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??

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A New Series: Where Do You Get Your Plants?

Where do Alert Gardeners get their plants? And more and more plants? I've been pondering that question and mulling it over with my gardening buddies and I've got five categories, each of which warrants its own discussion, each of which has its own pros and cons. Here they are, roughly in order of the number of plants they move from greenhouse to the vast global public:

1. Big Box Stores
2. Small Box Stores
3. Local and specialized nurseries
4. Online
5. Plant/Garden shows and friends.

I've found plants through every one of these venues, so I can speak to each from personal experience, as well as dig up some intriguing, journalistic factoids for y'all. But first, any categories that I've missed? I'm not going to include collecting from the wilderness, of course, because so many useful and beautiful plants are disappearing from the wild, it's become a very complicated subject and way beyond the scope of this blog.
Girasole, MR

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tillie of the Month: Tillandsia seleriana

Ah, the mysterious alien plant featured in the movie "Avatar", how I wanted to add thee to my collection! Normally, I don't go hankering after a particular species or cultivar, but after seeing Tillandsias featured in a major movie, I really wanted to find a T. seleriana. Finally, I found one at this spring's botany festival:
Tillie seleriana was named in 1903 after Alert Gardener Seler (no idea about the first name). It's a native of southern Mexico and likes to live at altitudes of about 200-2,000m. It's a 20cm silver Tillie with a massive bulb. You would think it is quite heavy but in fact it's as light as paper. Why?
The bulb chambers are hollow. It turns out that T. seleriana is a myrmecophyte. A whaaaa??? It's an Ant Plant!
Many Tillies are Ant Plants, including T. butzii, T. caput medusae, T. paucifolia, and T. bulbosa. I'll do a separate post on myrmecophytism once I figure out how to pronounce it.  Suffice to say that the plants like the ants because they help to keep them fed and watered, and in return, the Tillie gives the ants a way cool house. T. seleriana generally grows in oak forests or in dry, piney woods. Sometimes it needs a little help getting adequate water and minerals, and so the ants come to the rescue.

If you are growing a T. seleriana, give it some good light and a weekly soak. It doesn't really need mistings in between soaks, but a light mist is fine. The really important thing about T. seleriana, and all myrmecophytic Tillandsias, is that they drain upside down after a soak. Water cannot linger in those chambers or the plant will rot pronto. Some people like to grow them upside down in order to avoid this very problem, but you can simply drain the Tillie after watering by keeping it in an upside-down position for an hour or so. T. seleriana also needs good air circulation but does not demand high humidity. It is certainly an extravagantly weird Tillie!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reiki Zinnias at Two Months

It's been two months since I first sowed the "Envy" Zinnias and began Round 2 of the Reiki Plant Experiment. Here is the final picture before they go out into the garden, and the final indoor stats:
Non-Reiki pot on L (white label), Reiki pot on R, MR, Sep2014
The Reiki pot is on the right, and non-Reiki pot on the left (with the white label). Here are the growth stats:
# of plants in pot:  Reiki 7, non-Reiki 4
Height in cm of tallest plant: Reiki 15cm, non-Reiki 13cm
Width of largest plant, leaf-tip to leaf-tip: Reiki 10cm, non-Reiki 10cm

So the Reiki pot did come out ahead in terms of numbers, health of plants, and height. The width of the plants remained the same. The Reiki pot certainly looks more robust, and that is encouraging. I'll be ready for Round 3 in October.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Leaf of Life

The Leaf of Life (Bryophyllum pinnatum, Crassulaceae) is native to Africa but is a popular medicinal plant in the Caribbean. I'm growing a bunch of them!
The tea made from the leaves is used for asthma and respiratory problems. Crushed leaves are bound to abscesses and swellings. What amazes me is how it propagates: from stem cuttings, no big deal, as above, but also, from leaves:
Toss a leaf to the ground, make sure it has a little sunshine and water, and plantlets grow from every notch in the leaf! In Hawai'i, this makes it an invasive species, but in other areas, it's a wonderful medicinal plant for your tropical garden.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Throw it in the dirt and watch it grow!

So what have I been throwing in the dirt outside lately? Well, first up is a Mallika mango---
Mallika mango in process, MR, Sep2014
I'd just enjoyed a delicious mango from a neighbor's garden. It's a fairly new variety here, a hybrid from  India. It was not at all fibrous and had lovely honey and melon flavors. Without thinking, I threw the pit in the trash. About an hour later, I had a thought, and pulled the now coffee-grounds covered pit out of the trash. Yuck. Washed it off. Threw it in some dirt, and 10 days later, I had my own baby mango. We are now officially tropical and Zone 10, but I'll grow it in a large container, in case of a tropical storm or sudden frost this winter. I'm kind of attached to the little guy at this point.

I also threw some extra red turmeric tubers (fresh, of course) into a pot. Fresh red turmeric is delicious, just raw and peeled. It's a powerful anti-inflammatory, too, so I eat some after strenuous workouts. A week later, I found these guys in the pot:
Red Turmeric, MR, Sep 2014
I also threw some extra purple potatoes in the ground outside and they are growing like crazy. What will I think to throw next? Don't throw it away, grow it! (I do have a gripe, though. Some large farms spray their potatoes with "No Sprout" (my name for it), which prevents you from growing some potatoes yourself. Hurrumph to them.)
What do you like to throw in the dirt??