Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Great Read: Paul Isley III's "Tillandsia II"

I finally have it! The book I've been waiting for...the Ultimate Tilly Tome- "Tillandsia II" by Paul Isley III. Paul is arguably the most enthusiastic Tillandsia fanatic on Planet Earth.  A Californian, he's been studying, teaching about, and growing Tillies since 1974. This book is a labor of love and it's spectacular. My family gave it to me as a birthday gift and I was jumping around the living room after opening the package. Which wasn't easy considering the book weighs about 5kg.... It's not cheap (around $75 USA) but if you collect Tillies, save up for a copy if you can. It's worth it.

His first book, "Tillandsia", came out in 1987, and "Tillandsia II" in 2009. It's a 288-page coffee table book with lavish, very expensively produced illustrations of most Tillandsia species. Isley's enthusiasm for the subject is apparent from the very first- here's how he dressed up his family members for an illustration of how useful Tillandsias can be....
Hey, who had the idea of Tilly hairpieces first, the Isleys, Gardener Gail, or me?
OK, well, they win that round, their photo is from 2008, mine from 2013.

The book is easy to navigate, and can be read cover-to-cover, or piecemeal. I particularly like that Isley includes pronunciations for each species. "Latifolia" may be obvious, but "ixioides" is not! So thank you, Paul, for helping us out with that. Each Tilly is described, with natural history and care detailed. This makes it a wonderful resource for actual "Tilly Guardians" like myself. I've learned quite a few good tips since I started this book.

Of course I have to issue a warning: this book is a lemming-creator. I have over 50 species of Tillandsia in my collection, but now, after reading Isley, I've got a wish list of about 30 more.... In this sense, the book is more expensive than the cover price, but hey, they're Tillies, so they're worth it, right?
T. ionantha in bloom, MR, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Lithops and Mexican Tuberose, and More Dahlias

I couldn't resist buying a few very cute Lithops a few weeks ago. They had no label of any kind, and the store clerk wanted to know "what the heck those weird plants" were! I particularly love the colors of the (presumed) karasmontanas on the lower right:
 L. karasmontana x2 on the lower right.
I've been growing some Mexican Tuberose near the dahlias and geraniums. Here is what the tubers of Polianthes tuberosa look like:
I planted them a couple inches deep in rich but well-draining soil with moderate water and strong morning sun, and about 2 weeks later, I had this!

Single Mexican tuberose are the most fragrant, which is why I chose them over the showier, but milder-smelling Pearl tuberose. They have been cultivated in Mexico since Pre-Columbian times for their spectacular scent. The Spanish fell in love with them and took them back to Europe. In their ideal environment they can grow 2 meters tall! Mine are only about 25cm at this point, but hey, it's a sand dune. They grow best in Zones 8 through 10, so I'm very excited to smell these in another month or so. If they bloom I will certainly post photos.

The dahlias have been blooming prolifically, and I can't say sunflowers are my all-time favorite flower anymore- it's a tie. They never reached dinner plate size, but flowers grown near beaches tend to be dwarfed a bit. And I didn't have the heart to pinch off 90% of the buds as I was supposed to; I'd rather have more, but smaller dahlias than just one huge one:
Now I've got to get some watering and weeding done, and mustn't forget the Tillies...!

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Weird Little Patchouli Plant (Pogostemon heyneanus)

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.

PostNote: I've been researching this little guy, and I think I may actually have Java Patchouli (Pogostemon heyneanus), not Pogostemon cablin. Both can be grown here, but the P. cablin is much more aromatic and rarely flowers. Mine is flowering like crazy!

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.