Saturday, March 29, 2014

Smelly Plant(s) of the Month: Basil(s)

Ocimum basilicum has so many varieties it makes my head spin. Each variety has a distinctive leaf type and scent profile. Most are annuals, or are grown as such. I've heard that basil can be grown here as a perennial, but my experience says "annual". Maybe in the true tropics, it grows all year.

For the last several years, I grew only Thai Basil (var. thyrsiflora). This year, I got hold of some Lime Basil seeds, which can be hard to find. I also found Spicy Globe Basil, Columnar Basil, and Cinnamon Basil. They are all growing beautifully and my cooking has really gone up a notch as a result. Here is the gallery:
Lime Basil has a gorgeous olfactory profile: a low hum of sweet basil, with a massive hit of lemon verbena and key lime peel on top (courtesy of citral and limonene). The flavor is citrusy. The leaves are smaller and more tender than with ordinary Sweet Basil. It's very easy to grow from seed and fairly tough against pests.
Cinnamon Basil is much more like Sweet Basil in flavor and scent. It does have a spicy kick reminiscent of cinnamon leaves (not bark). It's a fun alternative to Sweet Basil.
Spicy Globe Basil has rounded tufts of small, very tender leaves and stems. There is a mild basil flavor with a peppery kick to it. Lovely in salads and veggie stir fry. I find it a little too delicate for heavy cooking.
Columnar Basil is a very robust, sturdy basil with spicy tones of clove and allspice. It's easy to grow in a container because of its columnar shape; it never sprawls around the pot like Sweet Basil. It seems tougher than Sweet Basil against pests, also. The leaves can be used raw or cooked.

All the basils need plenty of sun and water. Here in Zone 9 (subtropical), they need refuge from direct afternoon sun and heat. I keep them in a west-facing, covered patio, and in a north-facing alcove. That way they get either direct, cool morning sun, or indirect afternoon sun. I water daily and use a well-draining soil, but their schedule will depend on your climate zone and soil type. I use a general fertilizer once a week. They'll flower in late summer (harvest and save the seeds for next season!), then die back in November or December.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


It bloomed!
Lots of water, extra fertilizer, and a sun shade when necessary made the difference. My first dahlias! What firsts are you trying this spring?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Officially Insane Gardener Update: Dahlia Blooms!

They said it couldn't be done, no one grows dahlias on a sand dune...ha!
They may not be "dinner plate" size, but they sure are beautiful!
Everyday, a little stronger....
Keep going!
If they say it can't be done, prove them wrong.... (or in Kamina's words, "Go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb!")

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Another Tillie Portrait and a Dragonfly

I'm busy with a meditation and Reiki weekend for the next two days, but I have a couple things to share. First, another Tillie portrait! This one is full bloom, what a sight. It's always poignant to see a Tillie bloom, because they only do this once. After that, they give all their energy to their pups, which then bloom in their own time. So the flowers are very special indeed, and deserve a portrait:
During a work break this week, I saw the most amazing emerald dragonfly (Order Odonata) perched on one of my Schefflera trees.
Our modern dragonflies have wingspans of around 5-7cm, but back in the Paleozoic, there was so much oxygen that dragonflies could grow much larger; fossils have been found that show dragonflies could reach a 50cm wingspan. I'm not sure I'd want to find that guy perching on my Shefflera!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Chef Riccardo's Taste of the Garden: Herbed Fish With Olives

For those participating in Lent, and for pescatarians in general, Chef Riccardo has created a wonderful herbed fish dish. It takes only a few minutes to prepare, 20 minutes to bake, and is extremely healthy and low-calorie. When I made it last week at my house, it was gone in less than 5 minutes. Hmm...25 minutes of effort on my part, 5 minutes of effort for my guests. Doesn't seem fair somehow.... Anyway, here it is!

1 sea bream already cleaned (about 800 g), or black sea bass or tilapia fillets.
the filtered juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of dried Provencal herbs and chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, thyme, savory, marjoram)
2 cloves of garlic
100 g black olives
1 bay leaf
some parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Some key ingredients: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, dried herbs, fresh herbs, garlic, and black olives.

Wash the sea bream (or black sea bass or tilapia fillets), passing it under cold running water. Pat dry. Place the fish in a large dish and sprinkle it with lemon juice, salt, and pepper outside and inside, then sprinkle with the herbs. Peel the garlic and chop coarsely.
Preheat the oven to 200 °C (400F). Pour a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of an oval baking dish and arrange the fish; drizzle with the remaining oil, add the black olives,  chopped garlic, and bay leaf.
Bake for about 20 minutes, then serve the fish on the table directly from the pan, garnished with some parsley. 

