Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Keeping Track of My Garden - Back-up Plan!

I forgot to show the back-up plan, in case all of my obsessive spreadsheeting and word processing failed.

As you can plainly see - it's very high-tech!  Just a wad (or is it a lump, clump, heap, chunk, or buttload) of tags in a plastic folder.

I try to never go in there, as it's like looking for a needle in a haystack.

But at least I know I can dig through there if needed!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Keeping Track of My Garden - OCD Addition

I know I'm a "little" crazy. But aren't all plant people just a little bit?!?

I have a system for keeping track of what plants I have in my garden.

I have an alphabetical  name list in a spreadsheet and a corresponding list of descriptions of the plants in a document.

I started both lists when I bought my home in 2006. There were barely any plants in the yard at the time, so I was starting with basically a blank slate. What few plants were there, I guessed on or made a generic entry for them.

Some might think I have an awful lot of free time on my hands for doing this. It does take some time, but I find that it is really worth it for me in the long run. 

My spreadsheet list has tabs for my categories (Annuals, Bulbs, Ferns, Grasses, Peony, Perennial, Shrubs, Succulents, Trees, Vines, Water, Tomatoes, Dead Stuff, etc.) and then each individual worksheet has the plant names in alphabetical order.

For some of my favorite plants (like Peonies), I also included what I paid for each plant.

I can print this list and keep a copy in my car in a 3-ring binder, so when I go shopping, I'm not accidentally buying a plant I already have. I tend towards "collecting", so I try to avoid buying duplicate plants.

My memory isn't what it used to be either, so a list is handy.

My document file is the same list of all my plants but with a description and photo for each plant.  Since Excel isn't the best for word processing, this document is done in Word.

Cover picture
Sample page
When I get a new plant, I pull the tag from the pot and add the plant's scientific and common name, the tag's description, zone, where I bought it, and the year purchased to my list. I include the provenance of my plant too if a friend gives it to me for example.

It's not perfect information, but it does give me an idea about the plant's general characteristics and what it will hopefully do in the garden. 

I take my own photos for the descriptions and since I have been keeping track since 2006, I will often include updated pictures to show how plants have grown over time. It would be WAY too crazy to do for everything. Even my crazy has limits! So I have only done this with the a few of the ornamental trees.

If the plant tag's information is insufficient, I just Google the plant name, read a few descriptions, and take an educated guess.

For the Peonies, I have also added a vague description of their actual planted location in the garden, when they are not blooming they all look alike and totally disappear when sleeping.

In the winter, I peruse my lists and descriptions. I update what I know has died or been removed for whatever reason. It also reminds me where certain plants are and often I will add a comment how a plant has done over time.

Should something ever happen to me that I need to sell my house, at least the future residents will know what's out there and know exactly what they are getting into plant-wise.

Last count there were 865 different plants in the yard. I hope they are plant people!  
I do my best to keep the lists current but even I don't know what some things are anymore.

I'm sure there are some things long since dead, but are still on my list.

Nobody's perfect.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Delinquent Gardener

This time of year is killing me.

It's like I am just in robot mode everyday, waking to darkness, driving to work in the dark, working all day and then driving home in the dark. I never get to see my garden. 

And it's ALWAYS raining anytime I am actually home and it is still light out.

There are still leaves to clean up and some plants to cut down.

But I have put gardening on hold. It's just going to have to wait a little longer. I feel like a neglectful parent.

I'm my younger days, I would throw on my rain gear and headed outside, but now I'd rather stay in with my hot toddy and watch the rain.

Thankfully the Winter Solstice just passed and Christmas and New Years are eminent. The days will now be getting longer.

This gives me hope. We're almost over the Winter hump. After the new year my mindset will change.

Also giving me hope is Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' (Yuletide Camellia). She's blooming like crazy. This winter so far has been good for her and she's really putting on a show.

'Yuletide' has beautiful blooms right at Christmas, hence the name. They are slightly oddly fragrant too.

I enjoy the bright red color and the simply petaled flowers that just disappear after blooming, instead of dropping huge dead flower bombs everywhere like other Camellias.

