New Year Resolutions / Gardening Movies

Like most Americans, I’m hoping to have a healthier 2006. Here are a few of my resolutions:

1. In 2006, light pruning and aimlessly wandering around my garden will not count as exercise.

2. I will use herbs from my garden in some healthy home-cooked meals.

3. I will take the time to stop and smell the roses.

4. I will take time to check for bugs before I sniff the roses.

5. I will volunteer more often with the Master Gardeners. In February, the Butterfly Garden volunteers will be active again, and I'd like to get involved in the Project Host Soup Kitchen Garden.

Our New Year's Eve plans are to sit in front of the fireplace and watch movies. If you're looking for movies to watch, you might want to check out my Top Ten Gardening Movies post from July. I have details on each movie there, but here's a recap:

1. Little Shop of Horrors, the original cult classic (1960)
2. Greenfingers
3. Saving Grace (2000)
4. Adaptation
5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
6. Little Shop of Horrors, the musical (1986)
7. Bed of Roses (1996)
8. White Oleander
9. Garden State
10. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)

Honorable Mention:Steal Magnolias, Magnolia


Growing Southern

As soon as I opened my mouth, my cousins from Michigan exclaimed, “You’re getting so Southern.” My brother, who stayed in the Midwest, has also teased me about my accent over the phone.

I’ve only lived in South Carolina for 3 years, but I tend to pick up accents like a sponge. For example, due to the subtle sabotage of my college roommate from Jersey, I order “soda” 90 % of the time and only occasionally ask for “pop”.

I’m also adjusting to Southern life in my garden. When I first moved here, the red clay was fascinating, and the crepe myrtle and lantana were exotic. Now I see the clay as merely aggravating, and these Southern plants seem commonplace.

I reckon I’m growin’ more Southern everyday, ya’ll!


Mystery Plant Identified

I finally identified the large mystery shrub in my front yard! Actually it started out as a mystery shrub, but now it's become a mystery tree in the past two years while I wondered what it was and when to prune it.

It's a Vitex!

Prune in Febuary (in zone 7)!

Last spring I pruned out only the branches that would surely poke someone's eye out if he or she were walking on the outside of our front path.

I'm a relutant pruner. I know it's good for them, but it feels so horrible to slash perfectly healthy stems. sigh.

Fast Facts about Vitex: The showy violet flowers resemble the butterfly bush(Buddleia). But Vitex grow really big and attract bumble bees instead of butterflies. It's also known as the chaste tree which makes no sense to me, considering all the pollination I saw going on last summer. The bees really like this tree.

Another common name is the Hemp Tree, due to the shape of the leaves. If you're already stoned, it might look like hemp, but I don't really see much resemblance. Note to neighborhood potheads- do not smoke my tree! It will not get you high!


Seasons Greetings from Atlanta Botanical Gardens

I went with my mom-in-law today to see the locomotion exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. It was absolutely amazing! If you are in the area before December 31st, I highly recommend a visit. The trains and miniature replicas of the city skyline first grabbed my attention, and then I started noticing the details of the miniature landscaping. The tiny shrubs and trees were so adorable!

Below is the replica of the famous Fox theater:

Photo by Kristen Alexander from Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

I took some pictures of the orchid house on my cell phone, so I'll try to hack in there and post those photos later. It's one of the most elaborate orchid exhibits I've ever seen. I also enjoyed several terrariums with all sorts of ferns and tropical plants, and even little frogs. Poisonous frogs!

Now I want to go and replicate this all in my home. Santa, can you bring me a greenhouse?


Blue Poinsettia

Does this just seem wrong to anyone? What would posses anyone to paint their poinsettias, especially blue with glitter?

I'm not against some sparkle on Christmas, but this is taking it too far. It just gives me the the creeps.

Well I might be over-reacting since I've been a little adverse to poinsettias ever since I worked the pre-Christmas season at a greenhouse in 2001. I spent nearly everyday staking and moving poinsettias.

The old natural red ones are just starting to look attractive to me again.

To each his own. Enjoy your holiday season, with blue pointsettias, blue dredels, blue gods (Krishnu), or protest the whole "Happy Holidays" idea and sit at home feeling blue.


Pansy Pride- Clemson mix

I like to call these pansies "Clemson Mix" since they sport Clemson University colors, but they are actually a "Halloween Mix" that I found at Home Depot. I enjoy showing my school spirit in flowers. I planted these cuties right before the big game, and they helped spur on Clemson to a victory over USC.


