Friday, January 31, 2014

Reiki: Good for Plants?

I finished my Level 2 Reiki training last year, and I'm thoroughly enjoying my new practice. Reiki is a Japanese-derived (now international) form of stress reduction, healing, and relaxation. Reiki has been around for nearly a century now. It's primarily used with people and sometimes animals, in homes, clinics, and hospitals. Some practitioners have been using Reiki in their gardens, but there's been no research on plant Reiki that I can find.

Morikami Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida, MR
I'm thinking of developing a research project, as controlled as possible given that it won't be done in a lab, that looks for a possible correlation between Reiki and plant growth/ health. Tillies seem like a good choice for subjects, as they are small, portable, and don't involve dirt.
Are there any other Reiki practitioners who also garden out there who'd like to try along with me, once I develop a home-based protocol? Could be interesting!
If you're curious and want to get involved, let me know!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Favorite Winter Ritual

One of my favorite winter pleasures is growing hyacinths in forcing vases, which used to be called "hyacinth glasses", centuries ago....
The delicate colors and intense fragrances are extraordinary, and particularly comforting in the depths of winter. Now of course, winter on my sand dune is not really too bad. In Northern Europe, though, after months of slippery ice, snow shoveling, and drear, I learned to love these flowers....
"Hyacinth in Winter", MR, 2014
The one above bloomed white, and had an intensely sweet, tropical scent, but of course I can't resist the pinks! The pinks seem to have a spicier perfume, but maybe that's just my imagination.
"Pink Hyacinth" MR, 2014
After they are done blooming, I plant them outside, and they generally keep growing. Some people throw the bulbs away, but I like to keep them, as they've given me so much happiness and beauty.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Great Read: Victoria Padilla's "Bromeliads" (1973)

I have about a dozen wonderful tomes on mesembs and succulents in my home library. But not too many on Tillandsias. In fact, until last week, I only had one book on the subject. Now I have two. Only a scant 3 or 4 books on Tillandsias have ever been published in English, and not too many more on bromeliads in general. My local library used to have Padilla's book on their shelves. I'd checked it out, returned it, then found to my dismay that they had thrown it out. OK, it was published in 1973, but it's a brilliant book, and one of the most comprehensive on Tillies ever published in English.  So off I went in search of a used copy. After a couple of months, I found one in good condition for under $15!

Victoria Padilla's book is chock full of info on over 100 species of Tillies. The book covers all bromeliads, but the Tillandsia section is particularly rich, with historical and scientific data, and unique photos. For example, here's an astounding image of wild Tillandsia straminea growing in profusion over a vast area of Peruvian desert during the last century:
Padilla, "Bromeliads", pg.  1
That is some kinda Tilly party!  Here's the wee T. straminea in my collection:
T. straminea, MR, 2013
Anyone seriously interested in bromeliads in general and Tillandsias in particular would enjoy thumbing through this book. It's occasionally available on Amazon, ebay, and through other booksellers. Paul Isley III published the beautiful "Tillandsia II" in 2010, and I aspire to own that book someday, though it's around $100. For now, I'm thoroughly enjoying my 1970s copy of Padilla's "Bromeliads".
What Tillandsia books have you found, and in what languages?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Desert Gardening: Not Just Cactus and Succulents Anymore!

Of course, I think cacti and succulents are perfect all on their own.

The Hairy Perfection of Los Tres Amigos, MR
However, we have a planet full of people to feed, diminishing fresh water sources, and a whole lot of ocean water and desert moving in. What to do? We need a pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow, in other words, a miracle or two.

According to a recent edition of Science Insider:

A project to “green” desert areas with a mix of technologies—producing food, biofuel, clean water, energy, and salt—reached a milestone last week. A pilot plant in Qatar, built by the Sahara Forest Project (SFP) and supported by Qatari fertilizer companies Yara International and Qafco, produced  75 kilograms of vegetables per square meter in three crops annually, comparable to commercial farms in Europe, while consuming only sunlight and seawater.
In SFP’s greenhouse, fans blow hot desert air through a honeycombed curtain with salt water trickling down it to produce cool, moist conditions suitable for growing veg- etables. Some of that moisture is recaptured by condensation to provide fresh water to irrigate the plants. Similar evaporative cooling is used to grow more crops outside, such as barley and arugula, and an onsite concentrated solar power plant provides electricity for the whole facility.
That a greenhouse with just 600 square meters of growing area produced such good yields suggests that a commercial plant could do even better, says SFP chief Joakim Hauge. SFP is now engaged in studies aimed at building a 20-hectare test facility near Aqaba in Jordan.

