Days Of Whine And Desert Roses


There was talk in the garden center, recently — a really juicy piece of gossip personally told to me by a customer. Now, I’m not one to gossip, but this is too huge to keep to myself . . .

Iguanas do not eat Desert Rose!

I may have mentioned iguanas once or twice in the past, maybe even gone on and on about how much they’ve ruined whatever flower I’ve planted, but that sentence makes me ecstatic! An actual plant that offends the polished palette of my reptilian invaders. It’s the sort of news that makes a boy re-imagine flowers in a flowerless backyard.

And imagining and more is exactly what I’ve done.

Desert Rose, a flowering succulent also known as Adenium obesum, presents a whole new world of gardening possibilities for me. A native of sub-Saharan Africa, the plant is quite drought tolerant and it’s nearly constantly in bloom.

I first purchased a plant (pictured above and at the top of this post) several years ago, and I have it in a terracotta pot near the front door. The front of my house is essentially my iguana-free zone and I assumed that because Desert Rose has flowers, I feared it could easily become another entrée in the smorgasbord that is my backyard.

If this customer was correct, though, I could introduce flowers to my backyard — but only if the customer was correct.

Before I left work that day, I purchased another Desert Rose. The only colors I had ever seen in the nurseries were red, pink, and a few bi-colors in the red and pink family. The one I purchased this day, though, was pale yellow with a raspberry swirl on the petals.

I placed the plant in the backyard, close to the seawall, which is where iguanas mostly travel — and I kept my eye on the plant. It lasted a day. It lasted two days. It lasted three days. There were a few nibbles, as if the iguanas sampled it and decided on something else, but the plant survived.

Then I started to think — Desert Rose could quickly get expensive. The starting price is usually around $10 and then it travels upward, depending on the size of the plant.

I investigated how to propagate with stem cuttings — and while it’s do-able, I would be limiting myself to red or yellow with the raspberry swirl.

Could there be seeds? I really wasn’t sure, since I had never seen anything resembling a seed or a seedpod on my own plants. (I have since learned I could help this along by manually pollinating the flowers.)

I turned to Ebay — and there I found a wonderland of Desert Rose seeds. There were so many colors, as well as single, double, and triple blooms, and bi-colors. I could easily have gone overboard. I mean, with so many varieties — how can a gardener choose?

Ultimately, I selected a seller based in Florida and chose two varieties: “Mahatap,” which is a reddish/pink double bloom, and “Ultraviolet,” which is exactly that. I convinced myself that I would start small — an experiment — and if it all worked out, I would return for more exotic colors.

Two packets, five seeds in each, soon arrived. I figured there would be no difference in planting these easy-to-handle seeds as when I planted geranium seeds. I took a look through YouTube for some basic instruction — just in case — and found inspiration in a video.

My soil was a store-bought mix for cactus and succulents. To this, I added more perlite so it would drain easily. Before planting the seeds, I moistened the soil so that it was better able to absorb water after planting and so it wouldn’t puff back into my face. The goal is to moisten it so that it holds together when squeezed.

I placed the seeds on the surface and I covered them very lightly. The soil must be kept warm — so late May in South Florida was perfect.

It’s important to water from below. This prevents the soil from compacting, making it easier for young roots to grow. If it’s necessary to water from above, use a spray bottle or the mist setting on a hose nozzle.

Within five days, all ten seeds sprouted.

Soon, their plump stems, or caudex, started to take shape, and their first true leaves appeared. They’ve grown so much since sprouting, that it’s time to gently place them in their own pots — and I have yet to see any nibbles on the tender green leaves.

Like I said, I’m not one to gossip — but when it’s about a flowering plant that iguanas seem to ignore — well, that’s the kind of news that a gardener can’t keep, shouldn’t keep, to himself.

I Won A Tree


Frangipani

At each monthly meeting of the local garden club, a raffle is held. For one dollar, members can win something — usually a plant — donated by another club member.

In the past, I’ve won a sturdy plastic hand rake, a sprouting Everglades tomato plant, and an orchid — small items that don’t take up a lot of space in the shed or garden.

Mostly, though, purchasing a raffle at the meeting is a chance to support the club.

Club raffles are an interesting beast — or rather, the club members themselves are. Some members like to stack the basket and so they purchase five to ten dollars worth of tickets. Others, like me, are more conservative — just a dollar and a dream.