Purple Pansies

"Purple Pansies" is a chant that our high school basketball team had to endure from hostile crowds supporting the other team. I guess it's hard to look tough when you're wearing a purple uniform.

But these purple pansies are actually very tough! One of the best things about gardening in zone 7 is that you can plant pansies in the fall, and they bloom all winter long. One winter we even had an ice storm and my pansies were covered with a layer of ice, and they came back blooming within a week.

Purple pansies are not wussy!


What season is it, anyway?

I often feel a sense of seasonal disorientation when browsing through craft stores. Looking for fall decorations? Isle 1. Santa Clause? Isle 2. I expect to see the Easter Bunny around the next corner.

Now I'm feeling the same seasonal disorientation in my own backyard. The air is crisp like autumn, yet I know it's almost "Winter Break". As shown in this photograph, some trees are changing colors, others have lost their leaves, and these evergreens are begging for Christmas lights. Welcome to the seasonal vertigo of zone 7.

Back in my hometown, in Ohio, the leaves are snug in their compost piles and the bare tree branches are flecked with snow and ice. Isn't that what December is supposed to look like?


Join the club moss club

The blue fern in the last post is actually a club moss. Club mosses are also called the fern allies, because if a squirrel starts pelting a fern with acorns, the club moss will stand tall and not leave the fern's side.

Actually they are called Fern allies because they are more like ferns than mosses, since they have tiny roots and a vascular system, which is made up of tiny tubes that carry water and food.

Here's my collection of club mosses in the Selaginella family. They like humidity so I keep them in a terrarium.

Craving more club moss? Check out a naturalist's blog who took a beautiful picture of club moss (courtesy of Leaning Birch) .


Botanical Therapy and the Blue Fern

It's the time of year you might be suffering from gardening withdrawal. The solution? Treat yourself to a tropical plant. While an orchid or palm might not seem so exotic sitting in the warm glow of Home Depot, most indoor plants are native to the tropical rainforest. Take one home and indulge in botanical therapy:

1. Select your tropical plant, like the blue fern (Selaginella Uncinata) pictured here.
2. Stare at your houseplant for a moment and imagine yourself in its native habitat.
3. Take a breath of that refreshing dirt scent.
4. Cough as needed.

Do you feel relaxed and renewed?

You can also see pictures of a blogger visiting the rainforest at http://bengarland.com/


Thanksgiving is about Gardening

As you sit down to your traditional Thanksgiving meal this holiday, remember to thank the Native Americans for sharing their gardening techniques. When the Pilgrims were starving and their crops continued to fail, the Wampanoag tribe taught the settlers some important gardening tips.

According to legend, Squanto taught the pilgrims to bury fish with the corn to serve as fertilizer. Today, you can still buy fish fertilizer to give your plants a boost.

The Pilgrams learned about other plants besides corn, too. Beans and squash were other important crops grown by the tribe. Native Americans also taught the Pilgrims about the power of other native plants, like poisonous and medical plants. If it wasn't for the Native Americans, the Pilgrams might have tossed some poison ivy in the first Thanksgiving salad. Ouch.

And the Native Americans also helped the first settlers get their sugar fix. Before candy corn was invented, maple syrup canday was the ultimate fall treat. Native Americans invented the process to get sap from maple trees.

Thank goodness for all those amazing plants native to the Americas! Today is a good day to thank your plants by treating them to a feast of MiracleGrow. So go be like Squanto and fertilize your garden.


Carnivorous Plant Clean-up

Now that the outdoor gardening season is wrapping up, it's time for focusing on my indoor plants. I'm ashamed to admit that my indoor carnivorous plants were living in the slums over the summer. But they are native to bogs and swamps, so a little bit of dirt and slime can't bother them, right?

You can all about carnivorous plants in the Carnivorous Plants FAQ.
The on-line store Saccenia Northwest also has good tips for growing outdoor carnivorous plants.
And check out The Bog Blog for the adventures of a "Carnivorous Plantling".


Forcing bulbs

Well you know it's love when your hubby cleans out the fridge completely and doesn't even mention the six pots of dirt and bulbs in the bottom drawer.

Now's the time to start thinking ahead for an indoor display of flowers in February. I've potted up some pink Hyancinths and little daffodils (Narcissi), since I've seen them work well before.

There are step-by-step instructions at the Clemson University Extension Service

More South Carolina butterflies

See the butterfly? See the flower? See the butterfly eat at the flower? Eat butterfly eat.

