How to care for your poinsettia

My Aunt sent me these poinsettia plants about a week ago. Then I got caught up with last-minute Christmas shopping and forgot about them, and they started to wilt. It happens to the best of us. But they're back to beautiful now. Yes, you can keep your poinsettia plants looking fresh till Christmas day and beyond. Just follow these few tips.

How often should I water my poinsettia?
The plant needs to stay moist. Check every other day or so, and when the soil starts to dry out, add water until it comes out the drainage hole.

Where should I place my poinsettia?
Like any other plant, your poinsettia needs light, and lots of it. Place near a South, West, or East window for best results. But not too close to the window! Keep in mind that cold drafts or touching a cold window can harm the plant.
My poinsettia is starting to wilt. Help!?!
If you've let the poinsettia dry out, water well and let the pot soak in a tray of water for a few hours, then remove to let the water drain. The plant should recover in about 24 hrs if it didn't reach the point of being crispy.
Five fun poinsettia facts:
1.The plant is native to Mexico and Central America.
2. Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the poinsettia to the United States while serving as ambassador to Mexico. He was an avid botanist and a citizen of South Carolina.
3. There is no such thing as a naturally blue poinsettia. These are painted. However, plants like the "Monet" variety with splotches of pink/red/white are caused by special genetic mutations that have been propagated by growers.
4. The red "flowers" are actually modified leaves, called bracts. The actual flowers are the tiny yellow structures at the tip of the plant.
5. The poinsettia is in the genus Euphorbia, which also includes the crown of thorns. A common characteristic of this genus is the milky sap that seeps out when you break a leaf.


Crafting and cooking with lavender

What to do when a lavender bush is threatening to take over your garden? With herbs, it seems like such a waste to just prune and compost. Most of the plants in my herb garden have some sort of purpose, like mint for my tea or chives for my potatoes, but lavender? It just smells good. I'm not really sure what to do with it but go outside and smell it a lot.

Now I learn you can bring that scent indoors! There are dozens of crafts out there, like making a lavender wand, as Annie in Austin recently mentioned. There's instructions on harvesting lavender and making lavender wands the Purple Haze lavender blog.

I found some recipes with lavender at Happy Valley, but I'm a little suspicious of lavender cinnamon buns. I can't really imagine that tasting good together, but I might be surprised.

If you have experience cooking and crafting with lavender, please share some ideas!


Plants with tattoos

Why bother with a fortune cookie when you can sprout a bean to tell your fortune!

During my Christmas shopping, I became fascinated with the Message Bean.
Not that I need to have one; I want to figure out how they do this!
Do you think the factory is like a minature tattoo parlor for beans? Maybe they burn right through the seed coat with a little branding iron.
I think when my daughter gets bigger , we could start up our own bean tattoo parlor. I'm guessing I could soak the bean in water, remove the seed coat, and then print right on the cotyledons before planting the seed.
Botanical note: The cotyledons, the structure where the message is printed in the above picture, are the food storage organ for the developing seedling , and they eventually will dry up and fall off.


Forcing Bulbs

From my highly organized gardening notes, in other words, The Garden Blog archives, I can see that I planted my bulbs last year on this date. By early March, the hyacinths did well and produced fragrant blooms, and the Narcissus had rotted.

The Clemson Extension has great notes on forcing bulbs, and I see there that the paper white narcissus don't even need to be cooled. I've seen cute displays of these flowers in shallow bowls of gravel, so that's a fun project to try this year. Directions from the Clemson archives:

"Start by filling an undrained decorative bowl or dish that is at least 2 to 3 inches deep with enough pebbles, pea gravel, coarse sand or pearl chips to reach about 1 inch below the top. Add water until it is barely below the surface of the gravel. Set the bulbs on top and hold in place with enough gravel to cover the bottom quarter of each bulb. Carefully maintain that water level.