Of course, tackling global climate change and population pressures would render such radical farming methods unnecessary, but coping with environmenal change, and growing adequate food is imperative here and now. Seawater farming makes sense, and I hope the test facility expansion in Jordan succeeds. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Two Friendly and Charming Cacti

Is this the Face that Launched a Thousand Ships??
Mammillaria brauneana in bloom: MR 2014
Cactus flowers in winter always make me smile. But if flowers aren't your thing, how about a distinctive hair style?
Cephalocereus senilis: "Cousin It"- MR 2014
I love Cousin It's funky side-cowlick! Which denizens of your garden are making you smile this week?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Someone's Having Fun With Tillandsias....

While researching my Tillandsia Care series, I came upon a remarkable site. (Disclosure: I have not bought anything from them, and I'm receiving nothing from them, but if I ever go to San Francisco, I will surely visit them, because they really seem to have a flair for housing Tillandsias!) Please check it out if you want some creative ideas on how to keep your airplants in a stylish manner.

I particularly like how some of the Tillies are housed upside down, which is exactly the way some live in nature:
Flora Grubb Gardens: Tillies Upside Down
The only caveats I have about creative decorating with Tillies is that they need to be free enough for watering fully once a week (removable or soakable in situ), they need to be situated where they have adequate (filtered bright) light, and should not be mounted on metal that contains iron, copper, or zinc, as those metals seem to be toxic on contact to them. Sealed metals seem to be fine.  I'll go into more detail later, but for now, enjoy the great ideas on Flora Grubb's blog.
Flora Grubb Gardens: Tillie Sculpture

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Fun: Lithops Photography

I really love having fun with photos. Especially photos of wonderful plants like Lithops. Today, as I only have a half day at work, I'm having fun with my Lithops photos...who wants to join me?
Here's the base photo:
Lithops have bold, abstract patterns all their own, so I thought I might play with these patterns a little. Here's what I came up with:

Lithops Abstract, MR, Jan 2014
I would love to see this on a fabric for pillows or table settings. I believe there is a company that does just that, I'll have to research it and perhaps order some Lithops fabric. I have it available as a print in my e-gallery at Society 6.

Here's a closeup of an L. dorotheae:
Lithops dorotheae abstract, MR, Jan 2014
I hope many gardeners out there are having fun with photographs of their plants. Have a wonderful, creative weekend!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Weird Wednesday: Only Babytoes and a Painting

I have several Weird Wednesday posts in process, some really amazing botanical science that gives us some hope for our futures on our very put-upon planet.

In the meantime, just a cheerful blooming Babytoes (Fenestraria) with one of my Emoticon paintings in the background (inspired by the marvelous Haitian painter, Levoy Exil).
"Homage a' Levoy Exil: Yemaya is Crying"- MR 2013
Happy Gardening!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tillie of the Month: Tillandsia karwinskyana

This month's Tillandsia is getting ready to bloom. It will only bloom once, so here's the portrait:
Tillandsia karwinskyana, MR, 2013
T. karwinskyana was named in honor of a botany bloke named Karwinsky, who collected the first to be catalogued in Mexico in 1830.  It grows in the states of Nuevo Leon and San Luis Potosi. This is a high-altitude Tillie, and likes to be about 2000m up a mountain. The leaves are tough and silvery. The plant forms a rosette, so this distinguishes it from its lookalike, Tillandsia albida (another high-altitude Mexican Tillie). Tillandsia albida grows along a stem, rather than in a rosette:
Tillandsia albida, MR, 2013
When T. karwinskyana blooms, the flowers will be a gentle lilac. The pups emerge from the base, among the roots, and grow in the opposite direction to the mother plant! The pups tend to fall off when about 1cm long, and go roaming to find their own space. Like Daniel Boone, T. karwinskyana needs its elbow room!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Chef Riccardo's Taste of the Garden: Herbed Pumpkin Risotto

As much as I love winter, I loathe cold and flu season. It's not too bad here in the subtropics, but even we got hit by the Polar Vortex. Now many of us delicate subtropicals (for example, me!) are coming down with something snuffly....

