Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What the Heck Is This??

A friend gave me some sprigs to "throw and grow" in my garden, and of course, I did that.
Now one of them is blooming and I have no idea what it is. Is it an Air Potato, a Morning Glory, or what? Sure has pretty flowers, grows soooo fast. Definitely a vine.
Growing well enough to bloom on a dune is not easy. Whatever this is, I admire it. It's message is clearly, "Hang Tough! You'll bloom one way or another...."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Plant Portrait: Tillandsia crocata

Tillandsia crocata is a rather humble Tillie when not in bloom. It's sort of a dull green-grey, somewhat fuzzy and out-of-focus looking, definitely not a diva. Until it blooms. No wallflower then!
Tillandsia crocata "Copper Penny", MR 2014
Only a few Tillandsias have scented blooms. And a saffron-colored bloom is very unusual for this genus. The perfume of T. crocata is rich and ebullient. It fills the room with its heady golden scent. It's not an easy Tillie to find, but if you find one, do give it a try.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Miniature African Violets in Winter

Miniature African Violets aren't that hard to grow. I've found that they need a location with several hours of medium indirect light. They like to be watered from the bottom every other day with just a teaspoon or two of water. They die if they sit in water for more than a few hours. They burn quickly in direct sun. They like occasional applications of dilute violet fertilizer. That's about it! They are only about 5-8cm in diameter, but really cheer up a room in winter; I call them Fairy Flowers:
Mini African Violets, MR, 2014
I'm particularly excited about the mini violet on the right. The buds are bright green, and the flowers are yellow-centered with white petals with green edges. Gorgeous! I have seen these new cultivars on web sites but they are even more captivating in real life.
Green-blooming mini African Violet, MR, 2014
I hope you'll be seeing them soon in your town!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kitten Paw Plant: Cotyledon tomentosa

My regular readers know how much I love fuzzy plants. One of my favorites is the eminently cute Cotyledon tomentosa, also known as the Kitten Paw Plant, or Bear Paw Plant:
Cotyledon tomentosa, the Kitten Paw Plant, MR, 2014
This is a small, shrubby succulent from Africa. They like up to a half a day of full sun, and weekly waterings, or whenever their leaves begin to shrink and soften. They don't like soggy roots. They can tolerate brief periods of frost, but grow best in warmer climates. Adorable!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bloomin' Babytoes Returns

It's been while since I posted a photo of one of my very prolific Babytoes (Fenestraria), so here goes:
Fenestraria in Bloom, MR, 2014
These cheerful mesembs never fail to make me smile....

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Can This Phalaenopsis Be Saved? Yes!

A few months ago, I found a tiny, bedraggled, miniature Phalaenopsis orchid at a big box store. It was on the nursery "Death Cart" for a buck, or was it $3? I can't remember, but I wanted to practice orchid care, so I bought it. Its roots were a mess, with only 3 little ones left intact, but I potted it up anyway. And here it is now!
Not only does it have fresh new roots growing, it also has a flower stalk with five buds on the way. I was under the impression that a rescue orchid needs more time to recover than a month, but I don't want to cut off the buds. I'll keep watering daily and let it go about its business. In general, I don't recommend rescuing orchids with rotten roots, but in this case, things went better than planned.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Argyroderma Blooms!

Not much has been happening in the World of the Mesembs lately, but today is watering day, and look what I found!
Argyrodermas, or "silver skins", are lovely, utterly unique mesembs that I've been growing for several years. Some have gone through leaf regeneration, but this is the first one to bloom. Argy flowers can also be yellow or white. They mostly live in dry quartz fields of coastal Namaqualand in an area known as the Knersvlakte. They need 2-4 inches of winter rain per year, and fog. I will try growing some in crushed quartz someday perhaps. They proliferate well in their native habitat but are notoriously fussy here in the tropics and most people I know who grow them seem to have given up on them. If you grow Argies, what's your opinion?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Weird Wednesday: The Wild Patch

I don't know about you, but I'm sure getting fed up with all the construction and land clearing going on around here. I know it's part of Crowded Planet Syndrome, and who am I to deny someone their new condo, parking spot, or strip mall, but at this point, I'm just grossed out. Does every inch of land have to be under the (opposable) thumbs of humans?