Tender Narcissus are best kept in a cool 50 to 60 F location in low light until they are well-rooted and the shoots appear, usually in about two to three weeks."

I also plan to pick up a few hyacinths. For hyacinths I plant them in dirt and leave them about 12 weeks in my fridge before pulling them out.

And now for a random thought. I don't like the word "forcing". How about "gentle encouragement of earlier flower time by creating artificial conditions." Well that doesn't acknowledge the fact that early blooming is usually against the plant's best interests, and so many of these bulbs don't come back the next year. I feel like a plant imperialist. Sigh.


Calling all shutterbugs

I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of the SLR digital camera I ordered last week. Like many of you fellow garden bloggers, I'm looking forward to taking upclose pictures of plants and insects in the garden.

Meanwhile, does anyone have any advice on macro lenses? Or garden photography in general? I'm not very familiar with photography techniques and equipment. My method of getting good pictures of Nelumbo Jr. is to take about 200 pictures a day, and usually I'll end up with one worth keeping!


I meant to do that

I finally ordered Gardening Month by Month in the Carolinas and I'm having fun thumbing through it. I was happy to read that now is the time to get lazy with your roses. The fall is the time to stop fertilizing and also stop pruning off the dead flowers (aka rose hips). I was surprised by this second point, but my hands have been too full to carry around the prunners lately anyway. Apparently if you pluck off the petals and leave the rose hips, the plant realizes it's time to stop making new flowers and get ready for winter.


Time to Plant Tree and Shrubs

It's finally starting to cool off here, so it's been a good time to take walks with the baby snug in the stroller. It's also a great time to plant trees and shrubs!

Planting trees and shrubs in the fall allows for roots to get established without suffering from extremes in temperatures. Up north, a big concern is getting the plants established before the ground freezes. Down here, the major concern is waiting until the summer heat has passed.

Personally, I'm looking to put in another butterfly bush (Buddleia Davidii). I'll probably have to delegate some of this work, since the baby is keeping my hands full. If you're luckly enough to have time to get your hands dirty and plant a tree, I found a good guide from the Clemson Extension: Seven Rules for Planting Trees and Shrubs


Planting for Fall/Winter Color

When I took a walk around the neighborhood last night, I noticed that pansies and mums are starting to appear in garden beds and containers. Maybe it's a little early for around our area (zone 7), but with motherhood only 3 weeks away (more or less) it probably is a good idea to get ahead of the game this year. (Not to mention that my zinnias are still pouting a bit, so I'm eager to compost them.) So I'll probably be off to the garden center this week.

Pansies and violas in containers are my favorites for winter color. Both are considered "hardy annuals" in zone 7, and they will even recover from an occasional freeze and keep on blooming. The plant in the picture above survived the ice storm of 2004 on my front porch. The frozen flowers faded, but new ones cropped up soon enough.

New tip for pansies to try this year- When deadheading, which is essential for repeated flowering, I hear that pinching back the top couple leaves will help keep a the plant bushy.

Pansies and violas are the staple winter color plants around here, but of course there has to be more! Earlier this year I went to a lecture on winter color in the garden. Since I was raised in a state where the landscape was frozen solid for the winter, the concept of gardening for the winter season fascinates me. The speaker, from Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, was really into the lenten rose, or Hellebores.

Has anyone had luck with these, or recommend another winter bloomer?


If you build it, they will come

I never thought I'd be so excited to see some animal munching up my plants. But when a second crop of caterpillars arrived this month, I was honored that they would dine on my fennel. My efforts at gardening for butterflies seems to have finally paid off!

"Pupating" Eastern Black Swallowtail

In my driveway, I later saw a Eastern Black Swallowtail who had recently emerged from the cocoon! I spotted the empty cocoon on the side of the garage. (By the way, these cocoons don't look anything like mystery cocoons I've spotted on my rose bushes ,which are probably bagworm.)

