Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New garden installation in Galveston

For the first time in my life, I got to plan and plant a garden in a “sub-tropical” zone.  Christie’s parents have built a house in Galveston, Texas and we got to install the garden out front.  We live in zone 7a and Galveston is zone 9b!  What does that mean exactly?  That I get to grow plants that thrive in an environment where the temperature never dips below 25 Fahrenheit.  My zone dips down to zero Fahrenheit. In October, Christie and I headed down to Galveston to help her parents finish the house and have a little leisure time.

Laying the retaining wall blocks
It was fun visiting the garden centers in this part of the country and seeing all of the plants that can be grown there that can’t be grown here.  I didn’t really have any rules about the landscaping, but I wanted to get items that can’t be grown here.  Here’s the full listing of what we planted: black Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia), Canna ‘Pink Sunburst’, pink Bougainvillea, Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia), Zamia vazquezii, Dietes iridioides, Alocasia ‘Frydek’, Indian Hawthorne, Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa), Gardenia,  Banana Tree, Duranta, Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus ‘Little John’), spicy Jatropha (Jatropha integerrima), Plumbago auriculata, Blue Ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsifolia), Red Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana), pink Oleanders (Nerium oleander), dwarf coral Ixora, Yucca, yellow Allamanda bush, Brugmansia.

Plants eagerly awaiting their new homes
We did more soil preparation for this garden than I have ever done before.  We purchased more than 30 bags of soil, manure and other amendments to mix with the sandy soil that is filled with shells.  We wanted to build the flowerbeds up about 8 inches in some areas and about 16 inches in other areas.  There was a lot of shovel work, but once the ingredients were mixed and spread, and the retaining wall was in place, the planting was very easy.

Bird's eye view of the left side garden finished
We did more soil preparation for this garden than I have ever done before.  We purchased more than 30 bags of soil, manure and other amendments to mix with the sandy soil that is filled with shells.  We wanted to build the flowerbeds up about 8 inches in some areas and about 16 inches in other areas.  There was a lot of shovel work, but once the ingredients were mixed and spread, and the retaining wall was in place, the planting was very easy.

Finished garden on the right side

Friday, September 14, 2012

Encyclia plicata in bloom

This time last year I purchased my Encyclia plicata from Ruben in Orchids on my Florida trip.  At that time, it had just a couple of flowers left on its bloom spike.

Encyclia plicata flowers
True to schedule, my Encyclia plicata has been blooming for the past several weeks and this time I have gotten to enjoy the wonderful fragrance of these blooms.  I don't really buy orchids for their fragrance, but this one would be worth it.  This just might be my favorite color combination of any of the orchids I own.  All things considered, this is pretty much a perfect orchid in my book.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dockrillia wassellii in bloom

It is always exciting to see a plant bloom for the first time. I have seen pictures of Dockrillia wassellii blooms, but this is the first time that my plant has put out a bloom spike.

Dockrillia wassellii
The flowers are quite small, but they have really beautiful intricate details.

Dockrillia wassellii blooms
I purchased my plant at the beginning of the year, mounted on cork bark. It hasn't really grown since I got it, but it hasn't lost any of its leaves and has seemed happy. The blooms are good confirmation of that.  When it has finished blooming I will move the plant from its current location onto the mounted orchid rack.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A place for mounted orchids

I am always trying to figure out better ways of arranging my plants, especially as fall approaches and I know that all of the plants scattered around my yard are going to have to go back into the greenhouse soon.  When I set up the shelves in my greenhouse, I had more shelves per unit than I wanted to use.  I put two of the shelves to use by making separate bases for them and giving myself a low bench in one of the corners of my greenhouse.  The other shelf I sat aside for future inspiration.

Some of my mounted orchids hanging off of a pot
Well, inspiration came recently!  I have been hanging my mounted orchids in various places in the greenhouse, some from the fronts of the shelves, others from hanging pots or other mounted orchids... I decided that my little collection of mounted orchids would be better cared for if they were consolidated in one location, and it would also eliminate some of the accessibility problems I was having when I would hang them on the front of a shelf and not be able to reach back to other plants.

