Archive for April 2012

Meadowview Biological Research Center

Two and a half weeks ago, I went to Meadowview Biological Research Center with a gesneriad society friend. It's one of those places that's just far enough outside of the DC metro area to seem like it's a major effort even to think about going to, but it is only an hour and a half drive away. It's a native-pitcher-plant conservation center with some protected bogs in several locations around Virginia. Unfortunately, we visited about a week too early to see the blooms--which are coming in three weeks earlier than usual, per the crazy spring weather.

The propagation beds in a bit of a disarray after the winter.

Some seedlings in the greenhouse.

Some Nepenthes in the greenhouse.

Almost-open Sarracenia next to a beaver-dammed pond.

Sarracenia bud in the propagation pools, which had a pretty cool water-siphon system setup.

I was almost convinced to buy a membership and a Cephalotus, which my friend suggested would probably grow well for me. But darn, Cephalotus are expensive! There are some cheaper ones on eBay, but I'm going to hold off for a bit--perhaps a few years.


USBG: Hatiora salicornioides

I saw this blooming at the US Botanic Garden in late February 2012. I labeled the photo "Rhipsalis," mostly because it was after a series of Rhipsalis photos. I don't think this had a visible tag--probably hidden among all the plant growth--so I don't have a photo of its ID. But, on the basis of its segmented shape that looks like bottles attached end to end and the yellow flowers, I'd call it Hatiora salicornioides.

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At Least They Left The Eucalyptus

Yesterday, I tried to take my hops, rhubarb, chayote, lemon verbena, sweet potato, and some other potted plants to my Newark Street Community Garden plot. I put them in tubs within IKEA bags. The tubs were 14 to 18 gallons--perfect for potting hops and other vigorous growers in while ensuring that I get to keep them years down the road if I end up moving. I was planning on dropping the plants and tubs off, heading to the nursery about a half-mile away from the garden, buying potting soil for the hops and other plants, and carting it back.

But even in small-ish pots, those things were dang heavy--how would I carry several cubic feet of soil by myself? I barely made it a block with the plants before thinking about getting a cab, but because I had to go to the Arboretum yesterday as well, I ended up getting a ZipCar instead--I figured it would probably save me a lot of hassle, and it would not be much more expensive than cabs everywhere.

I got to the nursery and picked up some soil and a small pot of lemongrass, potted up my hops and sweet potato, and stuck the lemongrass in one of the pots the hops had vacated and headed on to the Arboretum to drop off some fliers for DC State Fair's Seedling Swap next weekend. I was in a rush to return the ZipCar, but on the way, I determined I wouldn't make it in time--so I extended the reservation and stopped by Wangari Gardens to water my plot a little after 2 PM.

It had been raining a lot in the past couple days, but of course, the plot was about bone dry when I got there. I spent about 15 minutes giving it a little drink before I had to get back to the car and return it.

Whereupon I discovered this.

You can see the community garden in the background--a lot of the wood-pallet fence has been painted vibrantly green. I was just a few hundred feet away, within sight of the car, but I didn't see who came up, smashed the passenger-side window, rifled through all the nooks and crannies, and eventually filched my backpack, which had some articles I was writing freelance pieces about, a book I had just picked up to review for Washington Gardener, my contacts, and a couple other things.

But, they left the cardamom (an Amomum NOID), the Cuban oregano (trying again with Plectranthus amboinicus--I keep killing the cuttings that Mr. Subjunctive sends, but I figure with garden plots, I might leave it alone enough for it to thrive), and the Eucalyptus. Thank the gods. Although the cufflinks and tie clip that I received as a wedding gift when I was best man for a friend's wedding in 2010 are gone, I am happy not to have lost more. I might have to pay a hefty price to ZipCar for the incident, however--I don't generally purchase the damage waiver when I rent, so the check for that profile of a researcher I just sent an invoice for might just be going straight to ZipCar instead of to the Rent God of Doom, my beau. I'm sure he'll let me slide just this once.