Pretty soon I will be looking for bulbs to poke their heads up.

Won't be long now!

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' (Yuletide Camellia)

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' (Yuletide Camellia)
With petals of crimson red with an orange cast, accented by a punch of gold stamens in the center, 
these large, cheerful, single blooms come just at the right time to add a spark of color to your winter holiday. 
The mid-season blooms are long-lasting, and the compact plant with its dark, glossy leaves,
 is great for containers, and a hard working shrub in the landscape.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Spiders Need Coffee Too!

Caught this adorable little guy sipping his/her morning coffee.

Just ignore those dirty dishes in the sink...

The Unbearable Heaviness of Raking

You don't know just how old you are until you have to rake leaves.

I think of myself as a young 43.  But I could stand to go to the gym. Actually, I drive by the gym all the time - I just never go in...

Towards the end of summer, when the garden is on autopilot and I get to sit back for a while and admire, I let the garden work fall to the wayside.
But then fall rudely comes.

The leaves fall and blow into the flowerbeds. The plants die back and need cleaning up.

I bust out the rake and heavy gloves and head out to rake the grass and fill up some yard debris bins. Thankfully I have neighbors that allow me to use their bins too, as I can fill up three in one swoop.

So many leaves, so little daylight to get them up.

Then it's obvious just how old I feel.

I've raked leaves and I can't get up!
Knees, back, neck, thighs and arms all hurt. Pain killers and a glass of wine are required.

Not to mention the recent cold weather, rain and terrible wind making everything worse.

To top it all off, the extreme cold weather now gives me eczema on my calves. I'm now like a little old lady predicting the weather based on my aches and pains... "Boy my legs are sure itchy, must be a nor'easter blowing in"...

For now, thank goodness there is left over Thanksgiving food, a visiting mom and shiny things indoors to distract me.

Oh look! Something shiny!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

This post goes back in time a little bit to 2011, to a trip I took to Holland and Belgium.

While in Brussels, we stopped at the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, an immense network of greenhouses covering approximately 270,000 square feet at the Royal Palace of Laeken.

It was designed, in the art nouveau style out of glass and iron, by architect Alphonse Balat with the help of his student Victor Horta. Victor Horta was also one of the most important names in art nouveau architecture.

Construction of the entire complex took thirty years. The greenhouses feature around thirty pavilions, glass cupolas, and arcades that cross the site like covered streets.

The largest dome - The Winter Garden (Grand Jardin d'hiver or Grote Wintertuin) was built between 1874 and 1876. The dome was large enough to accommodate large palms, many of which date back to Leoplod II. Royal receptions were also held in the dome. 

There is a wide variety of plants inside, including huge palms, azaleas, geraniums, camellias, fuchsias and medinillas.

These greenhouses are only open for the public a few weeks out of the year (late April/early May), so be sure to check the dates. Admission is a bargain at 2.50 Euros and free for kids.

Royal Palace of Laeken
The Orangerie

Dome of The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

"Serre du Congo"

That's a big fern!

One of the corridors.
Wisteria tree

A collection of geraniums and fuchsias in this corridor

A planted corridor. The "Serre de Diane"
A collection of azaleas.
Interior of the dome of the Grand Jardin d'hiver or Grote Wintertuin
Fuchsias decorate the ceilings
Me and Medinilla magnifica

Friday, October 10, 2014

Today's Favorite Plant - Crocus sativus

Yesterday, I noticed the first flower of a group of fall blooming Crocus sativus (Saffron Crocus) was open.

The first of many flowers to open.
Crocus sativus is not the easiest Crocus to grow but the reward is harvesting its precious inner cargo makes it worth it!

It likes rich, well-drained soils and very hot summers, which is exactly what we had in 2014 in Portland. Sometimes it blooms well the first year and then sparsely the next. It doesn't force well indoors either. The bulbs are pretty easy to find at the garden center though.

I have several "patches" of Saffron Crocus that have done well. Often the flowers open, just as the rains start, which makes harvesting the stamens harder. I always pluck the stamens at first sight and dry them in a little bowl on my kitchen counter, for use later.