Another swallowtail cocoon- by Lenses

The butterfly was still wet-winged and struggling, so I moved it to a sunnier, safer spot. I hope it survived to flutter around like this Eastern Black Swallowtail I photographed last summer.

You may also be interested in my previous posts on butterflies and butterfly gardening:

Butterfly Garden Plants

So a Butterfly flies into a bar...

Why flowers come in colors

South Carolina butterflies

Tiger Swallowtails


A Day in the Life of a Hummingbird

I'm officially on leave now as we await the arrival of our daughter. It's an adjustment to suddenly be on an extended vacation, since I'm used to spending my days moving as busy as a hummingbird.

Or do hummingbirds only appear to be busy?

Last evening, looking out the window into the side yard, I noticed a hummingbird stop to rest on a tree branch. Every few minutes she would go swooping over the house, presumably to visit the feeder on the back porch, and then return to the tree a minute later. What a life. Rest. Eat. Rest. Repeat.
Photo by StormyinGA

Another surprise was that I saw this same hummingbird swipe at a large insect. I thought hummingbirds only drank nectar! Come to find out, 50% of their diet is insects! So just putting out the feeders is nice, but the hummingbirds probably also like the flowers in my garden, since they attract more insects for them to munch on.

My husband asked another interesting question- do humming birds sleep? Yes, they actually can go into such a deep sleep-like state that sometimes people assume they are dead! The hummingbirds lower their metabolism at night by 95%, lowering their body temperature and conserving energy. They wake up automatically about an hour before dawn.

I'm going to take a look this week to see if I can spot a humming bird nest. Well I better bring along the binoculars. The nests are so tiny!

Source/Further reading: NC hummingbirds


Some Like It Hot 2: Pentas

The Pentas lanceolata deserves the nickname "Starflower" for its performance this summer. While hanging out poolside in large containers this summer, they continue to bloom and bloom and bloom.

According to some sources, they attract butterflies and hummingbirds. I've had a good share of hummingbirds in my back yard this summer, but they seem to prefer the feeder. Sigh. It seems even the humming birds are becoming Americanized these days and prefering fast food.

Anyway, my only disappointment with the Pentas is that I recently found out that they are annuals. (They were apparently placed in the wrong section of the garden center.) I was hoping for a repeat performance next year, but it will be worth the $2 each to buy a couple more of these plants next spring!

Are you a gardener that likes it hot? (Or at least tolerates the heat?) Starting with the Moss Rose, I've started a series of posts on plants that seem to thrive in hot, dry conditions. If you have suggestions, I'd love to know about them. I figure it will be a great starting point for next spring to go back to this series.

Also, I'd love to hear what *does not* work for you. I have tried zinnia and verbena this year, hearing that they like it hot, and I don't agree. Perhaps the problem was putting them in containers?

I have another couple plants to feature in the next month, when hubby remembers where he put the digital camera.


United States Botanical Garden

No, this isn't a mutant daffodil from outerspace. It's part of the educational display at the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C. This museum-like wing of the conservatory is the best botanical educational exhibit I've ever seen. I could have spent hours in there, but I was visiting with family. (I don't like spending hours touring battleships, so I don't expect anyone to spend hours looking at plants.)

But of course, most people come to a botanical garden looking for real plants. I really liked this orchid, and although I'm no orchid guru, I haven't seen anything like it before. The orchid room contained this plant and dozens of other orchids in full bloom. (If you are really into orchids, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Missouri Botanical Garden have even more extensive collections.)

The conservatory is very lovely. I liked the layout, featuring several rooms with joining courtyards. The houses were recently refurbished, too, and everything is well maintained. One of my favorite rooms in any big conservatory is the "desert room." This agave is nestled among the cacti.