On the plus side, a fellow named Andros knocked on my door around 6:30 PM or so and dropped off what he said he found in an alley where he hangs out. I got my magazines, freelance articles, Washington Gardener book to review, and my optical mouse back. As well as my passport, birth certificate, and social security card, which I turned the house and all of my bags upside down to find back in January. I am, in some respects, happy that it ended up in that backpack, because otherwise, Andros wouldn't have known where to come (well, he might have--there was also a letter from a friend with my address on it, but still). I'm still missing some electronics, my contacts, those cufflinks, and the bag itself--but at least I have some of the less-replaceable things back.


Spring Growings On

I started a bunch of seed from the Washington Gardener seed exchange back in February. I apparently picked up handfuls of flower seed during that free-for-all seed-exchange haze. I've also acquired seed from other sources, and some of these aren't seeds, but they're vigorous growers, and I always love that!

My borage seedlings are doing fine at about two weeks. I picked these up during a garden-shopping spree when I got my community garden plots.

Lemon balm is another mad-gardening-haze shopping spree purchase. They took a while to germinate, but I'm sure they'll spread in no time! These will be staying in a pot.

These columbine seedlings were from a mixed packet I got at the seed exchange. I used to have one small pot with a bunch of seedlings--now I have three small pots with a bunch of seedlings.

The larkspur I got at the seed exchange looks almost like carrot seedlings. I need to separate these (at least in chunks, like I did with the columbine).

I love rhubarb, and I love how well this is growing, even under a bush and a tree. But you can tell that it lacks light--it's coming with me to the garden today.

The Teamaker hops are slowly taking off--but, then, the rhizome was much smaller and didn't already have little vines growing out of it when I potted it. It'll get stuck in a 18 liter (almost 3 cubic feet) container today, if I don't kill myself hauling potting soil to the garden in IKEA bags.

Nugget is surely going to be a winner in my book. It's a standard hop variety, high yielding, and exceedingly vigorous. Heck yeah!

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Heat Island Effect Boosts Tree Growth

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

It isn’t necessarily a logical assumption that more heat would help plants grow—it certainly depends on the plant. Researchers in New York City looked at red oaks and how their growth was impacted by temperature in the city, finding that because of the general increase in temperature within a city, the trees grew a ton more than those planted outside the city. The biggest correlation between temperature and tree growth was the increase in nighttime temperatures—the temperature doesn’t drop as much in the city as it does elsewhere, which allows trees to be more biochemically active at night to prepare for daytime photosynthesis and growth.

It’s an interesting point, but something we gardeners have always kind of known—straight-up tropical plants are often grown here in Washington DC, whereas just miles outside of town the attempt would be futile. The cherry blossom trees planted near light- and heat-reflective walls of buildings bloom the earliest each spring. Kale, however, freaks out and bolts earlier than it would were it not in a “heat island.” So, pros and cons—and the effect climate change will have on urban forestry will necessitate a change in the trees used to canopy a city.

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Schlumbergera's At It Again

Just when I think my Schlumbergera NOID has stopped doing things for the year, it starts flowering again. This bonus event is even more bonusy--I'm also getting some new leaves!

At some point when it's a bit warmer and I've made some room, the Schlumbergera will join my outdoor plants and enjoy the attention I'm giving them. I can water them with a hose and not worry about getting the light fixtures or the floor wet.

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Mostly gesneriads. Also, these photos are weeks old. I had this as a draft post from the beginning of April and just found it again!

For example, this Saintpaulia 'Optimara Little Ottawa' has fully bloomed and is on its way out already.

The Nematanthus NOID had maybe four or five flowers, but now it's out of bloom.

This photo of my Phalaenopsis 'Venus' is so old--the flower spike is over 8 inches now.

The Restrepia brachypus 'Hartford' bloomed like crazy for a while, but now it's just focusing on vegetative growth.

This Episcia 'Strawberry Patch' is kind of cute when it blooms--it reminds me of a lot of Sinningia that bloom kind of in a whirl around the top of the plant. But, recently, that Episcia and others like it were hacked to pieces and repotted in preparation for a garden social/sale this June.

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Trellis Arch Tunnel

On Friday, I constructed a trellis arch tunnel at my Newark Street Community Garden plot. It's been years since I designed and built any large structure for gardening purposes.

