Archive for June 2011

Pretty Plants: Aquilegia

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

An Aquilegia blossom from San Francisco Botanical Garden in early June. I love these babies!

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Japanese Tea Garden

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, just near the San Francisco Botanical Garden, is a tiny but jam-packed with garden areas, walkways, and fun buildings. I enjoyed the waterfall, as well as the zen garden. I didn't know until I read the plaque (which I only read because someone was having wedding photos done and we stopped to watch for a minute) that zen gardens are actually meant to resemble landscapes. Rocks of various sizes signify islands, mountains, or other terrain, and the sand and small pebbles represent waves in the water. So the patterns raked into the garden is supposed to represent the flow of the ocean and such.

Now, I'm in Doha, Qatar, for the World Conference of Science Journalists. That will be excitement! My plants back in the new housing are doing fine. Not many kicked the bucket, but some of them may just have a lingering death. We will see.

I received my personal effects shipment last week, so my life has been in an upheaval getting all of that sorted through. It's amazing what I decided I thought I would need here in the Kingdom. It's also amazing what the packers thought I wanted to bring--I ended up with a heavily protected empty glass jar of instant coffee, somehow. It almost beats the steel wool (which I'm certain I never purchased--I buy the blue Brillo pads) that I found in my underwear upon my arrival in the country.

I have a few Recipe, Plant Profiles, New Acquisitions, and Garden Report posts planned (including a few Plant Deaths, I'm afraid). Keep an eye out for them in the coming days!


On The Move

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

I was in California for the first two weeks of June (I know, I've only been in Saudi Arabia for a few weeks, but that trip was pre-planned and part of the hiring agreement). I was able to obtain some perlite, vermiculite, long-fiber sphagnum, and some milled peat for my plants. They'll like the mixes I make much better than the dense, water-retaining potting soil, which is all that's available here. I also, somehow, ended up with a few cuttings from various campsites in California. Most of them are currently in a broken tupperware dish with moist vermiculite--some will die, but I hope most will root!

I'll share my new plants later. This post is more about transition. It has been rough for me and my plants to have lived in the temporary sharing unit on campus. I mean, it is a nice house, but I had roommates and wasn't really able to put the plants in a prime location. Then, they had to withstand my absense--and they actually look as if they're doing much better without me, thanks to one of those nice roommates who was willing to water them once while I was away.

Except for the basil, it seems, which is the only plant showing spider mite damage. The Sinningia leucotricha is quite visibly larger; the Plectranthus amboinicus I got in trade from Mr. Subjunctive almost a year ago is doing swell, considering that they were small, unrooted cuttings just a few weeks ago; and the nubbin of my Philodendron bipinnatifidum is actually growing a leaf! The pepper seedlings are coming along, the Hippeastrum seedling bulbs are growing new leaves (after mealy bugs a few weeks after the seeds germinated, I went from about 35 seedlings to 20, and through the move, I went down to four, two of which are showing signs of life already. I call that success! Now to wait a few years and see what colour flowers I'll get.), the Amorphophallus rivieri corm (I remember debating the name of A. konjac and A. rivieri when I got my first corm via eBay, and I decided on A. konjac at the time. I think they're synonymous, but I'm keeping this one as A. rivieri so I can distinguish its origins from the two other corms I have.) I got at the last Gesneriad Society chapter meeting I attended is sending up a leaf, and everything on the other side of the nightstand (Chirita 'Dreamtime,' various Cryptanthus, Streptocarpus 'Crystal Ice,' and most of my miniature gesneriads and other terrarium plants) is looking pretty good, too (except for the Montanthes subcrassicaulis, I'm sad to report).

Other plants are doing pretty well, too! The two Pandanus (my old one and the new variegated, tooth-leafed one); my succulents and Hoya; the Episcia 'Coco,' my first gesneriad; and the special grey-variegated Yucca guatemalensis, another treasured trade plant from Mr. Subjunctive.

These photos were taken and tweeted early in the morning on 14 June, the day I arrived back to Saudi Arabia. I went to the office and left early because I was exhausted and had an apartment to move into. Temporary housing, still, but at least it's my own, not shared housing! I packed everything up, and after some complicated conversations with facilities about getting a car to move my three boxes and couple of bags, I hired a cab to move in. The box with plants ended up getting wet, so the bottom started falling out. I didn't have packing tape to seal the bottoms of the boxes, so two glass kitchen jars (some of which I'll use to make real terraria) fell out of one of the boxes. Fortunately, my coworker/new neighbour was wandering by and helped me clean up. I was starting to get frazzled, but I didn't want the same thing to happen to my plants, so I decided to take another box up to the apartment, empty it, and fold it into a tray to carry the plants on. I folded the old plant box to reinforce the bottom of the kitchen box, too.

This plant tray worked just fine until I got to my apartment, opened the door with my butt, and three days without sleep preceded by an entire week of poor sleep and physical activity caught up with me. My arms literally collapsed under the continued effort of holding up

the not-inconsiderable weight of the majority of my surviving plant collection for several minutes. My plants were strewn about the hallway like a prostitute's clothing at 3 AM, little balls of hydroton rolling away from the wreckage as if trying to escape the fate suffered by my babies.

I stood there for a few seconds. I debated having a breakdown. I wanted to just throw myself on the ground in the dirt and plant parts and throw a tantrum. But, still kind of in shock and trying to deny what had happened after all the effort I went to to keep these plants alive and get them into this country with me, I went about cleaning up the mess, trying to save plants that could be saved. I didn't have time to repot them that night, so I made sure that ones that needed to be moist would be fine for a day or two, and the others were kind of left in piles or stuck unceremoniously on top of pots inside my apartment, just so I could get the hallway cleaned up and finish moving my possessions in. It took about an hour to clean, and dirt that I can't get off is still smudged up against the wall. Learning the lesson, I took two breaks while bringing up the box with the glass jars.

Another coworker tried to put a good spin on the event when I shared my tragedy: "It was an earthquake test! You're teaching your plants an important lesson--nature is chaos." That is so very true. But in the future, I am going to try to avoid introducing excess turbulence into an already troubled system!


Starting Seeds Already

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

A gardener who has found potting soil and pots available does not stop himself from purchasing the seed from the rack at the supermarket, despite the fact that the gardener has neither an idea how to garden in his new climate nor does the gardener have a permanent housing arrangement. Because a gardener has no self control.

The same couple who graciously shared their delicious organic cherry tomatoes (they didn't grow them [yet] but purchased them in a specialty shop in Jeddah) also shared a basil plant that had been grown as part of an Earth Day fundraiser. They had a few dozen left, so I didn't feel bad taking a small pot. It needs a heck of a lot more light, but it'll do here for the moment.

I'm assuming the seeds came from these packets, which are available at the superstore on campus, but I didn't ask about the seed supply. It looks like normal Italian basil, anyway, so I'm sure it's a good general-purpose herb.

These seeds (and more) were also available at the supermarket. I figured a Solanaceae plant would have the best chance of surviving and thriving in this oppressive heat, so I bought these green bell peppers and stuck them in some dirt in a small pot.

About a week later, these popped up! They're doing well (this photo is a few days old by now), and I might thin them in a few weeks. They'll start going outside in the morning as I get ready for work, then in the evening after I get home, then overnight, then all day! It might be a shock to go from dry, constantly air-conditioned bedroom with low light to humid, hot, intense sunlight on a balcony!


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