My new rack with most of the mounted orchids in place
So I mounted that shelf piece vertically between studs and... Voila!  Now I have a hanging rack for my collection of mounted orchids, which numbers about 15 right now.  I have a couple more orchids that need to be mounted.  As soon as I can find some suitable mounting material and some time, there will be more orchids added to the rack.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The spoils of a jolly gardener

After months of drought and extremely hot weather, we finally got some rain at the end of August.  The relief was immediate with grass turning green and plants starting to bloom.  Plants that we had spent the last couple of months watering by hand on a daily basis acted like they hadn't gotten a drop of water until it rained.  Then they started blooming.

The jolly gardener is so proud of her flowers
Pippa has taken to standing in one location in front of an array of colors (Datura and Plumbago), posing with a big grin on her face.  We think she is trying to take credit for all of the flowers we're finally seeing.

Datura meteloides, I think.
Our neighbor's yard is a jungle, especially near the fence line. But one of the gems of the jungle is a Rose of Sharon (aka Althea or Hibiscus syriacus) with purple blooms. It hangs over the fence into our yard right by our corner garden and we are very grateful. Not only do we get to enjoy the flowers most of the summer, but we also get volunteer seedlings coming up all the time.

Rose of Sharon that hangs over our fence
I have allowed some of the seedlings to grow until they are big enough to be transplanted to locations where we want them. The largest of those transplanted Rose of Sharon is now about 3 feet tall and bloomed for the first time this summer. We were hoping for purple flowers, but we have pure white.

First bloom of the seedling Rose of Sharon
On a recent trip to Lowe's we took a quick trip through the depleted garden center and found some incredible deals on rose bushes. We purchased four roses for about $10 and some of those are now blooming.

One of our new roses
At the advice of the Lowe's cashier, we did not plant the roses immediately. We'll wait until the temperatures are a little less extreme.  Until then, we'll just enjoy them in their pots.

Another of our new roses

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A tale of two cuttings

My friend Leland has sent me many wonderful plants over the last couple of years.  In April I received some very large cuttings of Philodendron warscewiczii.  The cuttings were about 12-15 inches long and 2-3 inches in diameter.  Seriously, they were like logs.  I wasn't sure what the best method would be for getting new growth from the cuttings, so I tried putting one cutting in a vase of water and the other directly into a chunky, loose mix of soil, bark, and charcoal and kept it pretty well watered.

Cuttings started in water (left) and soil (right), back in early June.
The cutting which was started in water was the first one out of the gate, sprouting leaves and roots from two growth points.  After a couple of weeks of growth in water, I decided to go ahead and plant this cutting in soil as well.  The cutting that was started in soil did not show any progress for several more weeks.  Finally I noticed a root emerging from one of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot (see image above).  At this point there were still not any leaves.  A month or two down the road and my potted cutting began to sprout a new leaf from the tip.  When the leaf finally unfurled I noticed this leaf was a mature warscewiczii leaf, while the leaves on my other cuttings were the juvenile form, with less divisions in the leaf.  It seemed counter-intuitive, at first, that this cutting which had just produced it's first leaf had a more mature leaf than my cutting which had two growth points with several leaves already.

Mature leaf of tip cutting started in soil
Juvenile leaves of center cutting started in water
The more I thought about this, I realized that my "late bloomer" cutting had a key difference that was most likely the reason for this difference.  This cutting was a tip cutting and the leaf was emerging from the end, where new leaves were developing prior to the plant being dissected and sent across the ocean to me.  The cutting which sprouted the two new growths and lots of leaves was, in a sense, starting from scratch, while this other cutting was continuing growth that had been going on for many years.

Tip cutting started in soil (left). Center cutting started in water (right).
Now my slower cutting is about to unfurl a fourth leaf and my fast cutting has unfurled something like its 12th.  Both are pretty plants, but the tip cutting has produced beautiful mature leaves that are much more appealing and more warscewiczii-ish than the many leaves of the other cutting.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Peachy future?

Two years ago, to the day, I posted about my peach tree which had gone from being a "flowering peach tree" to something more.  It had begun to produce fruits, albeit very small ones.  I was interested to see whether it was an issue of maturity for the tree or if my tree would never produce edible fruits.