I was surprised at the location; we stumbled across it on the way to the Capital Building! It's located right along the mall area. It's nice that the US Botanical Garden provides a green oasis among all the stark marble, but the drawback is that there isn't much room for actual gardens. Keep in mind, though, that visiting the Missouri Botanical Garden and Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne have probably set the bar too high for me as far as botanical gardens. I thought to deserve the name "US botanical garden" there should be acres and acres of gardens, so I was a little disappointed. But the conservatory definitely makes it worth a visit!


My Green Index Finger

Since I've been sidelined from heavy gardening during my pregnacy, I'm developing a green index finger; everything I point to seems to be doing really well in the garden this summer.

The newly mulched beds look great. I spent a grueling half hour on the Internet researching types of mulch. My eyes were quite strained from trying to distinguish between the pictures of "double ground" and "triple ground" mulch. I spent 5 minutes in the suffocating heat asking P and K if they needed water. And then there was my effort to convey sincere sympathy when they both developed a reaction to poison ivy later that week.

The roses are also doing great. I had to strain with all my might to trust my husband to move them to a sunnier location. Then I spent minutes supervising the fungicide treatment.

Then there was the recent well-planned mission to assassinate the whitefly on the tomato plants. My husband purchased the insecticidal soap, and then my dad was in charge of locating and spraying the insecticidal soap. But of course, I was the mastermind behind this successful plot.

I wish I could take credit for the high quality rainwater that has been falling this summer.

"But the rain falls down without my help I'm afraid, and the lawn gets wet although I withhold my consent" -(They Might Be Giants)

This post was inspired by the Onion - "Having a Gardener is a Wonderful Hobby"


Another Backyard Mystery

I found this nestled along my climbing rose. Anyone have any idea what it is? There's definitely something alive in there. Maybe it's some sort of insect cocoon?


Some Like it Hot: The Moss Rose

If you're looking for plants well suited to your area, one frequent piece of advice is to "grow native." Here's another tip- why not "grow what a native grows?"

Neighbors can be a great resource, especially if you're new to a climate like me. I was admiring my neighbor's backyard earlier this summer, and she raved about the "Moss Rose", or Portulaca grandiflora.

Photo by Not Your Real

This year, I planted Portulaca in a particularly sunny location. The weather has been horribly hot and dry recently. And this little plant is thriving and blooming. No wonder my neighbor likes it so much! While the zinnias I put in nearby containers are struggling, the moss rose seems to be a great container plant.

Photo by Callie

Yes, there are plants out there that thrive in hot, dry weather! Tune in next time for another edition of "Some Like it Hot."


Feeling fruity

Have you ever planted some seeds, and then a few weeks later, when they start to germinate, you have no idea what you planted?

I’m usually compulsive about labeling. Growing plants for laboratory research trained me well. And during this time I also got addicted to Sharpie markers. I think I label just for an excuse to inhale the Sharpie fumes.

But I had a recent lapse. After a few days, and a few leaves, I remembered that I had soaked some lemon seeds overnight and poked them in moist (and unlabeled) potting soil. It took them a little while to sprout, but they’re coming along well!

Since I first saw a lemon tree at a local conservatory as a child, I have been really fascinated with growing tropical fruit. So now that I’m all grown up and in a warmer climate, I can indulge my fruity tastes.

A citrus tree

A banana plant

I’m not sure how well they will overwinter, since we do get frost here, so they will eventually move into my garage with florescent lights.

Maybe someday they will have a greenhouse home!?!? I’m still considering this, although we do have a rather long growing season here and I’m afraid it would involve too much work for upkeep. Any greenhouse gardeners care to comment?


Fashion DON’T in the Garden

While these $5 Old Navy flip-flops are a summer fashion essential at the poolside, they DO NOT work in the Garden. As I’m slow to learn, we have these critters called fire ants down South. These ants are not stunned by my copper nail polish. Perhaps it just makes my toes look all the more tempting, like chocolates wrapped in golden foil.


The romance of the beetle stomp

Romance isn't about fine dining and a dozen roses, it's the man who cares enough to stomp two dozen Japanese beetles that were dining on your rose bushes.