So I made a Wild Patch. In my yard. No destructor-landscaper can touch it. Kids are free to come and observe all the critters that live in it, but no marauding, land-ravaging adults unless they've convinced me they mean no harm. That's my rule and I'm sticking to it.
It only took a week or two after the lawn mowers, Round-Up sprayers, and weed-whackers were banned for the Wild Patch to emerge. It's only about 3m by 2m. Yet within those 6 square meters, there are over 20 insect species, five reptile species, and several kinds of arachnids, including a Red Rump Tarantula I've named Delilah. The flowers are pollinated by all sorts of bees and (beneficial) wasps. Dragonflies and butterflies come and go by the dozens. The troublesome fire ants are long gone, and most of the invasive plants have left, too. I grow several basils at one end, and they are growing abundantly, and very much pleasing the bees. I also grow a native mint called Horsemint, which makes a highly pungent and energizing tea.

A close-up of the Wild Patch.
I've even got Tillies growing out there, though it is a little too sunny for some species. It's become my favorite place to meditate, and just feel peaceful about Gaia's powers of rejuvenation. Does anyone else out there have a wild patch in their garden?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Do You Like Brazil Nuts? Meet Couroupita guianensis!

While skulking about the Fairchild Tropical Gardens with my camera in Miami, Florida, I saw and smelled a most amazing tree. It's called the Cannonball Tree and it hails from Brazil, where the nuts come from. In fact, it's first cousin to the Brazil Nut.
Couroupita guianensis, FTG, MR, 2014
The scent of the Cannonball flower is intoxicating, a mix of rose, peony, and a melange of spices. I was thoroughly charmed by this unique tree, and especially by the gorgeous scent of the blooms. Cannonball trees are grown all over the world now in tropical and semitropical zones. How I'd love one in my garden!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Weekend Walkabout: A Hole in the Sky

We have had very turbulent weather here lately with cold fronts moving back and forth, and sunrise/sunset has been amazing! But I had never seen this before:
A Hole in the Sky, MR, November 2014
This is a fallstreak hole, also known as a skypunch. Here is the closeup:
Skypunch, MR, Nov 2014
These holes in the sky are fairly rare, and are caused by supercooled water droplets that evaporate rapidly because they go through something called a Bergeron Process when they finally freeze. Hey, that's what the Science Guys and Gals tell me, I don't get it either. But the effect, especially at sunrise or sunset, is gorgeous.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

More Tillandsia Holiday Fun

This week, I had a few days to spend in one of my favorite cities, Miami! One of the reasons it's on my Top 10 Cities List is that it is the site of the Fairchild Tropical Gardens. They were celebrating Halloween/Dia de los Muertos in high style, with Tillandsias (Spanish Moss and others) and ghosties made out of palm pieces:
There were other Tillandsias on display in their natural habitat:
And some amazing bat/owl creatures made out of more palm bits:
A sociable Anhinga did not want to be outdone by a bat made out of plant bits:
Anhinga, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Miami, FL, MR, 2014
All in all, a beautiful day spent in a beautiful garden. If you are ever in Miami, do visit the Fairchild Tropical Gardens.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Yes, You've Seen it Before, But....

I only get to post this photo once a year!
Happy Tilloween!
This is a great way to foster public appreciation of Tillandsia xerographica. Let's all wear our Tillies with pride tonight! ;-)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tillandsia crocata: a fragrant diva Tillie

Avid Gardener Baker catalogued and named the unusual Tillandsia crocata in 1887. It means, "the Tillie that is like saffron." Most Tillandsias have purple blooms, and a few have scarlet or lilac blossoms. Crocata has a gorgeous (wait for it) saffron-colored flower. And it smells gorgeous, like honey and mimosa.
Tillandsia crocata, MR, 2014
T. crocata is a clumper. The leaves are fine and thickly coated with trichomes, which make it not only silvery, but so fuzzy it's practically pet-able. They are higher altitude tillies (1000-2500m) from Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. There are three main types, of which T. crocata "Copper Penny" is the most sought after; it has copper colored blooms. All crocatas need more mistings than other Tillies; they can't handle prolonged drought at all.
Tillandsia crocata, MR, 2014
Mine like to grow close to other Tillies, as this keeps their environment more humid. I also give them extra mists or soaks during the winter months when our humidity is below 50%. On the other hand, they cannot tolerate being cold and wet for long. They have to thoroughly dry between waterings and need good air movement. So yeah, they are high maintenance divas. But when in bloom, they go to the living room, where they scent the whole area for a week or more. Gorgeous sopranos of the Tillie world, crocatas are definitely worth the extra effort!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekend Walkabout: Just a Pretty Dawn