The tree was a gift in 2007, when I was offered my first real job.  At that time it stood about waist high and was covered in little puffs of pink and magenta.  At that point, it was cute.  Today it stands tall and proud, with enough breadth and density to provide shade for our cars in the driveway.

This year I feel like I am closer to having an answer about the likelihood of there being edible fruit in my future.  They aren't there yet, but they are getting larger with a lot more fruit around the seed.

Let's take a look back over the years...

Spring 2008
Spring 2009
Spring 2010
Spring 2010
Late Summer 2010
Skip ahead two years and see the difference:

Summer 2012
Summer 2012
Some of the fruits are getting close to eating size, but none have actually ripened yet.  Everyday there are about 15 fruits on the ground, that I have to pick up and throw away so we don't run over them on the driveway.  I've been taking loads of peaches to the curb on yard waste day.  Some of these peaches and their ground pits will make it back to our garden next year when we go to get a load from the city compost facility.

Summer 2012
If this year is any indication, I think we'll be up to our ears in peaches next year.  We better start looking up recipes!  Mark your calendars: Next September there will be a peach party at my house.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Trip Report: Begonia of the Cloud Forest

I am not an expert when it comes to Begonia.  There are so many species, even more cultivars and hybrids, and since I don't actively collect these plants, there is really no hope of me ever being able to identify more than a handful of them.



I have seen my share of unique, and bizarre Begonia.  The Cloud Forest didn't have anything really bizarre, but they had some really beautiful Begonia.  So, rather than flap my jowls, I'm going to just let you view these pictures in silence.



I promised not to babble too much with this post, but don't you think that many Begonia just have an amazing way of reflecting light?




Aren't these plants awesome?  Such variety of textures and colors.





I have still more photos from the Cloud Forest to come.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Trip Report: Carnivores of the Cloud Forest

At the top of the mountain in the Cloud Forest dome at Gardens by the Bay is a pond surrounded by orchids and carnivorous plants.  I admire carnivores, but I can't identify many of them.  My tour companion, Shawn, grows a lot of Nepenthes and I'm pretty sure he could identify everything we saw.  I had to check with my carnivorous friends to get identifications on most of these plants.

Dense grouping of carnivorous plants
Many people know the Venus Flytrap, but there are many other interesting carnivorous plants. Most terrestrial carnivorous plants grow in bog conditions in poor soil, which is the reason they supplement their "diet" by catching insects through various methods. There are deep pitchers with slippery edges, sticky leaves, and even triggered traps with teeth.

Sundews (Drosera)
Drosera (Sundews) is the largest genus of carnivorous plants with nearly 200 species. They catch their prey on the sticky glands on their leaves.  In the photo above you can see at least two different species.

Butterwort (Pinguicula) flower
You wouldn't necessarily know by looking, but Pinguicula (Butterwort) has sticky leaves that act like flypaper. Insects are eventually digested right there on the leaf surface.  The flowers resemble those of some Gesneriads.

Sarracenia and Heliamphora
Sarracenia are the upright pitcher plants from North America, not to be confused with Nepenthes, the trailing pitcher plants from the Old World tropics (mostly southeast Asia). The primitive South American counterparts to Sarracenia are Heliamphora, the Marsh Pitcher Plants.

Nepenthes pitcher
While Nepenthes usually have symbiotic bacteria living in the pool within their pitchers, there is at one species of Heliamphora that produces its own enzymes to break down its food.

Nepenthes robcantleyi
The top of the Cloud Forest mountain had a lot of different carnivorous plants, but Nepenthes plants were scattered throughout the dome, so I have a lot more photos of those to share.

Nepenthes robcantleyi
Nepenthes robcantleyi
Nepenthes robcantleyi
I did not see any open flowers of Nepenthes, but I did see a flower spike that would be opening soon.

Flower spike on a Nepenthes
Nepenthes ampullaria x sibuyanensis
I love the little jugs of the Nepenthes pictured above and below here.  Aren't they cute?  The big, long pitchers are very impressive and have really neat markings, but the little jugs of these two hybrids were my favorites.

Nepenthes xHookeriana
In the middle of the pond on top of the mountain there was a little island planted entirely with carnivorous plants.  I hope no bug crawls ashore there thinking of taking a vacation.

Carnivore island: Enter at your own risk.