I was really smitten that my husband not only watered the roses while I was gone, but also went the extra mile to protect them. What a man!

Now that I'm home again, I'm getting aggravated watching the beetles happily munch away once again on my roses, and I'm still trying to devise a plan of attack.

I've heard the traps will catch a lot of beetles, but in the process just attract more beetles to your yard and don't really solve the problem.

I've heard people recommend Sevin, but I know that is really nasty stuff, and I've been trying to avoid chemicals as much as possible this year since I'm expecting, and I've also recently developed an affinity for bees.

So spraying the beetles off with water and then stomping still seems like the best option. Some people recommend carrying a bucket of soapy water and shaking the beetles into the bucket. Personally, I find the crunching sound to be a little more satisfying, and the ants seem to take care of cleaning away the remains. I've also noticed that late at night or early in the morning the beetles tend to be more sluggish, so it's a good time to go in for the kill.

Any other advice on taking on the Japanese beetles?


Carpenter Bees: Another Backyard Mystery Solved

It looks like I bumbled a bit with my post about Conversing with the Bumblebees. I actually was talking with a carpenter bee!

We recently hired a landscaper, and it's been nice to delegate some of the heavy garden chores now that I'm 5 months pregnant. They did a really nice job mulching and weeding this spring, and the lawn looks great. It was also nice not to be the one to get poison ivy while weeding the beds in the backyard.

While talking with the landscaper this week, he solved another backyard mystery- The Case of the Sawdust Piles. I'd noticed little piles of sawdust on the porch and I was fearing termites, even though we have a contract with Terminix. But come to find out, the little guys I'd mistaken for bumblebees were actually carpenter bees, which like to bore into wood to make their nests. (Bumblebees make their nests in the ground, so they don't generate sawdust.)

Bumblebees and carpenter bees look similar, so it's easy to confuse them. Here's how to tell them apart.

Bumblebees have furry abdomens that often have some yellow.

Carpenter bees have a shiny black abdomen

These two bees are also sometimes confused with honeybees. The honeybees look quite different, however, when you look closely. Check out Judith's blog to take a peek inside the bee hives.

Although I didn't get the bumblebees I'd planted for, these insects are natural pollinators and don't seem to be much of a nuisance. I haven't seen any noticeable damage yet. Also, like bumblebees, they seldom sting. In fact, the male carpenter bees don't even have stingers. The females rarely sting and will leave you alone unless you mess with them.

Despite their lack of stingers, males carpenter bees tend to be aggressive when you near their nests. So that's probably why the little bee was pestering me when I was planting my columbine.

Sources / For Further Reading:
Clemson University Media Relations- Carpenter bees take wing in warm weather

(Click on the images for photo credits.)


Mexican Yams + Expatriate Chemist = "The Pill"

You might be surprised to know that the 60's sexual revolution was sparked by a vegetable!

The human hormone that makes up the active ingredient in" the pill" was first synthesized in bulk by modifying a plant hormone found in the Mexican Yam.

Yes, it may sound silly but plants do have hormones. Just like in humans, plant hormones influence the plant's growth and stage of life. Examples of the use of hormones in horticulture include:

Ethylene signals fruit ripening (It can also travel as a gas between fruits; this is why one bad apple spoils the bunch.)

Gibberellins ainvolvedled in stem elongation (Dwarf varieties of plants often have reduced levels of this hormone.)

But getting back to the Mexican Yam story- Why use plant hormones to make a human hormone ? Well plant hormones are similar to human hormones. We can't harvest people, and chemically hormones can be very difficult to create from scratch.

Before this synthesis method was developed, doctors were already realizing the potential of this hormone, progesterone, to treat medical conditions like menstrual disorders. However, it was extremely expensive. In the 1930's, progesterone sold for $80 a gram.