This one, however, seems a bit more functional--and in a few months, perhaps it'll be decorative, as well. It's 6 feet tall, 6 feet long, and about 2 feet wide. I have fencing tied to the frame using twine and lots and lots of knots. Because of the community garden rules, I can't reasonably grow my hops up the fence that borders my plot, nor my chayote, grapes, or even beans. The deer will eat them, the plants may block other gardeners' light--and besides, who gets to choose which gardener is allowed to grow vines up a shared fence? So, really, this trellis tunnel is a concession to fairness--I get to grow a ton of awesome vining plants; enjoy a cool, shaded spot in the middle of the summer; and my fellow gardeners will not have my vigorous growers sending creeping tendrils into their plots.

If you're interested in constructing your own, here's the supply list and instructions. I kind of developed the idea on Tuesday, went to Home Depot on Wednesday to see what they had available, modified the design after seeing the supplies, and built the thing in about 2 hours (most of that was tying the fencing to the poles--zip ties would have been much faster and easier!).

For a 6-foot-long, 6-foot-tall trellis arch tunnel, I used:
  • 8 1'-long pieces of PVC (or whatever you'd like to use, really)
  • 9 2'-long pieces of PVC
  • 16 3'-long pieces of PVC
  • 3 T connectors
  • 9 X connectors
  • (I used 3 Ts and 9 Xs because I want the opportunity to extend the trellis later--but if 6 feet is long enough for you, get 6 Ts and 6 Xs.)
  • 8 elbow connectors
  • 3-foot by 50-foot fencing with 2-inch by 4-inch mesh to prevent damage to visiting wildlife that can get tangled in smaller mesh
  • Twine (not pictured)
The supplies cost about $90 at Home Depot, plus two cab rides (one home, one to the garden) for a whopping total of $110. But I would have had to spend about $450 plus taxes and delivery to get the same length and height of a trellis arch tunnel using preconstructed options. Yeah, mine doesn't look fancy--but I like it, and it was completely out of my own head, so there's that.

If your PVC is cut at an angle, it's not a big deal.

Because you'll just be sticking it inside the connectors.

Step 1 is attaching two 1-foot-long pieces to a T connector and adding elbow connectors on the ends. This will be the top part of your trellis arch tunnel, at the entrance/exit portion. Do a second one if you're going to "close" your arch on the other end.

Then you have to do the same using X connectors and the elbow connectors, for as many arches that you're going to use. These will be the top parts of the arch on the inside of the tunnel.

Next, stick a 2-foot piece in the first T connector, then stick that into an X connector. Keep the elbow connectors pointing down (twist them if you need to). Repeat this until you have something that looks like a flattened rib cage. This will be the top of your arch, which I prepared first for some reason.

Next, stick a 3-foot section of PVC into the ground a couple of inches. You can anchor it with a stake or something if you like, but I didn't. I am planning to come back and attach it to the wood surrounding the plot beds. Then stick on a T connector and another 3-foot section above that.

To get the sides of the trellis arch tunnel, add a 2-foot piece of PVC to the T connector that you just erected, then using more 3-foot PVC pieces and X connectors, build a row. Repeat on the other side of the path or wherever you're building your arch, leaving about 2 feet between the sides.

Attach the flattened-rib-cage trellis-arch top. Take a little breather to enjoy the beauty of what you stuck together in just a few minutes.

Roll out your fencing and drape it over the trellis frame. Line up the edge of the fencing with the soil line on one side of the trellis and attach the fence loosely to the trellis. Snip off the fencing roll at the appropriate point on the other side of the trellis, and go to town with the twine to tie up that fencing and make sure it will stay put. Repeat as needed until your trellis is covered in fencing for vining plants to climb.

Last step? Plant some vining plants! My hops are doing pretty well--once I have tubs large enough to grow them in for a full season, they're going straight to the garden and set right next to this trellis!

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Amorphophallus bulbifer Shoots

The seedlings of Amorphophallus bulbifer that I got from Al's last September went dormant pretty soon after I received them; in fact, they were on the way out when I got them. I dried out the small bulbs and had them sitting in a tray on the bottom of my plant shelf for a few months before I stumbled across them and thought, "Oh. Yeah. I should probably pot those."