I'd planned to identify these guys by species, but since next week we're starting the taxonomy unit, this no longer seems fun at the moment. After Thanksgiving break, I will begin discussing such exhilarating topics as the classification of earthworms (Phylum annelid, in case you were curious). Well I have a great picture of two earthworms mating, so that should spice things up. Worm Porn! While discussing earthworms, I also get to use the word hermaphrodite, which always seems to fascinate students.

Another fabulous and kinky botanical fact-- "gymnosperm" (the group that includes pine trees) means "naked seed" since they don't have fruits to protect their seeds . The word "Gymnasium" also comes from the same root word- "A place to be naked". Remember how the Greeks used to do the Olympics in the nude?

These are the fun things you end up thinking about after you've earned a double masters in English and Botany.


RIP impatiens

It finally went below freezing last night, so these guys aren't looking so perky anymore.


Female Eastern Tiger Swallow Tail

I finally got the female Eastern Tiger Swallow Tail on camera (bottom.) A male was also resting on a tree branch nearby this morning (top).


First Fruit

I enjoyed the first fruit of my labors today, a huge yummy tomato. There's a couple others coming along, including the one pictured to the left.


South Carolina Butterflies

These two butterflies were hanging out today on our butterfly bushes. These two butterfly species are common visitors to our home. I've also spotted a female tiger swallow tail; she's the same shape as the male but black with blue iridescent scales on the lower wings, but she was a little camera shy.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) - The caterpillars dine only on the passionvine. The adult butterflies migrate north to the Central U.S. Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) prefer these purple flowers to yellow flowers. Skippers are a group of insects usually included with the butterflies, but they have stocky bodies similar to moths.


Gardening in the Dark

We had a high of 100 today, so I put off watering till my tomatoes were wilting. It was 8:00 PM, and still 89 degrees outside. I also did some pruning of the butterfly bushes in at dusk, and that made it a little difficult to distinguish what flowers were dead. I do not recommend pruning in the dark.

I also do not recommend trying to put a nozzle on the hose while the hose is running. I also learned this from experience. The other day I’d forgotten that I’d taken the nozzle off till I had already crept through the bushes to turn on the faucet, so I just tried jamming it on there while the water was running. It’s a fabulous way to spray water all over yourself and cool off a bit.

The insects sure seem to know how to beat the heat. The Japanese beetles are still systematically destroying my rose bushes. Enjoy your last meal, bastards, tomorrow you’re getting a lethal injection of pesticide!

I also saw a yellow swallow-tailed butterfly yesterday in our front yard. Or should I say yellow swallowed-tail? The little guy was missing a section of one wing, although he seemed to be getting around OK. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? It’s 100 degrees outside, and he is flying around subsisting on flower nectar. Then he gets part of his wing chewed off and just keeps going. And we complain about a little heat wave.

The photograph to the right was taken later of one of his butterfly buddies, also missing a small point of his lower wing.


Free (the) plants

I’ve been trying to give away some extra plants, including some lovely stained-glass ferns and paper daisies. (Call now to reserve yours!) Some of the plants have found good homes, but others were not so fortunate. And yet I can’t bring myself to compost the rest.

I’m also looking for a good home for several dozen irises. When I arrived to volunteer at the Roper Mountain butterfly garden yesterday, I discovered a wheelbarrow full of irises in the shed. I guess I’m not the only one to hoard plants in the hopes that they’ll find a home.

Gardeners seem to have an innate revulsion to wasting plants or plant matter. After thinning the iris beds for a second day, we had further bags and buckets full of iris rhizomes that we felt compelled to find homes for. Churches? Habitat houses? Schools? There has to be someone needy for irises. And the excess iris leaves were used for mulch in the garden.

Quote of the day:
Overheard from one of the kids touring the garden-- "Hey, that's a Japanese beetle! They eat everything!"

If you build it, they will come
We saw a few butterflies who seem to be enjoying their garden home. One visitor was our state butterfly, the Tiger Swallow Tail. To the left is a Tiger Swallow Tail I photographed in my own yard.