An American Chemist, Russell Marker, found that diosgenin, a plant hormone extracted from yams, could be cheaply converted into a human hormone, progesterone. Despite the obvious potential of this type of research, not a single American pharmaceutical company wanted to take on the project.

However, this did not deter Marker. He quit his prestigious academic job, emptied his savings account, and moved across the border to spend his days drinking tequilaulia and learning everything he could about harvesting yams.

Thanks to the work of Marker and succeeding workers at Syntex, a small biotech company in Mexico, progesterone became cheap and readily available, which lead to the eventual realization that it could be marketed as an oral contraceptive.

Today, forty years after the introduction of oral contraceptives, "the pill" is one the most common methods of birth control. Although there are even better ways to synthesize it now, about half of oral contraceptives on the market still contain this same active ingredient that was first synthesized in bulk using Mexican Yams.

For more information:
Visit the science section of the American History Museum in Washington D.C.
Yams of Fortune: The (Uncontrolled) Birth of Oral Contraceptives


Furry plants

Now that we know we are expecting a girl, it's fun to think that maybe our daughter might like playing in the dirt half as much as her mom. When I was a youngster, my favorite plant was Lamb's Ear . What's more fun than a furry plant?

I first discovered Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina) at a local public garden, and when my mother started a herb garden, she planted some Lamb's Ear for me. So it has long been one of my favorite plants, and of course it was one of the first plants I put in my own garden.

Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)

However, Lamb's Ear is not the only fun and furry plant out there. At the recent Master Gardener plant sale, I discovered this treasure. According to the donor, it's a type of Salvia. It looks like a little "Audrey 2" from Little Shop of Horrors, but this monster plant is soft and cuddly.

I also found this furry plant at Home Depot, but I forgot the name. Can anyone help? I'll try to find the tag and update this post later.


Conversation with a Bumblebee

Bee: buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Me: Shew bee, I’m working here
Bee: buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Me: Hey, knock that off. I don’t like it when people watch over my shoulder.
Bee: buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Me: I’m glad you approve of the Columbine, but I can’t plant it while you’re gorging yourself at it!
Bee: buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Me: Alright, just hang on. I’m going to be done soon, then you can spend as much time with the flowers as you like.
Bee: buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Me: Hold on! I just need to water these plants in.
Bee: buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Me: Take that!

(I didn’t wait around to see how he responded to getting a little wet.)

Flowers for Bumblebees

Flowers for Bumblebees

Although this one little bumblebee got on my nerves recently, on most days I think bumblebees are adorable. Some flowers that seem to attract bumblebees in my garden:

-Herbs, especially the lavender, sage, catmint that are blooming now

-Container garden of Salvia, Columbine, Dianthus, and Verbena. They especially adore the Salvia.

-Vitex shrubs. (Formerly known as the mystery tree threatening to take over the front porch.) They are not flowering yet this year, but seem to be doing well after the severe but much-needed prunning over the winter.


South Carolina Public Gardens- Hatcher Gardens

The Hatcher Gardens features 10 acres of gardens, ponds, and trees in the middle of urban Spartanburg, South Carolina. While many cities can boast of beautiful city parks founded from private estates, the story of the Hatcher Gardens is truly unique since it was started on land reclaimed from abandoned cotton fields.

Cotton is still a major crop in the southern part of the state, but cotton fields have gradually dissapeared in the Upstate SC area. As erosion stripped the fields of topsoil, and the textile industry moved abroad, many mills were closed and fields became empty stretches of parched red clay, strewn with trash and debris.

The challenge of growing in the red clay didn’t seem to phase the Hatchers, however. The Hatcher Gardens began in 1969 as Harold and Josephine Hatcher retired to Spartanburg, SC, and begin working an acre of land claimed from these abandoned cotton fields. They started small and bought up more land over time. They worked the land themselves, and then they eventually gained the help of community organizations and local gardening clubs. Mr. Hatcher continued to manage the garden into his 90’s.