Time to pluck those three stamens!
As a spice, Saffron has been cultivated for more than 3,500 years.
From my little patches of bulbs, I get a small amount of Saffron spice, enough to make my favorite Indian chicken dish. It's also nice to use to infuse into vodka to make cocktails. A Lemon Drop made with home infused Saffron vodka is amazing.

A word of caution - NEVER confuse Saffron Crocus or any other autumn-blooming crocus with the similar looking, but highly poisonous Colchicums. You have to know what you've planted.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Charlotte of the Cross

It's that time of year.

The days are quickly getting shorter and I rush home everyday trying to beat the sun going down.

It's so hard to get up in darkness, go to work all day and then drive home in the dark.

The last few days, after getting home, I have sat on my back stoop in the last light, taking in the fragrance of Osmanthus fragrans (Sweet Osmanthus, 木樨). It's full of little ivory blooms and its scent is floating around my yard. The warm evenings carrying it's perfume on the wind. You never know when you will encounter a cloud of its heavenly perfume, but it stops you in your tracks.

I knew that smell in a past life. I know it's weird but while visiting the Ming Tomb in China - I knew this smell and knew I had been there before. It was a déjà vu moment. 

As I contemplate my former past life as a Chinese official, I sip a bourbon and coke and eat cheddar cheese Pringles (they had those in the Ming dynasty right?). Now and then I slip a Pringle nibble to my assistant, Yvette.

My other thoughts are of "Charlotte". 

This is also that time of year when the European Cross spiders suddenly get gigantic! Charlotte has decided to make a web between my house and the Caesalpinia gilliesii (Bird of Paradise Bush) I just put in this year. Last year's was rude and decided to die on me... The Caesalpinia, not the spider....

Charlotte's web is hard to see
I have been feeding Charlotte in the evenings, not that she needs any help. She gets a snack after my assistant Yvette gets her kibble and I feed the goldfish. But unlike opening a can of K-9 'Brats n Tots', I have to go forage in nooks and crannies for bugs.

For she (Charlotte, not Yvette) loves a good grasshopper or sometimes a beetle, that I find under the wood boards out in the veggie garden. It takes a little effort to scrounge insect appetizers. 

Tonight I couldn't find Charlotte in her web. I thought perhaps she moved on to better digs. But when I went to plant something, I discovered where she went .

I found a little bug and stuck it in her web. She got all the signals and zipped up her web for a look-see. After a little taste test and wrap-job, she decided she wanted her snack "to go" and brought it down from the web to her new hiding place under the trowel.

I hope she sticks around for awhile longer - the first frosts are surely around the corner. I will give her treats as long as I can. Hopefully next year's baby spiders will be hers. 

Something to look forward to next year. 

Is that "Circle of Life" I hear playing softly in the background?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chomp! They Came from the Swamp!

Through October 19th, 2014, the special exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco is Chomp! They Came from the Swamp, an exhibit of carnivorous plants.

There is already an impressive collection of tropical Pitcher Plants in the rest of the greenhouse to see, but this exhibit had a few carnivorous plants I didn't know about. 

This section of the greenhouse had almost constant misting going on, giving the room an ethereal feeling. In the center of the room stood several giant carnivorous plants.

I haven't had  much experience growing these plants, only murdering a Venus Flytrap here and there.

Enjoy the exhibit!

Giant Cephalotus
Giant Cephalotus Baby
Giant White Trumpets

Cephalotus follicularus
Dionaea (Venus Flytrap)
Dionaea (Venus Flytrap)

Sun Pitchers
Pitcher Plant in Flower

Butterwort (Pinguicula)

Sarracenia (White Trumpet)
Giant Dionaea (Venus Flytrap)
Amorphophallus (not sure which one) in a steamy room

Cobra Plants and Hooded Pitcher Plants
Cobra Plant (Darlingtonia)
Rainbow Plants (Byblis)
Rainbow  Plants (Byblis)
Rainbow  Plants (Byblis)
Purple Pitcher Plant