Cuban Mojito!
Mojito courtesy of Wikimedia

Monday, November 18, 2013

My New Year's Gardening Resolutions: How's It Going?

Back in January, I made some resolutions. We're all supposed to do that, right? Keeps us moving along, like sharks. So here they are/were:
1. Concentrate on learning more about the plants I already keep, rather than racing off to find new specimens like I did in 2012!
2. Learn more about botany. Review the basics, and hopefully, take a university-level class.
3. Practice botanical drawing and painting. Try both abstracts, and realistic depictions.

Well, I've got about a month to go, so how am I doing?
1. I've done well with this. I only bought about 10 new Tillandsias this year, only one new Lithops, and no new mesembs or cacti. I had help. The nurseries I had bought from in the past seriously curtailed their stock in the areas that interest me. My Tillandsias were local, except for a few I ordered from two nurseries in California. And I have spent more time learning about the plants I already own, which has been quite fascinating.
The ever-fascinating Babytoes.
2. I've spent less than 100 hours studying botany this year, but definitely more than 50. So I'd call this a partial success. I'm still thinking about an online class, but haven't found the right one yet!
3. I've been painting and photographing plants like crazy, that's for sure. I've also been learning digital art so I can have more fun with my vast collection of photos. So this has been a success, overall. The new camera and software sure helped!
How have your 2013 resolutions been going, those that you made official, that is. I know if I didn't write mine down, I'd surely forget them by March...good thing I blog them!

"Roots and Flowers", MR, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fragrant Tinctures: A Bride's Perfume

As you may know from earlier this month, I've been tincturing like crazy:
Geranium and Rose Tinctures
A good friend is getting married in a month, and for a present, I made bespoke perfumes for bride and groom. The bride wanted something very soft and subtle, hinting of red roses, her favorite flower, and with a green edge rather than something sweet. So I created a perfume with the tinctures shown above, red rose petals, and scented geranium. I added tincture of Madagascar vanilla beans, a few other bits and bobs, some golden mica powder, and ta da! A Bride's Perfume is born....
The swirls of gold appear when the perfume is held in sunlight; you can't see it in a static photo (I might make a video at some point). I've been using such "swirls" in several colors for about 3 years now, and I've actually seen them in one commercial perfume (last year), so I think that's a good thing. Not every perfume needs to be transparent and clear. I left a few rose petals at the bottom of the bottle, cuz' that's romantic! I really enjoy making new things from my garden. What are your favorite things to make from your garden?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lithops Can Move Fast

Lithops are not known for their impatience and impetuous behavior. They like to take it slow.
Slow's the way to go, if you're a Lithops.

 However, once in a while, I'll see a Lithops do something in a surprisingly speedy manner. Take this little guy on the left:

Speedy, and...not so much.
 He and his neighbor have been taking their sweet time re-leafing. It's been rather a dull party, actually. But yesterday, with the passage of a cold front (which may or may not have had anything to do with it), Lithops One decided to absorb its old leaves. In 2 hours flat! I kid you not, that's as long as it took. Lithops Two is not having any of it, though. It's keeping to the old, slow ways.... But who knows? Maybe speed-releafing will catch on! Of course, this leads to a dilemma for me. One can now be watered, the other, not. Hmmm, what I am going to do with these guys??

Friday, November 8, 2013

Tales o' the Pups, Part 2 (Tillandsias)

Here's Part 1 in case you missed it:

My Tillies continue to pup like there's no tomorrow. Last time I wrote about Tillies that pup at the base. This week, I've got some hidden and subtle pups to show. Here are three of them. It's hard to find images of Tillandsias and their pups, so I hope this will add to our global photo album of Tillandsias.
Tillandsia magnusiana with pup, MR, 2013
My favorite fuzzy Tillies, T. magnusiana, are as close to  airplant pets as it gets. They're soft, fluffy silver balls that fit nicely in the hand. I swear they'd purr if they could. The sacred Tillie of the Maya has equally cute pups. They grow quite hidden at the base for a month or so, then suddenly, a lower leaf will lurch away from its fellows, and there you'll see the pup, only about 1cm in diameter.
Tillandsia caliginosa with pup, MR, 2013
Tillandsia caliginosa has a cleverly disguised pup branching off from the base, approximately two leaves up on the mother plant.
Tillandsia filifolia with pup, MR, 2013
T. filifolia pups at the base, but the pup grows in a direction perpendicular to the mother plant. It's very hard to spot at first. This pup has been growing for several months and is now clearly visible. You can see the central rosette of the pup clearly in the lower right corner. It's darker than the mother plant.

