Gardens are a form of autobiography. -Sydney Eddison

Saturday, November 7, 2009

San Gabriel Valley Cactus and Succulent Society Winter Show (and sale)

Abromeitiella chlorantha minima

A show that this society can be proud of. I was floored by the immaculate presentation and spectacular assortment of specimens that were shown. There was a table of pelargoniums that were awe inspiring, I've never seen that many large specimens in one place, I suppose that it was due to the timing of the event (they look almost like normal plants this time of year!). I had a great time and brought home some wonderful plants. Here were some of my favorites. Enjoy!

Pelargonium triste Aloe striata ssp. karasbergensis

Fockea comura Albuca circinata x spiralis

Frailea castanea Huernia zebrina
My haul

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rhizomatous Begonias

There are a few plants that I love unequivocally and among those plants there are a few that do not return the sentiment, among those are the majority the Rhizomatous Begonia family.
I buy them, nurture them, and in return they die. There are a few that
have been good to me, and rewarded my care with luscious leaves. However,
the majority of them just keel over. I don't quite get it, I treat them all with
the same love and adoration. 'Palmar Prince' died within a few months, as
did his lovely siblings, but the few that I have mostly NOIDs preform beautifully.
I can't stay resist though, begonias beware.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Euphorbia lactea

Euphorbia lactea or Candelabra plant, is part of the strikingly diverse Euphorbia family, whose better known cousins include the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and the neophyte favorite the 'Baseball cactus' (Euphorbia obesa). Be warned, Euphorbia are not related to their spiny sometime-neighbors the cati. No other taxa is more
commonly confused with true cacti than that of Euphorbia. The rich tapestry of the succulent world is often confusing, some Euphorbia's look more like a stereotypical cacti than even some cacti species. Euphorbia's can be found all over the world, but most originated in Africa our specimen a native of India, and has been used medicinally there made into a hot jam to treat rheumatism. If you cut a Euphorbia, it will secrete a sticky, milky-white fluid. Mind you, all plant parts are considered poisonous, especially the white, milky sap which the plant secretes in abundance through even the smallest nick. It is irritating to the skin, eyes and mouth. This fluid contains latex, a compound which nearly 1% of the population exhibits a serious allergy and a significant amount more have a mild allergy. I have a mild allergy, which exhibits itself during the Holidays, and for the duration of the Poinsettia procession through the nursery I can expect to have red, swollen arms. Flowers of Euphorbias are typically small nondescript buttons with no sepals or petals. Many Euphorbia's also have thorns, making them appear even more similar to cacti. Upon closer inspection, one can easily see that these are not true separate spines arising from an areole like that of a cacti but instead pointed hardened extensions of the skin.

Euphorbia lactea cv. 'White Ghost'

Euphorbia lactea is in fact a true tropical plant only hardy to 40°F and must grow it either in pot or in the ground in very protected location. This being said, it is one of the few columnar Euphorbias that do exceptionally well in very wet, humid climates. It needs bright light to partial shade for best appearance (the plant that shown here, to the right is the 'White Ghost' cultivar a highly variegated form which I grow in bright shade for even a small amount of sun burns it). It responds well to warmth, with its active growth period in the late spring and summer months and during this time it needs to be watered thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch (more than once a week during the height of summer). The most common failure in growing this plant is over watering, and during the winter months, waterings should be restricted to once over the winter. Another important key to success is drainage, using porous soil is imperative. This is a slow growing plant, though the cristate forms seem particularly slow growing. Cristate forms are usually grown as grafted plants and that may have something to do with their slow growth rate.

Euphorbia lactea forma cristata variegata

Many succulents exhibit the occasional 'monstrose' plant, where the variation from normal growth is due to genetic mutation. However, in the Euphorbia family, the crested growth can occur on normal plants. Sometimes it's due to variances in light intensity, or damage, but generally the causes are unknown. A crested plant may have some areas growing normally, and a cresting plant that looks like a brain, may revert to normal growth for no apparent reason. You can see normal growth in the bottom left of the top photo, this will need to removed so the crested section can continue to grow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Costa Rican Butterfly Vine (Dalechampia dioscoreifolia)

Second only to passion vines as an all time favorite, the Costa Rican Butterfly Vine boasts delicate, tissue-paper thin leaves, aptly named for their shape and that they appear to flutter in the wind. Here in Southern California they will bloom on and off all year. They require average watering and seem to enjoy dappled sun or light shade, particularly in summer when the sun really bears down. When the weather heats up they need to be watered much more frequently or they seem to burn. They are not invasive, and are twining so, require a trellis to climb. A beautiful plant and an asset to any garden, this vine will certainly bring a little whimsy to your garden.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If you must have that Lawn, Go Organic

There is an underground revolution spreading across Harvard University this fall. It’s occurring under the soil and involves fungi, bacteria, microbes and roots, which are now fed with compost and compost tea rather than pesticides and synthetic nitrogen.

The results have so astounded university administrators that what started as a one-acre pilot project in Harvard Yard has spread organic practices through 25 acres on the campus..... Read More

GenX & GenY, Cultivating a Greener Future

I could sit and conjecture all day about why I'm the only person my age I know that loves, or even has a remote interest in gardening. As a recently graduated college student who has kept her passion amongst all the other skeletons in the closet, I have come to realize when it comes down to it, it's the reaction that I get from my friends after I tell them that I spent my Saturday driving an hour and a half to a new nursery-- like I have just admitted to something really guilty. Gardening is just not cool.