Chef Riccardo comes to the rescue with a warming pumpkin risotto flavored with sage, thyme, and ginger, wonderful healing herbs for this time of year. The recipe will be in both English and Italian.


400 g pumpkin/ calabaza (about ¾ lb)
2 shallots
4 sage leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
a slice of fresh ginger
2 liters of vegetable broth  (2 quarts, but you might not use it all.)
2 T of extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
100 ml dry white wine  (about 1/3 c.)
320 g of arborio rice (1 and ½ c.)
40 g of grated Parmesan cheese  (1/3 c.)
20 gr butter  (1/4 stick)

Arborio Rice, White and Brown

Shallots, Pumpkin/Calabaza, and Ginger Root


Wash the pumpkin under  cold water and cut in half. Remove the seeds and strings with a spoon. Cut into small, 1cm cubes and peel.
Peel the shallots and chop fine.
Wash the sage and thyme. Wrap the thyme sprigs among the sage leaves and tie tightly with kitchen twine or thread.
Heat the broth.
Place the shallots in a soup pot with the oil, and sauté until golden. Add the pumpkin, a pinch of salt, bouquet garni, and pepper.  Stir and cook for a couple of minutes on high heat. 

Add the white wine, stir and let it evaporate.
Add the rice and saute it for a minute, stirring continuously.
Add 3-4 scoops of hot broth slowly, and set the timer according to the minutes of cooking the type of rice you are using (usually 15-18 minutes). Do not put the lid on the pot, keep it open. Medium heat is best.

Continue adding scoops of the broth as it is absorbed, stirring occasionally, without letting the mixture get too dry or too soupy.  You may not need all the broth.  Taste the rice now and then and stop adding broth when it is “al dente”. When done, turn off the heat, add the butter and Parmesan cheese, mix well and let stand a minute.  Inhale and be transported!
Serve garnished with Parmesan cheese and sage leaves. 

This risotto is delicious with red pears!
 And now for the Italian:

Il risotto alla zucca è un primo piatto a base di riso dal sapore molto particolare e delicato, dato dal suo ingrediente principale, la zucca, esaltato dal sapore del Parmigiano utilizzato per mantecare.

Il risotto alla zucca può essere un ottimo piatto unico, seguito da un contorno e da frutta fresca di stagione, magari una pera gustata con qualche scaglia di Parmigiano.


400 g di zucca (peso netto della polpa)
2 scalogno
4 foglie di salvia
4 rametti di timo
Poco di zenzero (ginger)
2 l di Brodo vegetale
2cucchiaio di olio extravergine di oliva
Pepe nero macinato al momento
100 ml di vino bianco secco
320 g di riso
40 g di Parmigiano Reggiano grattugiato
20 gr.di burro


Lavare la zucca sotto acqua fresca corrente e tagliarla a metà. Eliminare i semi e i filamenti aiutandosi con un cucchiaio. Tagliarla a pezzetti e sbucciarla. Dai pezzetti ricavati ottenere dei cubetti di un centimetro di lato.
Spellare lo scalogno e tritarlo finemente.
Lavare bene le foglie di salvia e il timo. Avvolgere il rametto di timo fra le foglie di salvia e legarle strettamente con dello spago da cucina.
Scaldare il brodo.
Mettere in una pentola da minestra l'olio, lo scalogno tritato e farlo dolcemente dorare. Unire la zucca, un pizzico di sale, il mazzetto aromatico, una macinata di pepe, mescolare e far insaporire per un paio di minuti su fiamma vivace.
Unire il vino bianco, mescolare e far evaporare.
Aggiungere il riso e farlo tostare un minuto mescolando di continuo.
Unire 3-4 mestoli di brodo bollente e impostare il timer secondo i minuti di cottura del tipo di riso che si sta usando (solitamente 15-18 minuti).
Continuare unendo il brodo man mano che viene assorbito, mescolando di tanto in tanto, senza lasciare che il composto si asciughi troppo, altrimenti cuocerebbe male ed in modo discontinuo.
A fine cottura spegnere il fuoco, unire il burro il Parmigiano grattugiato, mescolare bene e lasciare riposare un minuto.
Servire decorando con scaglie di Parmigiano e foglie di salvia.