Well, that's enough pupping for now! Have a wonderful weekend and happy gardening.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

If It's Autumn, It's Time To Tincture

Here in the subtropics, it's still the growing season. We never really stop growing stuff down here, close to the equator. But it is harvest time for many annuals, and I do like my smelly plants, so...what do I do with them?

My scented geranium is a perennial, but had grown so hugely huge by October that I had to cut large branches off to keep it from toppling and crushing the rest of my garden (OK, the hyperbole meter just spiked)!
I've already grown many daughter plants from this one, and I really don't need more. I decided to dry and tincture the leaves from the trimmed branches. I bundled up some of the branches, then hung them in a dry, somewhat dark place for a week:
Once the leaves were thoroughly dry, I crumbled them into glass bottles and added perfumer's alcohol. Vodka works just fine if you don't want to use, or can't find, perfumer's alcohol. I should add that if you are making tinctures for medicinal purposes, of course you won't want perfumer's alcohol. If the tincture is for perfumes or colognes, perfumer's alcohol is absolutely scentless, and cannot be ingested. Before any plant material is used for tinctures, it's a good idea to research it to make sure there are no issues with toxicity or allergies. Safety first!
I tincture all kinds of things, from petrified rock hyrax poop to chrysanthemums and vanilla beans. Each tincture takes a different length of time to mature. It's good to test your tincture with a little mouillette or square of cotton rag once a week until you feel it's at its peak of delicious scent. Then strain the liquid, pour it into a new bottle, and label it (I write the date, also). The tincture will last a long time, and be a wonderfully fragrant memory of your summer garden. I use mine in various colognes and perfumes that I make. The geranium tincture is used in my rose/peppermint/geranium cologne I call "The Thing From Planet Peppermint". Not very romantic, but refreshing!
Here are two of the tinctures I use for Planet Peppermint, geranium and rose petals:

Any other tincture-makers out there? What do you tincture, and what's something that you really want to tincture, but haven't yet? I'm thinking about fresh patchouli, but I can't locate any plants. Someday, though!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mesemb of the Month: Aloinopsis malherbei

The name "Aloinopsis" means "looks like an aloe", and I totally disagree with that. First, Aloinopsis are generally very, very small plants, whereas aloes, relatively speaking, can grow to the size of Godzilla. Second, they don't look alike at all, except that they both form rosettes, and they are both succulents. Here are two Aloinopsis. A. malherbei is the blooming one at top (the lower is an A. luckhoffii):
A Pair of Aloinopsis
Aloinopsis of all sorts come from the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces of South Africa. One species, A. orpenii, can be found in Northern Cape Province, just to be different (there's always one, isn't there?). They particularly love rocky niches, so they can be hard to spot.

Aloinopsis have delightfully pebbly leaf surfaces. Technically, the little bumps are called tubercles, but I call them knobbles. A. malherbei has knobbles only on the top leaf edges. Other species have more generally scattered knobbles, or very subtle knobbles (A. orpenii).

They like a lot of sun, sparse water in summer, and virtually none in winter. Red spider mites and mealy bugs can attack them, making them a little more fragile than many mesembs, which are generally pest-impervious.  But to compensate, they are quite frost-hardy.

The blooms are silky and saffron-yellow. I can't detect any odor. They have thick, tuberous roots and prefer well-drained, even rocky soil. Aloinopsis make a beautiful addition to any mesemb garden.

Enjoy your weekend, fellow gardeners!