Gardening has come a long way over this past year thanks to the intense Topsy Turvy infomercials and the positive press surrounding the Obama's veggie patch. I would go so far to say it's even quite trendy now to have a couple of tomato plants on your balcony.

Despite this good publicity, the stereotype is that any routine garden centre is filled older women wearing lots of knits or pachouli burning "granolas" who also wear a lot of knits when a well-meaning GenY or X walks in, they are going to be completely overwhelmed. Even when I walk into a gardening center, an orchid society meeting, or a seminar I am most always the youngest person, and I always feel a bit uncomfortable. Nowhere are there positive, marketed images of young middle-of-the-road people engaging in earth moving, seed sowing, tree planting etc. HGTV just isn't targeted for a young audience, neither are any of the advertising campaigns generated by the big name-brands, or Big Boxes.

I hope that as I continue this blog and continue to go to work everyday and sell dirt, fertilizer, veggies, cacti, and everything else that is good and leafy I set a positive example for a few people. My peers need to know that it's okay to check out a community garden, or hook up some grow lights so you'll never need to use another dried herb again (the later is my preferred method, because when I come home late from work, sunshine is available with the flip of a switch).

Obviously, regardless of my friends and peers, I love gardening. My friends tolerate my chlorophyll generated eccentricities because they can attribute my blind devotion to my job, and my employer loves the fact that I spend my time off engaged in reconnaissance missions. The gardening world expects me to be a soccer mom, and the rest of the world expects me to have a garden full of weeds (no pun intended) with no interest in the field. I don’t fit in, and neither do my fellow GenYs and Xs. I just hope that gardening doesn't get lost somewhere down the road, succumbed finally to pre-cooked cellophane wrapped convenience.

Autumn Sunshine

Some of the most lovely blooms this autumn are in the cacti garden. The Ariocarpus and Conophytum are all in full swing, shown right is an Ariocarpus scapharostrus in the Huntington Library collection left is a Conophytum ectypum 'Mabel's Fire'. The Lithops and kin will begin to bloom soon in yellows and oranges, fleeting reminders of summer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Southland Orchid Show

The show this year was much more comprehensive than last year's. It seemed like much more effort was put into the displays, which brilliantly showcased the orchids by placing them in more natural arrangements with wood and moses rather than placing them in pots. I was also happy to bring home a rather large haul, mostly due to the presence of Piping Rock Orchids which specializes in paphs and phrags. They were selling a few Kovachii hybrids and one species plant, but I lack the kind of disposable income needed to undertake that venture (the species seedling was selling for $225.00) and although the chlorophyll of slipper orchid runs through my veins, I have been bled dry this month by the need for a new bank of T-5's for the nepenthes. Over all, it was a good show, I hope over the following years that they can keep expanding it. I think that more then a few vendors opted out this year due to the lack of turnout last year, but it seemed like things had picked up. I think that it might behoove the Huntington to change the dates slightly, a few weeks in either direction. The hot weather isn't good for the plants nor their patrons.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Amazing Pumpkins

......that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain...

-Ray Bradbury

There are an amazing array of pumpkins that are available thanks to the efforts of countless hardworking gardeners who labored generations to keep these beautiful heirlooms around for us to enjoy. My favorite is the Jarahdale from Australia. Perfect for ornamental autumn or Halloween displays and even better for cooking these voluptuous pumpkins will bedazzle you with their silvery bluish-grey skin, and golden to orange colored flesh which yields a mild, nutty, sweet flavor.

Check out more heirlooms here:

The snails are coming.

There are plenty of snail baits that work wonders. Remember the salt sprinkling your mother always told you would work will kill your plants in large enough amounts.

Also if you have pets or kids avoid products with metaldehyde at all costs.

There is a secret weapon out there though that you probably have in your pantry and enjoy every morning. Nature magazin suggests a nutty, bold double espresso. Researches have discovered that slugs and snails hate caffeine. Robert Hollingsworth of the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service located in Hilo, Hawaii, and his colleagues were testing caffeine sprays and noticed that a 1 to 2 percent caffeine solution killed nearly all the slugs and snails within two days. Concentrations as low as 0.01 percent deterred the snails completely. For a little perspective, a cup of instant coffee contains about 0.05 percent caffeine, and brewed coffee has more.


A cup of drip brewed coffee has about 115 milligrams of caffeine.

An espresso (and percolated coffee) about 80mg,

Instant coffee has about 65mg of caffeine.

Drip brewed coffee is about twice as strong as that instant junk, which makes it a much more effective combatant. I wonder what my favorite bold and earthy Java roast brewed in my French press would do? Coffee grounds are already recommended as a home remedy for keeping slugs and snails at bay. Grounds repel slugs, but a caffeine solution is much more effective. I can attest, I've had good results.

How does caffeine repel slugs and snail? Caffeine is an alkaloid compound that acts as a stimulant in humans, which why I drink so darn much of it. Alkaloids are usually derivatives of amino acids and most alkaloids have a very bitter taste. Caffeine is found in the beans, leaves, and fruit of over 60 plants, where it acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and even kills certain insects feeding on the plants.

Bottom line: caffeine is effective. Keep in mind also that the United States bans metaldehyde residues in food, but classifies caffeine as safe. It may even qualify as organic (and hopefully also free trade).