And now they're popping up! Because I know these will be small this year and that I will be separating them again in the fall, I didn't mind sticking the two together. I love watching these guys grow up--I love their frilly leaves and petiole variegation.

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USBG: Aliceara Memoria Jay Yamada 'Kauai'

In late February, I wandered down to the US Botanic Garden during the annual orchid exhibit. It seems to be about the only time I get over there! I fully intend to check it out sometime this summer--but until then, every once in a while I'll post a photo from that trip. The above orchid is "Aliceara" Memoria Jay Yamada 'Kauai.' It's an intergeneric orchid of questionable identity--I can't understand orchid-speak, so I won't confuse everyone with it! (Aliceara is, I believe, a made-up genus for crosses between a couple different orchid genuses. I need a flow chart to understand how it all works, and people don't seem to have made one for all of orchiddom!)

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I'm starting to be a bit more strict in what I bring into my garden--I'm trying to focus on what I take care of well rather than barely keep a broad range of plants alive.

So, I shoved almost all of my plants outside last weekend and kept most of the gesneriads and a few other plants inside (along with my seedlings for the garden). We'll see what will come back in after the summer.

Here is the disheveled plant shelf after some pretty major rearrangements. A lot of plants had crawled their way in between others or grew up into different shelves--it took a bit of weaving and coaxing to separate everything. Now, I have plants momentarily clustered on certain shelves. On the bottom, I have seedlings germinating and growing in seedling trays on top of heat mats. Many of them will be shared at the DC State Fair Seedling Swap. I plan on using that shelf later to propagate a lot of plants for the local Gesneriad Society chapter's sales table at the September regional show. For now, most of my gesneriads are in the plastic humidity tray or the 20-gallon glass case.

I put the glass case on its side on a shelf, so the lid acts like a removable wall that I can remove to take care of plants. I hooked my mounted mini orchids onto the grating of the lid, which is sealed off using plastic wrap, and I can just water them in the shower or using a hand mister when I need to--the added humidity of being in the glass case will probably only make them happier than they have been these past six months.

Everything outside may or may not survive--I think most of them will be fine, even if it gets down near freezing. I mean, I live in a heat island, and the plants are near enough to the house to have added temperature protection. They're also shaded by bushes, so they don't get very intense sunlight, which has helped them adapt to the transition.

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A Succulent Arrangement

On a whim one day a week or so ago, I decided to put together a potted arrangement of succulents I had sitting around all by their lonesome, using a lot of the ones bought in New York as well as ones shared with my by a fellow plant blogger when I returned to the US and the USDA burned my plants.

I should have left more room for expansion!


Dioscorea elephantipes Seedlings

These two seedlings are a little crazy--their tiny bulblets will eventually form into huge caudices that look like chunky pine bark. At the moment, I'm enjoying them as little babies, but they will probably move outside soon. They have a dormant period during hot, dry summers, but perhaps in a shaded location with a bit of water, they'll keep growing and getting bigger.


A Hoppy Garden

I love vines. I think a garden without a bunch of vines should get some vines.

There will be no lack of vining plants in my garden this year--beans, peas, cucumber, pumpkin, squash, grapes, chayote... And now hops!

This is Humulus lupulus 'Nugget' popping out of the soil. It's a standard hop variety, with high bitter acid content good for beer brewing and other purposes. I also got 'Teamaker,' with low bitter acids. What will I do with these plants?

Beats me. I was on a plant-addiction-induced binge and finally ordered hop rhizomes on a whim. It will be another year before I will get a sizable harvest, so I am telling myself that I have time to decide what to do with these babies!

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A Gardening Windfall

Last year, when I moved to Saudi Arabia, I had to turn down a community garden plot that had been offered to me. It hurt to do that--I had been on the list for some time at that garden--but I thought I would have ample space on the shores of the Red Sea to grow my crops.

When I came back to DC late last year, I despaired for having a garden--I thought, "Oh no, I'm going to have to start all over on the waiting lists...!"