Murphy's Laws in the Garden

1. Immediately after you water your garden, it will storm.
2. If it looks like it’s going to storm, and you skip watering that day, the storm will blow over.
3. Every time you go out to water the flowers on your front porch, you will forget about the nearby hornets' nest.
4. If you plant a mystery plant in the full sun, you will discover its identity later as a shade plant.
5. If anyone “helps” you out by weeding, he or she will destroy your favorite plant.
6. If you buy 3 bags of mulch to cover an area, you’ll end up needing 4.
7. If you give up on a plant and leave it to die, it will make a comeback.
8. There are a few plants that require almost no care, and in fact you couldn’t kill them even if you wanted to. These plants include crab grass, honeysuckle, kudzu, and poison ivy.
9. If a Japanese beetle has the choice to dine at the leaves of your rose bush or the ugly bushes in your neighbor’s yard, they will always pick your rose bush.
10. The garden hose is always too short to reach where you want and too long to coil efficiently.


Top 10 Gardening Movies

I'm a fan of Bill Murray after enjoying movies like Groundhog Day , Lost in Translation, and Little Shop of Horrors. And by now you should know how I feel about plants, flowers, and all things botanical. So when I noticed that Bill Murray is staring in a movie coming out soon called Broken Flowers, I'm as ravenous as an aphid on a rose bush to go see it.

While we wait for the August 5th release, here are some other movies are worthy of gardening-related themes and names:

1. Little Shop of Horrors, the original cult classic (1960)
2. Greenfingers
3. Saving Grace
4. Adaptation
5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
6. Little Shop of Horrors, the musical (1986)
7. Bed of Roses
8. White Oleander
9. Garden State
10. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Honorable Mention:
Steal Magnolias, Magnolia

The Little Shop of Horrors
Most of you are probably familiar with this botanical classic, but you might not know that long before the Broadway musical and spin-off movie musical, there was an original cult classic B-movie version. The original version offers a cameo by a young Jack Nicholson, a surprise ending, and all the frills of a typical low-budget movie. And the original is not a musical, which is a plus in my book.

The musical version of The Little Shop of Horrors is entertaining, however. Steve Martin gives a great performance as a sadistic dentist. And where else can you see a singing plant?

Greenfingers…Saving Grace
These two movies made the top of my list because they are true gardening movies—they are focused around characters that have an obsession for plants. Greenfingers and Saving Grace are both British comedies, so these movies may be difficult to locate but very much worth the effort. Greenfingers is based on a true story of a British prison that gave inmates a chance to become gardeners, while Saving Grace is about a woman who finds herself penniless after her husband’s death and resorts to utilizing her gardening skills and resources on a special plant much different from her prize-winning orchids.

A Rose by any other name?
The middle-section of my list is composed of great movies that happed to have botanical symbolism. Adaptation, with Oscar-nominated performances by Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep, is a strange but mesmerizing journey loosely based on the novel The Orchid Thief. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is also based on a best-selling novel, but be prepared for this movie to pull at your heart-strings.

Bed of Roses is a romance, and if you are a true plant geek you will swoon over the most beautiful rooftop garden I’ve ever seen on film, not Christian Slater as a florist.

White Oleander is a rather dark movie, but with great acting, including Lindsay Lohan’s breakthrough performance.

Garden State was a great flick, and I could easily relate when I was going through my quarter life crisis. And I admit I have a celebrity crush on Zach Braff. He was a writer/director/actor in this film, but I first noticed him on Scrubs. I was googling him and came up with Zach Braff's Garden State Blog.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Another cult classic. Whenever someone gets all hysterical about genetic engineering I think of this movie. Yeah, when we put a ethylene resistant gene into tomatoes, they could turn into the Tomatoes of Wrath! Whatever.

Any Suggestions?
If you have other movies worthy of this list, let me know.


Take time to stop and smell the fungicide

We have a huge fence covered with succulent, tasty honeysuckle, but where do the aphids and fungi like to dine? My rose bushes, of course. I'm trying the "Safe" brand of insecticide and fungicide. I have a environmental guilt complex, so it seemed like the right thing to do even though I'm pretty sure it's a hoax. How could it be so safe, while the small print on the bottle says something like, "Will kill animals and small children" ?

I tend to be one of those the-glass-is-half-empty-and-I'm-going-to-kill-the-bastard-who-drank-my-milk type people, so of course yesterday when I was tending my rose bushes I was focusing on the aphids and didn't notice the newly formed blossom until I'd already drenched the plant in a special "safe" cocktail of fungicide and pesticide. Then I noticed the perfect, white blossom. The chemicals glistened on the flower like morning dew and I followed the instinctual urge to smell...Fungicide.

Well I haven't lost any limbs today, so I guess that stuff is safe after all.