Enjoy and stay warm!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Herbs to Drive the Cold Winter Away: Sage and Thyme

This month features not one, but two smelly plants. Sage and thyme are both highly adaptable, easy-to-grow herbs that no garden should go without. Especially when it's cold!
Salvia officinalis Meets Thymus vulgaris
Salvia officinalis and Thymus vulgaris are cousins from the Lamiaceae Family. Both are Mediterranean/European herbs that are now grown worldwide in just about all climatic zones except for the most extreme, where they can be grown indoors in pots. Both are packed with thujones, which are toxic in substantial quantity, but antimicrobial in the small amounts usually taken. Sage has cineole and camphor to boot. And thyme is full of (guess what) thymol, also a strong antibacterial and antiviral substance. I guess that's why Listerine includes it. Both herbs have been shown to be strongly antibacterial in scientific studies (that means formal and peer-reviewed, as opposed to me in my kitchen drinking sage tea and blogging about it). The German Commission E approves thyme for bronchitis, whooping cough, and other illnesses of the respiratory tract. That's a seal of approval in my book!

Both herbs can be chewed on, cooked with, or used to make tea/tisanes, gargles, tinctures, and ointments. The essential oils can be used for a therapeutic steam when you think you may be coming down with a respiratory bug. Both have been used for centuries to soothe tummies as well. (Note: Neither can be used safely by pregnant women or nursing moms, due to the potent thujones.)

This weekend, Chef Riccardo will share a recipe that uses both herbs, and pumpkin, to drive the cold winter away in a particularly delicious manner. I hope you'll join us, and get your risotto pans ready!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lithops Emergency: Polar Vortex

Even down here on my very southerly sand dune, the Polar Vortex of 2014 is a problem. Actually, the whole last month has been a problem. Instead of our usual Dry-And-Not-So-Hot Season, we're having a Rainy- Damp-Cold-Hot Season. In other words, Weather Chaos. This has played hell with my outdoor Lithops, which expect a cool, dry winter:
It's been rainy-hot, rainy-cold, cold-damp, hot-damp, and my poor Lithops have become both waterlogged and confused. The one above did not make it. It was trying to re-leaf and hunker down at the same time, in the middle of winter, and became waterlogged to boot. But there were still some that could be saved.

Enter the Polar Vortex:
Now it's not nearly the problem at my latitude that it is up north. However, we're still going to freeze, and my soggy outdoor Lithops can't handle that. Time for an emergency repot:
The little weeds you see at top grew in only 48 hours! Too much water!

Nice dry, sandy, porous soil.
Hopefully, they'll survive.
The newly-potted outdoor Lithops will stay in a sheltered, above-freezing place until the weird weather clears. I think they'll survive. But these days, it's tough for outdoor Lithops everywhere. Weather chaos is not good for Lithops!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Somebody Stop Me! Three More Tillandsias Join the Herd/Flock/Gaggle....

So what do I call a group of Tillandsias, anyway? A grouping? As far as my living room goes, a forest might be the apt word...But when Gardener Lindsay received a new box of Tillies from Russell's Bromeliads, I had to drop in, chat, and of course, buy a few. I mean I don't actually have one of every species yet, so it's OK. I photograph them with their nursery tags when I bring them home, before watering and housing them.
Here they are:
New Year Tillies
From right to left, the first is Tillandsia tenufolia surinamensis, also known as the "Amethyst Airplant". The middle Tillie is actually T. schiedeana (the nursery assistant found some trouble with the species names, as do all sane people). The one on the left is T. festucoides,  the Fescue Airplant, which reminds me a lot of T. juncea.

If any alert gardeners out there know what to call a large group of airplants, let me know! Because if not, I'm going to make up a new word....

PS: I was just emailed by Alert Gardener Alex that the appropriate term might be a Tangle of Tillandsias. Sounds good to me!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Watering Tillandsias: An Addendum

My well-known "Bucket Method" of watering Tillandsias can be accomplished in an even easier way when it begins to rain....
The only caveats to this method are: just make sure they go outside when there is already cloud cover (so they don't scorch), don't put them out in high winds, and retrieve them after no more than an hour or so, so they don't get waterlogged and rot.

 Rainwater is great for Tillies, they really seem to thrive with a monthly rainshower. Of course, not so easy if you are raising Tillandsias in Arizona or Saudia Arabia! And our dry season can last for months. Well, that's why this post is only an addendum.

I saw some wonderful wild Tillies this week at the Pine Island Sanctuary. Here's a long shot....
My last official installment of Tillandsia care should be ready early next week. If you are still on vacation, enjoy, and if you're back to work today, I wish you courage and strength!