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.

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: Ladies & Gentlemen, Start Your Seeds


Joe and I made the drive from New York to South Florida, and in 24 hours, we experienced three seasons.  We began our journey in winter and then arrived in spring by the time we reached South Carolina. Once in Florida, it was all-out summer.  

This trip is why I didn’t start any seeds in February.  There would be no one to take care of my seedling babies during the final week of March.  Needless to say, I missed working in the potting shed and watching geraniums and impatiens and petunias make their debut onto the world stage.  

It’s the main reason why I’m taking this walk down memory lane, a repost of last year’s seed starting experience and a chance to reminisce.  By the way, seeds will be started when I return to Long Island: zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos — seeds that like to be sown where they’ll grow.  Now that I read that sentence, I like to think of myself in the same way.  I like to be planted where I can grow.

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Bloomin’ Update 33: See You In September


Black-Eyed Susan.

It seems fitting that after an interesting amd intense couple of days, I have to extend my thanks to a few people.

First up is Cheri, a WordPress editor, who selected my previous post about 9/11 to be Freshly Pressed.  That means that my blog, for a few days, was one of the featured sites on WordPress — and the response, as you can imagine, was overwhelming.

That brings me to the other people I would like to thank.  You.  All of you.  All 2,400+ readers and the 200+ who chose to follow this site.  I cannot even begin to explain how much your comments and likes meant — and how absolutely moving your comments were.  I’ve had the chance to “meet” people from all over the world, to read of their memories, and to visit other amazing blogs.

And now that the rush has fallen off, it’s time to get back into the garden.  The September garden is an interesting place.  Some plants are worn out and tired, while others appear to be putting on quite a show — like a fireworks finale.  I’m not sure if the hint of cooler weather is rejuvenating their energy, or if they somehow know their end is near.

One thing is certain, though.  All of the plants — and this gardener, as well — are ready for a chance to re-energize for the next growing season.

So, without further delay, here is a stroll through the garden and a look at the blooms from the closing days of summer.

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I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts


Florida?  In summer?  Are you nuts?

If you’ve read any previous posts, you already know the answer to that question.  But in this case, there is a reason to the madness.  In a nutshell — a coconut shell, that is — South Florida will someday be our new home.  About one month before Hurricane Andrew arrived in 1992, Joe and I purchased a house.  Each year since, we have traveled to Fort Lauderdale several times a year to do the most relaxing of vacation activities: yard work.  And as we go about our palm tree trimming and bundling and bagging of debris, we do a lot of planning and dreaming.

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A Pot To Call My Own


It seems like only yesterday that I planted these Geraniums, the first of this year’s seeds to be started early — and here they are, all grown up and ready to be moved into individual pots.  The truth is I am always caught off guard each year.  I know this day has to come – and then all at once, all of the sprouts have their first set of true leaves, an indication that I’ve got a lot of transplanting to do. 

Step 1:  I moisten a batch of seed starting mix, which is a little lighter and airier than potting soil and so roots do not have to work as hard to develop and grow.  Keeping the mixture moist not only creates a damp environment for the transplant, but it also keeps down the dust factor for your lungs.  I then fill the cell packs with the mixture.  Using a pencil or the tongue depressor plant label, I make some room for the transplant, deep enough so the roots can grow downward.

Step 2: I then ease the seedling from it’s starting pot.  This can be a little tricky.  I use the plant label as a shovel to help bring out the seedling.  In a starting pot that is more densely packed, I usually unpot the whole thing, resting the potless soil and seedlings on the potting bench.  I am then able to pry out each individual seedling, working from the perimeter to the middle, without disurbing the roots of the neighboring plants.

Step 3: At this stage, be very careful in how you handle the seedling.  I do not hold the plant by its stem or by the first set of true leaves.  Everything is still a little delicate — kind of like the soft spot on a baby’s head — and I wouldn’t want to crush any of  the developing plant cells.  Instead, the only thing I handle are the cotyledon leaves, the “baby leaves,” since these will eventually die as the plant continues to grow.

Step 4: With my plant label “tool,” I place the seedling into it’s new pot.  My goal is to help the roots into the hole’s depth, rather than bunching up near the surface.  I think this helps the overall health of the plant, especially as it continues to mature and is ultimately planted in the garden.  Deeper root development helps to prevent the plant from drying out in arid conditions.

Step 5:  Finally, I place the pot in a tray of water for bottom watering.  At this stage, I do not want to compact the soil mixture too much with watering from above, since that would hinder healthy root development.

 

Now that the Geraniums are transplanted, all I have left are Amaranth, Impatiens, Salvia, Candytuft . . . Hmmmm . . . Do you suppose this is why Joe scratches his head in disbelief each year? 

Ladies & Gentlemen, Start Your Seeds!


The thing about a vacation is that you have to come home.  One day, I was enjoying the warmth of south Florida sun, and the next I was bundled up against the wind chill on Long Island — and there’s no better day to start seeds.  Like many of you, my hands were itching to get dirty and to begin the new growing season.  Since the potting shed was built, this has been my tradition — a step-by-step homecoming.

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