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Tending toward RED

Sunday, October 23, 2016


We were looking for folding camp chairs to sit in for Liam's crew regatta on a chilly Saturday morning at Home Depot (because of course we'd forgotten to throw them in the car) when I spotted it: a gigantic pot of gerbera daisies, marked down to $2.67???!!!

OK, it IS mid-October, and this isn't going to be sitting on the front porch for very long...but $2.67???!!! You couldn't buy a bouquet of cut carnations for that!

I bought my first red gerbera this spring, and that plant bloomed hard all season long, delighting me. It always looked like a million bucks, and still does! Here it is after giving its best all summer, now groovin' on the greenhouse warmth. Not sure what it'll think of the lower winter temperatures, but it's all an experiment anyway. I don't want to be without gerberas again. They're just surreally beautiful, and besides, they're from South Africa!

So I looked at the enormous pot of gerberas, asked myself why I needed more, reminded myself it is mid-October, walked away, looked at it again...

and lifted it into the cart.

Oof! That's a lotta biomass. I figured there were probably three plants in that one pot, but I'd have to knock it out to be sure.
It sure dressed up the back of my car!

As I get older, I notice I'm gravitating toward RED. Red house. Red seatcovers for the Subaru. Red flowers. Hell yes. Red. Red is assertive, even when I'm not. 
 Wish I were more red! Red says I'm here! get used to it. Red gets me revved up. Red makes me happy. Red shouts, instead of whispering.

Not putting the red hat on just yet, but getting redder all the time.

When I got home, I got out the Leonard Deluxe SOIL KNIFE that my friend Vicki sent me for my birthday.


This is the baddest ass garden tool you will ever have.  Get it for yourself; give one to a friend, but make sure you hide it when you're really, really mad at anyone. Because it is Dangerous.  

It has a razor-sharp serrated edge, as I found out very quickly. OW.  Red. Gravitating toward red, making red. Lovely shade, that. Matchy matchy! I kept working. Soon the wound was packed with potting soil and quit bleeding. I'm not much for Band-Aids, nor sterile technique.

Plant One

I knocked the plant wad out of the pot, peeked at the leaf clumps and ascertained that yes, there were three individual plants in the same pot. With the soil knife, I simply sawed the rootball into thirds in a matter of seconds. No teasing apart, no trauma to the plants. I could preserve the soil around the roots intact, and just separate them cleanly. 

Plant Two--slightly lighter coral-red

Plant Three--a fetching fuchsia pink--which looks horrible with the two strong reds anyway. A separate pot for each!

At the middle of the mass of crowded gerberas, I found what I expected: rot.

This is caused by poor air circulation, and it can attack new flowers. This one will never open. It's been strangled by rot.

It was high time these were divided. They never should have been put three to a pot in the first place.

Muuch better.  And with the soil knife division and room to expand, they never wilted for a moment.  If you click on the picture you can see where Vicki wrote "Happy Birthday, JZ!" on the blade. Ha! 

Let's see. These glorious plants cost me $.89 apiece. I can guarantee you I'm going to get $89.00 worth of joy out of them this winter. 

Speaking of winter joy, here are six tuberoses I dug from the gardens, which are in full spike, and will burst into bloom in late October and mid-November. Those puppies are coming into the greenhouse when it gets cold. 

I can just imagine sitting under soft twinkly lights, inhaling that matchless fragrance as the first snow  ticks on the greenhouse roof. I'll lean over and turn up the gas heat a notch and smile, breathe deeply.

This time of year, it's all about preparing for winter, in my own squirrelly way. Knowing deep inside, the way a bear knows, that it's going to be a real stinker, with some bright spots sprinkled here and there. Making a happy place for myself, filling it with the things that sustain me, in that endless and tireless quest for beauty. Beauty: my prime motivator, my sustenance. For some people it's money, or movies, theater, dance, music, or food, or some combination of all that. Or different things. Travel, riding, running. For me, it's about the beauty of living things, growing things. It's caring for them and making them all they can be. Maybe I should list my profession as "Aesthetician," but the kind with bloody knuckles and dirty fingernails. Without the makeup, hairspray or heels.  

Orchid School: A Few Pointers

Thursday, October 20, 2016

There's a whole lotta pottin' goin' on on Indigo Hill. 

Nothing like about 10 days in the 80's in mid-October to get me out and washing orchids! It's the kind of thing that I have to be in the right mood to do. If I'm in the right mood, it's fun. Not in the right mood: endless wet drudgery. 

What? You don't wash your orchids?  Every couple of years, I repot mine. I knock them out of their pots, rinse every bit of medium off their roots.  Before I put them in new medium and clean pots, I wash their leaves with a hard spray of cool water, rubbing away scale and the sugar deposits they leave. Then I clip off anything rotty: brown spongy roots, old withered pseudobulbs if they're the type of orchid that makes pseudobulbs. 

This year, I'm potting everything in nice long-staple sphagnum moss. It's the blonde stuff that comes in dried bricks. I'm using sphagnum not just because it's way cheaper than Aussie Gold. I'm using it because I've noticed that the best, firmest, greenest roots are forming in the orchids I've potted in sphagnum. They're healthy and not rotting because they've got ample air in this light weight, non-packing medium. For some fine pointers on sphagnum quality, go here.

Your results may vary. Sphagnum works well for me here in Ohio. If you live in a super-humid place,  you might do better with coco fiber medium or even bark. 

I'm sprinkling some Aussie Gold medium into the sphagnum, but overall it's 90% moss.  I soak the moss before packing it loosely around the roots. 

I took the opportunity to hack up a massive jewel orchid that was overgrown and flopping out of its pot. In the center is the mother plant. All around it are the long floppy stems I snapped off at their joints. I got 13 of 'em, and put them all to root in moist sphagnum in another container. 