But, suddenly, in early March, I received an e-mail from a friend mentioning that a new community garden, just blocks from me, was accepting applications for plots. I jumped on it.

Wangari Gardens popped up seemingly overnight--I heard murmurs about it in February, and suddenly, just weeks later, it was built and plots were assigned.

It wasn't magical elves who built it--it took a lot of people working really hard to get everything together. I turned over the grass for a few plots and helped construct 22 raised beds one weekend in March. The organizers of the garden, of course, have also put massive amounts of energy into coordinating the garden and have already organized several day-long community events at the space. (This photo is from late March--the fence is now completed and painted. I'll have to get an updated shot.)

The 4-foot by 8-foot raised beds are pretty easy to put together, if you have the right equipment and an awesome construction dude/arborist volunteer directing the effort.

I happily constructed a little metal trellis for my peas, which I planted a week ago while the beau watched and helped water. Watering will be irksome here until a faucet system is installed--the beds dry out incredibly fast, but the only water available right now is via a large cistern and plastic watering cans. So, I do about six trips just to keep the soil moist when I visit, although I know when I have plants growing in the summer heat, it will probably take at least 10 jug-filling trips to water the plot--daily.

This isn't the end of the news, however.

That garden I had to turn down a plot in? Well, I e-mailed them the moment I returned from Saudi Arabia to get back on the wait-list. And a week and a half ago, I was notified that I had been assigned a plot.

I wasn't about to turn it down.

My plot at Newark Street Community Garden is 16 feet long and 14 feet wide, although a chunk of that is taken out through pre-existing pathways to access the planting area. The plot had hay mulch on top of it over the winter, and some of the hay had started growing this spring. Underneath the hay was beautiful dark, moisture-retentive soil. I set the beau to weeding while I garden-weaseled the top six inches or so of the soil, working in some of the hay for a little extra structure and to decompose throughout the season.

The one plant that wasn't hay or a weed is a little rosemary bush, which will serve as the focal point of my herb area. I want to put a trellis next to it, arching over the path to the back of the plot, and grow cucurbits over it. At least, this year. Perhaps I'll start training grapes or other vining fruit up it next year.

After the beau's excellent work weeding and removing the hay I couldn't reasonably incorporate into the soil, I was still garden weaseling the soil. A week later, and there were almost no weeds in the plot. I sowed peas, chard, and some bunching onion along the fence and brought most of my potted fruit plants over to the garden--partially to avoid overwatering them here at the house, but also to give them the light they need to thrive.

Here's a video of me dirt squirreling (I like that phrase much better than garden weaseling) that the beau took while he took a break from weeding.

I had a bit of a moral dilemma about having two plots--I was not going to say no to Newark Street Community Garden, but I didn't really want to give up the closer-to-home plot at Wangari, either. I consulted a few people, and I think I reached a good compromise--I offered to share my plot at Wangari Gardens with a woman who had heard about the garden but hadn't gotten her application in on time. Although she didn't have a plot, she came out in the rain and worked furiously turning over soil to prepared the raised beds when I was out volunteering, too. She's a new gardener, and I think working together will be good for both of us--and for the plot, which will probably need more frequent watering than I would be able to manage alone because of the water situation at the garden. I don't know whether she'll accept the offer (I'm going through the garden organizers, because I don't have the woman's e-mail), but if not, I'll work with them to find someone who's interested in learning about gardening and sharing the space with me!


New York Plant Grab

While I was in New York City the other week, I went to my current favourite plant shop in the city. I don't actually know what it's called (Google maps and residents' recommendations call it Gea's Garden Jewels, the business cards at the location call it Cristals [sic] Garden), but it sells gemstones and plants in a cramped location in the East Village of Manhattan. It's a cute little place with a bunch of Tillandsia, bonsai, and some pretty standard tropical houseplants. My interest, however, is the assortment of small succulents it sells.

So, while there, I ended up picking up quite a number of small cacti and succulents, including a Sempervivum that the beau liked, a Haworthia, a Gasteria, some Opuntia-looking plants, and one that looks like pine cones glued together.

The cactus has since opened its flowers! And several of these ended up in a succulent planter with some plants that I previously had.

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