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.

Confessions Of A Binge Gardener


Hibiscus

Hibiscus.

Summertime in South Florida, I’m told, is not the best time to plant or to garden. Locals often cite the high heat and high humidity — which leads to an abundance of pests and mildews.

So while gardens — and gardeners — in this hot area cool off, I’ve spent the time researching plants, dreaming up garden plans, and binge-watching television series. “Breaking Bad.” Done. “Orange Is The New Black.” Check.  “Downton Abbey.” Finito.

Everything was moving along nicely until “Downton” introduced a gardener into Violet Crawley’s world, and I found myself hoping for a larger storyline for the young fellow or — even better — a spin-off. “Downton Gardens,” perhaps?

Nevertheless, as I pondered the idea of beginning a gardening program for the inmates on “Orange,” it occurred to me that I had had my fill of fictional gardens. I missed real gardening. There was a burning inside of me — as feverish as those felt by any of Walter White’s meth heads — to dig in the dirt, plant seeds, and root clippings.

So the other day, I caved in to my cravings and embarked on a binge of my very own. A garden binge, if you will.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus.

I had been eyeing this hibiscus in the neighbor’s yard, blooming in the gap between our two houses. Each day, I’d walk by and that flower would wink its stamen at me.  And since I’ve been looking for a Florida plant to take the place of hydrangeas, I wondered if I could root hibiscus the same way I was able to root my favorite shrub in my northern garden.

Out came the clippers, some cell packs, a shovel, and the rooting hormone. I did my best to clip non-bud branches, and then removed the lower leaves. The clippings were immediately placed in water to keep the stems moist.

Rooting

I had also prepared the cell packs with basic garden soil and made holes in the center of each. After dipping the stems in rooting hormone, I slipped them into the pre-made holes, careful to not loosen the powdery rooting hormone. This was followed with a gentle watering, and then the small plants were placed out of direct sunlight.

Once started, though, I couldn’t get enough. I had merely had a sip of gardening and I was still achingly thirsty.

Croton

Croton

From the corner of my eye, I spotted the neighbor’s croton, a shrub with brightly colored foliage. There are many varieties of the plant, but I’m always drawn to the thin, slightly-curled leaf kind, each branch sharing green and red mottled leaves.

I again used the same rooting technique, planting up four small cuttings.

Not quite sated, I thought to myself, “If only I could dig up an actual plant, an off-shoot from a mother plant.” I crouched and crawled across the ground, lifting branches and looking beneath, sending small anoles scurrying.

Chinese Fan Palm

Eventually, I found two small Chinese fan palms (Livistona chinensis) that had sprouted from seeds at the base of the mother tree. In time, this palm, with tiny hooks along the stems of the fronds, will reach up to 50’.  Because of its slow growing habit, however, it’s often used as an understory planting.

I found the jackpot at the base of a Sunshine palm (Veitchia montgomeryana). There, seven smaller palms — resembling tall blades of grass — had sprouted. I carefully pried each one up and gave them a pot of their own.

Sunshine Palm.

Sunshine Palm.

By the end of the day, my hands and fingernails caked with dirt, my clothes and forehead soaked with sweat, I took a look at all I had done to satisfy my gardening hunger.  I had quite the tally: eight hibiscus, four crotons, two Chinese fan palms, and seven Sunshine palms.

At this point, I’m not sure if any of my treasures will survive — and if they do, I’m not sure if I’ll actually use them in the landscape or give them away. I don’t think I’d sell them, though.  I’m not a plant pusher.  I’m a binger.

The Biggest Seed I Ever Planted


 Seed Memories

It’s seed starting time — and by now, I should have flats of impatiens and petunias and geraniums planted in my Long Island potting shed, with dahlias, cosmos, and gazanias scheduled for the weeks ahead.  But as I’ve said in previous posts, this is a season of a different kind — in so many ways.

For starters, I’m away from the potting shed.  Instead, I have south Florida — and as my northern garden and gardening friends have shivered and shoveled during this winter’s harshness, south Florida has enjoyed exceptional warmth.  By northern standards, it feels like summer.

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Repost: That’s A Wrap!


Baby, it’s cold outside.  And for Joe and me, the cold temperature is our cue that it’s time to wrap our windmill palm for the winter months.  So while we’re outside, I’m offering my seasonal repost of what it is that we’re doing and why.

Palm Tree 001

I may be the gardener of the house, but Joe also has his landscape loves.  One of his greatest is palm trees.  His absolute fave is Cocos nucifera, the coconut palm.  If it were up to him, coconut palms would be growing everywhere.  We often joke that he would be to coconut palms what Johnny Appleseed was to apples — only he would be called Joey Coconuts, which does sound a little — alright, a lot — like a character from “The Sopranos.”

Sadly, coconut palms will not grow in our Zone.  Nor will most other palms found around the world.  So what’s a palm lover to do?  About 10 years ago, we purchased a windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei to be exact, from Stokes Tropicals.  Originally grown in China, the windmill is one of the hardiest of palms, able to tolerate a fairly severe freeze and a light winter snow cover.

But this is Long Island, and winters are unpredictable.  Sometimes mild, sometimes snowy and frozen — and after the year we’ve had, who knows which winter will come our way.  Although the palm receives full sun, there are steps that we must take — or rather Joe must take, with my assistance — to ensure winter survival.

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Repost: Saving Elephant Ears & Canna, Part 2


Maple Leaves

Changing leaves and cooling temperatures can only mean one thing.  It’s time to complete the saving process.  By now, elephant ears and canna have been drying out for about a week — and now I have to get them ready for their long winter’s nap.

The final step is pretty much the same for both elephant ears and canna.  You will need peat moss, some kind of storage containers (like brown paper bags), a shovel, and a room that stays relatively dry and evenly cool so that the plants can be lulled into a deep sleep without freezing.  If the final storage location is too damp or warm, the plants never get a chance to rest and they are at risk of rotting away — and after so much work getting to this point, that would be a shame.

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Repost: Saving Canna, Part 1


I’ve had to make a difficult decision this year about my collection of canna.  What started with a few corms has, over the years, become an overwhelming amount of plants — even after giving corms away.  And the increase in plants also means an increase in labor, and I’m reaching a point (for several reasons) where I have to cut back.  So, I’ve decided to not save canna and to instead start fresh next year.  In the meantime, though, I thought it was still important to repost the steps that I’ve followed to keep the canna coming.

Canna Close Up

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