I noticed that jewel orchids seem to send down roots to about 5" deep in the pot, then quit. The growth habit is to spread, laterally. So what they want is a pot that's wider than it is deep. Not having one of those, I put some  spacers in the form of deli containers and lava rock in the bottom of a big 10" pot, and heaped the sphagnum medium atop that. That should help get air to the roots, and encourage good drainage.

Mother plant to the left, nicely trimmed back and now with room to expand, and cuttings to the right. Discarded stems at bottom. I didn't use any rooting hormone because this is one badass orchid...I think those cuttings will root without any help. 

Add Bacon and sun, and you get happy Zick. I like to say that plant propagation is my only vice. I would happily develop some more, but opportunity is lacking. 

This is what jewel orchids do in midwinter! I love them best in candalabra bud.

But when those little white flowers open: Redonk!! It's too much.

The nice thing about this plant is the glorious velvety leaves with deep maroon reverse. Also the fact that it cannot be stopped, and I've never found an insect that bothers it. So I'm propagatin' on with my bad self.

I have 32 orchids, and tending to them all took parts of three days. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to spend the time it takes to tend them.  I'm not replacing my big orchids as they slowly pass on. I don't need more stuff to care for. But the collecting urge is still strong, so I'm downsizing. The only orchids I buy any more are the mini Phalaenopsis that I find at the grocery store. I love them so.  They fit on my kitchen windowsill: big plus.  I can add just one or two more without too much crowding. And the bunch of them in midwinter, going nuts on my kitchen sill, gets me through February.

If you're an orchid connoisseur, don't walk by ones that look like this one, below.  It may not be the most striking in color, but it's got a secret. It's got Phalaenopsis schilleriana in its parentage, which you can tell by its lightly mottled leaves, pale pink coloration, and heavenly incredible paradisiacal FRAGRANCE. Muguet from Venus.

These get to sit on my drawing board, and get picked up and inhaled about 60 times a day.

Since orchids in grocery stores rarely are warm or happy enough to emanate any fragrance, the other tipoff for P. schilleriana is the little moustache at the bottom of the flower's lower lip. 

This one's a real dandy--beautiful leaves. You probably won't find a beauty like this in a grocery store. But these are the characteristics that say it's going to be fragrant. Keep in mind that they may not emanate if the ambient temperature is under about 75 degrees. When mine bloom in mid-winter, they rarely emit any fragrance. But ohhh those midsummer and autumn blooms.There's a wee schilleriana at my elbow right now.

Slurping October Down

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

This time of year, the middle of October, is the exact correlate to when everything blooms and the leaves pop out in late April. It's suddenly all too beautiful and you can't possibly take it all in. But you try.

I love October so much. 

I'm doing this post for Phoebe, as much as for anyone. I miss that girl like I miss the moon when it's cloudy for weeks. I miss her like I miss  the scent of tuberoses in February. And I know she misses this place, but oh! she's having such fun in Panama, learning how to sweat around the clock while

studying abroad, watching birds,  making great new friends in the 15 other girls in the program; learning about forests and agriculture, loving on sloths,  

and sharpening her Spanish to a fine point. Anyway, I figure she and her friends (please bring them all home with you as I want to meet them!)

 would like to see what the place looks like about now. And maybe you would, too. 

Every spring, I come up the deck stairs and say sadly, "Well, it looks like Rio Samba (a rose I planted in 1993) didn't make it through the winter. It's dead."

And Phoebe says, "You say that every year!" Well, I am here to inform her that it has died. Again.

It looks good, I know, but it's dead. Just like I predicted. And that bud coming? Just a final salvo. It's a lot less dead than it was last summer, but it's definitely dead.

The morning glories are FINALLY blooming. I've been hearing from lots of quarters that morning glories waited all summer long, waited into October, to bloom. Whaa? And now, just in time for a balmy week, they are going nuts.

This was my first view this morning.  The low last night was 68, so the ones that opened yesterday morning never closed. And there they were smiling back at me at first light. Fabulous.

The vines around the back deck are monstrous. 
 They make a great pillar of green, studded with sky-blue saucers.

I managed to catch the elusive Liam on his way to class this morning. He's there for scale.  He's over 6' tall now, so let's see. That's about 2.5 Liams of morning glories. 

And a peek of Rio Samba in the lower left corner. 

Yep, still dead.

The pond garden is bursting with life. See the white pitchers emerging from the corner of the pond? My pitcher plants are happy and now grabbing pollinators. Not sure how I feel about that. They're greedy, exuding a honey scent but offering no nectar, only death by digestive fluids. I check every day and let some of the trapped insects go.  I stick a straw down in there and the grateful insects climb out. Hate to see ctenuchid moths and honeybees struggling in there. Those plants can eat houseflies. 

Sheffield Pink, a super-hardy mum (formerly known by me as Suffolk Pink), which legend has was the first mum brought to America by English colonists, is doing its pre-frost thing. Some jaunty orange calendulas I planted are a nice surprise. The zinnias self-sowed, and I fear I may have to bring some seedlings in the greenhouse. What I'll do when they get big I don't know.

A gift from painter Cindy House, who grows it in New Hampshire, Sheffield Pink is one of my favorites, for the cheery burst of new color it lends to the autumn landscape.

I'm planting bits of it all over the yard, filling bare spots, and now have enough to give some away, too, as some happy Reader Rendezvouers found out. Sheffield. Not Suffolk. I think. It's pink, anyway.

It's been a long time since the back gardens looked so pretty. They make me happy. 

And so do the myrtle warblers pouring through right now. Fall warblers and flowers...that's a good combo for a hungry eye. I'm slurping October down.

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