The finished dish: Herbed Fish With Olives
I'm going to be making this once a week, it's so healthy and delicious. Thank you, Chef Riccardo!
Note: For those folk who want to use only healthy, sustainably caught fish in their recipes, here is a great resource that I use constantly, Seafood Watch.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

One Crazy Gardener: Growing Dahlias on a Sand Dune

Last  year I Toed the Line...I grew Russian Mammoth Sunflowers on my sand dune. Granted, they were not mammoths. The largest bloom was only 20cm in diameter, and the tallest plant only 100cm tall. But against all odds, they did survive, and they were beautiful....
Sunflower: Cross Process, MR
This spring I Crossed the Line. I'm growing Dinner Plate Dahlias on my sand dune. I am now an officially Insane Gardener. I could find only one reference on the Web to growing dahlias on subtropical sand dunes, and it was from 2008.  The gardener in question was not happy. Her sandy, salty dahlias were not happy. Did this stop me from trying? No way. I want some of these! I bought some tubers....
"Graceland" Dahlia, courtesy of Wikimedia
Dahlia tubers from

The dahlia in the big blue pot sprouted first, and grew with incredible vigor. I could take it inside during storms and high winds. But when it began to outgrow the pot, I transplanted it outside with those that were already growing there. I had planted them in highly enhanced soil- a mild acidifier (soils here are very alkaline), lots of bunny poop fertilizer, compost, and commercial potting soil. I water them with filtered water or rainwater twice a day (they are so thirsty!) and use a weak, general fertilizer every other day. They get full morning sun and partial afternoon sun, and face east:
That was in February. Now they are all about 25cm tall and in full bud:
Here's a top view closeup of the brave creatures:
Dahlias at one month--buds!  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's a Bromeliad Festival!

Last weekend, I spent the morning at our local university's Botanical Festival. I'm happy to report that bromeliads (including Tillies!), smelly plants, succulents, and gorgeous tropical flowers were abundant and reasonably priced. I was admirably restrained; I bought a patchouli plant, some rue, three Tillies, and a tree frog (that hitched a ride on the patchouli- I set him free when I discovered him).  I had fun taking pictures of the gorgeous blooming bromeliads. Here's a Guzmania:
And here's a gorgeous "Mystery Bromeliad". No one knew what this was; the nursery manager actually just called it "The Microphone Plant". I'm thinking it could be a Pseudoananas?? At any rate, it sold very quickly, and I wonder if the new owner knows these plants only bloom once?
The Tillandsia xerographicas went very fast. I already have one, but I did find a T. seleriana! (The weird plant they used in the movie "Avatar".) I'll post separately on that one, it's a lovely find.
T. xerographica, lower center, T. seleriana, lower right.
It was hard not to return home with a carful of new plants, and I'm patting myself on the back for my restraint!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Roses and Royal Terns

After a particularly stressful and grueling week, I have absolutely no idea what I want to blog about. So until an idea enters my head, I'm leaving you all with some pretty pictures from March on my sand dune: old-fashioned, mega-perfumey roses, and Royal Terns on the beach. Wish me luck in finding my brain!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Mystery of the Green Rose

Yes, there is such a thing as a green rose! Its formal name is Rosa chinensis viridiflora, and it's quite a conversation starter:
The Green Rose, MR 2014
I saw these beauties for the first time at our local botanical festival last weekend. They are quite amazing in that they are true roses, but without petals. The green "petals" are actually sepals. The flower is tiny, central, and slightly peppery in scent. They've been popular in China for centuries, and grown in Europe since the mid 1700s. It was fun to be a gardening Mythbuster this weekend, and this myth of the green rose is definitely true. Confirmed!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

They Burned 2 Million Acres of My State?? (But That's OK....)

Yes, every year,  2 million acres of my subtropical state go up in flames. Little good flames actually. Prescribed burns are a vital part of the subtropical ecosystem here, and I had the good fortune to go hiking in an area that was burned a couple of years ago. Here's a view of part of the wildlife refuge that was burned:
Our Forest Service has this to say about prescribed burns, which are organized by councils:

"Prescribed fire is one of the most versatile and cost effective tools land managers use. Prescribed fire is used to reduce hazardous fuel buildups, thus providing increased protection to people, their homes and the forest. Other uses include disease control in young pines, improving habitat for wildlife, range management, preservation of endangered plant and animal species and the maintenance of fire dependent ecosystems."

I have to say that at first, I was creeped out on this hike. It looked post-apocalyptic. But then I started looking more closely at the saw palmettos that had burned, and I was surprised:
Some of these palmettos are up to 700 years old! That means they may have gone through over 200 fires in their long lives. Wow! And here come the new shoots:

Small, prescribed fires kill off scary plant parasites like dodder. Dodder cannot live on its own and will rapidly kill a host plant by living off the plant's fluids and blocking sunlight and air. It can be yellow, light green, flaming orange, or white. You can see how fire killed off most of the dodder in this stand of vegetation. But there's a little left at the top. Too bad, I really don't like dodder at all.
Prescribed burns are planned and made very carefully by groups of knowledgeable people who are trained and certified. These burn areas are actually pretty fascinating, so if you get a chance to see one up close, I'd say go for it!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Looking for Peace: Tillandsia Still Lifes

I've always loved European still lifes. Here is one by Hans Memling:
Hans Memling (1430-1494), courtesy of Wikipedia
My paintings and photos are in no way comparable, or even similar, to my favorite still lifes, but I try to go for that same feeling of light and peace. So I thought, hey, why not Tillandsias? Why not educational, but also beautiful? It's a good goal. I'm working on it....

T. glabrior, left, and T. pruinosa, right, MR, 2014
T. bulbosa, MR, 2014