Not much to report today, except a really beautiful sunrise:
Dawn, Zone 10, MR, October 2014
This is my favorite time of day, so peaceful. I'm going to walk on the beach and play my crystal singing bowls on the patio. Oh, yeah, and do some gardening. The green zinnias and snapdragons are blooming. Have a wonderful weekend and happy gardening!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chef Riccardo's Taste of the Garden: Pumpkin Soup

Chef Riccardo knows his way around a soup pot, and my favorite of his recipes is one he made for me every autumn: Pumpkin Soup.  This is a very hearty, delicious dish best served with crusty artisan bread, and a few sprigs of fresh dill. It's an Italian specialty:

1 kg fresh pumpkin
2 potatoes
2 leeks
1 onion
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Peel and cube the pumpkin and potatoes and  boil in 2 litres of water, chicken, or vegetable broth until soft. Blend or puree the broth when cool. Fry the washed and chopped leeks and onion in olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Add to the pumpkin broth.  Heat gently and add a bit of nutmeg. Stir in ½ cup of cream. Serve with shaved parmesan and a little drizzled olive oil. Eat with your favorite type of crusty bread.
Pumpkin Soup
Of course, down here in the Tropics we add a dash of habanero sauce, but I think that may be an aquired taste. ;-)

Thank you, Chef Riccardo, for a wonderful and warming autumn recipe!
Chef Riccardo

Monday, October 13, 2014

More Plants Now: Online Stores

Alert Gardeners tend to specialize in particular types of plants. This inevitably leads us to the online nursery. As with all plant shopping venues, this one has pluses and minuses. For me, the pluses are all about acquiring uncommon plants, and the minuses are all about the weather. Let's talk Tillies:
T. caliginosa, available online

Tillandsias travel very well in a box for a week. They can be soaked prior to shipping, carefully wrapped, and sent on their way. As long as they don't freeze or cook, they will survive the trip. Not needing dirt is a very good thing! Other plants are much more fragile and can only be shipped during narrow time windows because of weather/temperature concerns. Some just don't like to travel; Lithops are a good example of plants that really prefer to say in one spot, and can freak out and collapse into goo when shipped. 
Lithops prefer a quiet life.

Another down side is that you cannot inspect the plants for diseases or pests. I've never had a problem with either from my online plants, but it happens. So it's imperative to find a dealer you trust who will address any problems that come up. 

I've purchased about a third of my Tillie collection from online dealers, and they are all thriving. I collect some pretty obscure species, so online sellers are high on my list. What have your experiences been?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Weekend Plant Portrait: Phal and Tillie

Tillandsia crocata makes a very subtle, silvery background for a flashy Phalaenopsis....
Phal and Tillie, MR, Oct 2014
However, the Phal has no scent, and when T. crocata blooms, its gorgeous perfume fills a room. Have a wonderful weekend in the garden!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

It Stares Into Your Soul....

Oh my, Huernia zebrina had a surprise for me this week, a double bloom that was a little...disconcerting.
Huernia in Bloom, MR, Oct 2014
Any strange creatures staring at you in YOUR garden??

NOTE: Alert Gardener Jim asked me if I posed the flowers. I did not. It has been blooming like crazy and two of the blooms were in that exact position when I watered it. They still are!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lithops and Oncidium Portrait

Two lovely plants that have earthy speckles and blotches in common....
Lithops and Oncidium, MR, Sept2014
This seemed like the perfect plant portrait for the beginning of autumn. They go so well together!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Local and Specialist Nurseries: My Favorite Places to Shop

When it comes to buying plants, I really value the specialists. They truly love the plants they work with. They strive to give them an excellent growing environment. They love to educate their customers so that the plants they sell continue to thrive in their new gardens.
I am blessed to have several tropical nurseries in the area, and one, my favorite, grows and sells only native plants. I'm happy to drive for an hour to stock up at such a nursery. The prices are usually a very good value for the high quality you get.  And if you have any follow-up questions or concerns, you can just call the nursery; they are nearly always extremely helpful.

Access seems to be the only downside to buying plants from the specialists. Not everyone has several special nurseries in their area. I know of some gardeners who make annual treks to far-flung nurseries to stock up on their favorite plants. However, online sales sites are becoming more common, and that will get a separate post. What I particularly love is that I can often find unusual plants from the specialists, such as this Rue, and Patchouli:
No Big Box Store is ever going to sell these guys! For those of us who like to learn everything we can about a particular group of plants (say, medicinals, or mesembs), specialists are our gurus. They don't have an easy time these days, as small businesses are under pressure just about everywhere, but they have their customers' eternal gratitude.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tillandsia kolbii blooms!