The thing is, I’ve never dreamed of winning a tree — especially this tree — and yet, here I am with the winning ticket and my new tree.

Continue reading

Aloe, ‘ow Are You?


Aloe

I always wanted to be a deejay. When I was younger, I had two turntables, a mixer, and crates and crates of vinyl records.

There was one small problem, though.  I never wanted to get fingerprints or scratches on any of the records — which was why my vinyl collection remained in pristine condition, and the only deejaying was in my own mind.

Still, when it comes to thinking up headlines for posts, I often turn to music for inspiration — and this post about my aloe was no different. I began with “Aloe, I Love You,” courtesy of The Doors — because, I do love this plant.

Mine was a gift from Joe’s sister, Donna. She gave it to me years and years ago — and for those years and years, it was a typical northern houseplant, a solitary presence in a clay pot, brought outside in summer and over-wintered indoors.

I was thrilled to have an aloe — practical and beautiful, medicinal and magical. Each day seems to bring about new wondrous uses for the gel inside each of its pointy, succulent leaves.

The problem is that snapping off an aloe leaf to soothe a burn or an abrasion was never my first thought. No, I’d rather run for a bandage or even a store-bought “aloe” lotion than risk damaging the plant.

It was my deejaying debacle all over again — although this time I knew my being a gardener wasn’t an imaginary mind game. I just didn’t want to take advantage of a plant. I wanted it to be pristine.

But something exciting happened after bringing the aloe to Florida, where this houseplant could stay out all year long. Of course, there was the initial shock, but in time, the green became more vibrant and smaller aloes began to pop up all around the mother plant.

Aloe

My clay pot for one had become my clay pot for many, and I wondered: Is this what aloe is supposed to do?  It actually makes more plants on its own?

Then, Adele arrived with this lyric, “Hello, from the other side” — and I began to contemplate what was happening beneath the soil of said clay pot. In other words: Aloe, from the underside.

Aloe

Just like removing a vinyl disc from its sleeve, I gently tapped the aloe from the only home it has ever known. And just like holding a record by its edges and turning it over to examine it for any imperfections, I observed and marveled at what was hidden by the clay pot.

The houseplant I had always counted on to be a solo artist was more like a member of a band.   Once unpotted, the lead singer — for want of a better term — had developed a lengthy root system, each one traveling in a circle to match the shape of the clay pot.

Aloe

It’s at this point that all record and deejaying analogies come to an end. While I may be a deejay in my mind, in reality, I’m a gardener —- and unlike my treatment of vinyl, I wanted to scratch at the soil, to separate the roots and smaller plants a bit, to clip and cut and leave my mark.

As I began, I first noticed that the thicker roots were actually runners, some of them ending with a small aloe plant — and each of these had its own set of roots and runners.

Aloe

Aloe

The larger of the small aloes were easily separated from the main plant, but the smaller ones needed some clipping.

Aloe

Aloe

Aloe

I lined up pots of all sizes, as well as some hollowed out coconuts, for planting — so that each of the aloes could be a star in their own right — and, in time, fill out and make more plants.

Aloe

Aloe

The aloe that started it all was returned to its clay pot, now a bit roomier, so that it too could once again produce more plants.

Aloe

At the end of the day, when it came time to reflect on what I had learned about aloe propagation and a headline, it seemed to make sense to name this post: “Aloe, ‘ow are you?” It’s really the question I asked myself — with a cockney accent, because a name like aloe kind of begs for that — whenever I looked at the clay pot filled with plants.

That being said, it’s time to bring my tale of aloe to a close — and in the sort-of words written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney: “You say goodbye, and I say aloe.”

A Streetcar Named Dracaena


Dracaena fragrans

“Oh, look,” whispered the sweetest of voices on the slightest of breezes each night when I stepped outside. “We have created enchantment here.”

I thought I was alone, but the powdery scent of perfume had me thinking otherwise. The voice was quite feminine, I imagined, and absolutely southern — dripping with refined charm and long, slow vowels.

Continue reading

Bloomin’ Update 55: Flapjacks For A Sunday Morning


Kalanchoe Flapjacks

There’s something special about Sunday mornings. It’s a time that’s built for reading each section of the newspaper, undertaking the crossword puzzle, and lingering over a breakfast that’s a bit more intricate than an eat-and-run weekday meal.  It’s a moment to pause and breathe.

For today’s Sunday breakfast, I’m serving up some flapjacks.

Continue reading