Tillandsia kolbii used to be called Tillandsia ionantha v. scaposa. It certainly fits in well with my  many ionanthas, but on closer inspection, it's very much a different Tillie. It's a small and compact Tillandsia (5-10cm tall, about 3cm wide) with a slight curve to the body, similar to the curve of T. paucifolia. The body is thinner than the ionanthas and the leaves hug each other more, giving it a less bushy appearance. It also likes to be a bit colder and damper than ionanthas. It appreciates extra mistings! Kolbiis prefer less light than ionanthas. Nor do they turn bright red before they bloom as certain ionanthas such as "Fuego" tend to do.
Tillandsia kolbii, formerly T. ionantha v. scaposa, MR, 2014
T. kolbii hails from Guatemala and likes to hang out at elevations of around 1,500 to 2,000m. The bloom is a light lilac as opposed to the bright amethyst of the ionantha. Lovely!

Hope all of you had  wonderful weekend walkabout somewhere beautiful. We have had so much rain that our local walking path grew a lake, which attracted several dozen gregarious ducks.
Neighbor Ducks, MR, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Plants from the Small Box Store

I've read in numerous places that the Era of the Big Box Store may be coming to an end. Could it be the dawn of the Small Box Store? I use that term to describe a smaller, regional chain where each manager has more latitude about how and when to stock the shelves. There are several in my area that have greenhouses. A couple of those greenhouses are well kept by actual paid gardeners who know their plants. The prices tend to be a bit higher than the Big Box Store's, but the plants are generally in better health; they tend to carry specialty plants from local nurseries, too. This Opuntia and Mammillaria in my collection were purchased from Small Box Stores....

What I particularly like about Small Box is that I can find plants from regional nurseries without having to drive hours to the nurseries themselves. I can even put special orders through by talking with one of the gardeners. The employees are generally happier and more knowledgeable, because they are better paid and have better support from management. It's just a more pleasant shopping experience, and we even get to know each other's names. Have you found specialty plants at your local small box?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I got it on special at the Big Box Store! (uh-oh)

OK, confession. I’ve bought about a third of my plants at the Stuff Mart. (Not Walmart, I don't shop there.) One Big Box in particular is the only one left in my area that sells Lithops and other mesembs. If I can find some right after they unload the truck, they will be in good shape and settle in well with my other plants; I repot them immediately in my own mesemb mix, and that seems to help.
Lithops brought home quickly from the Big Box can bide fine.
I have about a half-dozen orchids, and my two phals are both rescues from the Big Box Death Cart. My mini-phal was $3, and the regular NOID (no identification) phal was $5, marked down from $18. I unpotted them, removed the old, rotten roots, dusted the ends with cinnamon, and repotted in proper orchid mix.  These big box orchids often come from vast farms in Thailand, though my local Lowe’s gets theirs from a nursery in my tropical state. Here’s a Thai orchid farm; that’s some monstrous big orchid patch!
Scary big orchid patch.

Now for my grumbles about the Big Box. They truly don’t care much about the plants apart from moving them along to customers as quickly as possible. For example, at my local BB, more plants sell if they are outside, so out go the orchids into full summer sun, scorcheroo! They don’t last long, and their deaths are woeful to behold. The cacti and succulents get the same watering as every other plant, so it’s death by drowning for them. The Argyrodermas and Titanopses (sp??) last no more than a week in such a situation. Years to grow to a decent size, then phfft, a few days of careless care and they’re gone. That’s just so sad! The employees don’t know much about the plants and many don’t care. They have to work fast and move product.

My second gripe is the whole NOID thing. No identification except for something like, “succulent”, or “orchid”. Duh.  Hopefully most people know they can ask the mighty Google for help in ID’ing their new plant and can learn from reputable Internet sources, local garden societies, or books on how to care for it.  Though as most of us know, most Big Box houseplants end up in the trash after ceasing to bloom or look fresh.
The above is a NOID orchid that I've identified as a Miltassia with the help of some Alert Orchid Gardeners. I bought it from the Big Box store a few days after it arrived there, and it's just a little sun-scorched, but recovering well. I strongly prefer to buy orchids from specialist growers through our local orchid society, but that's a later post. In this case, I just couldn't resist those flowers!

My third and last grumble (promise) is my concern that specialist growers lose business to the mass market nurseries. But I’ve heard also that a big box plant can be a starter plant that leads to a happy gardener, who begins to buy healthier, more specialized plants from local nurseries and knowledgeable growers.  Maybe it works both ways? Any specialist growers want to comment on this one? I really don’t know the answer.
So, time to confess. Have you ever bought a Big Box Plant? What’s your verdict??