Today community volunteers continue the Hatchers' work. Spartanburg is lucky to have such a treasure within their city limits. Visiting the gardens is like stepping into a oil painting; it seems unreal to turn from a busy suburban street and suddenly find yourself surrounded by a canopy of trees.
To find out more about the garden, visit the Hatcher Garden Website.


Gardening Movies- 2006 update

Finals week is over, the grades are in, and my Netflix subscription is renewed. Life is good.

In 2005, I listed some of my favorite Gardening Movies. It's time to revise the top 10. Keep in mind that not all of these movies are actually about gardening; some are just good movies with botanical symbolism and/or flowery names.

Updated Top 10 Gardening Movies:

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

Honorable Mention: Steal Magnolias, Magnolia, Bread and Tulips, Little Shop of Horrors the musical (1986), White Oleander

Broken Flowers
I'm a big fan of Bill Murray, especially in Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation. Broken Flowers is much in the same realm as Lost in Translation. For the first 10 seconds after this movie ended, I was dumbfounded and cursing the abrupt ending. Then 10 minutes later I realized the beauty of a non-packaged Hollywood ended and I wished I hadn't watched it alone so I had someone to talk to it over with. Thank goodness for on-line forums.

The Little Shop of Horrors, the original cult classic (1960)
Long before the Broadway musical and spin-off movie musical, there was this original cult classic B-movie. 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.

Greenfingers / Saving Grace
These two movies made the top of my list because they are true gardening movies—they are focused around an obsession for plants. They are also both British comedies. 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.

The Constant Gardener
Somehow this movie is both a thriller and a contemplative drama, and it blends perfectly together.
Rachel Weisz really deserved the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this movie.

With Oscar-nominated performances by Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep, Adaptation is a strange but mesmerizing journey loosely based on the novel The Orchid Thief.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Based on a best-selling novel, this movie handles tough subjects like poverty analcoholismsm, but still manages to be heart-warming.

Bed of Roses
This movie is a romance, ergo traditionally a chick flick, but my husband actually likes it, too. If you are a true plant geek you will swoon over the most beautiful rooftop garden IÂ’ve ever seen on film, not Christian Slater as a florist.

Garden State
This film resonated with me I was going through my quarter life crisis. Zach Braff wears many hats as writer/director/actor in this film. (He also stars in one of my favorite TV shows, Scrubs.) Hey, and there's even a blog for this movie- 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 other suggestions? Please comment!


Butterfly Garden Plants

There are many plants that will attract butterflies to your garden. Today I'm listing the plants in my garden that were planted to attract butterflies, and I'm also including some of my "wish-list" plants for future years . These plants seem to do well in our hot climate and aren't too difficult to keep happy.

If you're planning your own butterfly garden, or looking to add to it, keep in mind that most of these plants do well in full sun (with the exception of impatiens). Now is a good time to add some of these perennial plants and annuals to your garden. I'm still working on this myself. Most of the plants pictured were planted recently, and some more are waiting in flats, ready to be planted today.

Also listed are trees and shrubs, although keep in mind these are probably best planted in the fall.

Finally, remember that butterflies are insects, so insecticide will kill them! Avoid use of any nasty chemical insecticides. Biological controls are recommeneded, although I haven't tried this yet myself. Insecticidal soaps are less harmful, but I use this only on the roses (which tend to attract bees, not butterflies).
Perennial plants


Not pictured: chives, daylily, hibiscus, sage

To add in the future: Milkweed, Bee-balm, Black-eyed susan, Butterfly weed, coneflower, phlox

Trees and Shrubs


Buddleia ("the butterfly bush"; the #1 attraction in my yard)

To add in the future: Blueberry, Abelia

Annual plants


Zinnia and Verbena

Not pictured: Cosmos

Food plants for catepillars

Fennel (dill, carrots, and other plants in this family will work, too)

Not pictured: Dogwood, Parsley, Oaks, Tulip Tree, Snapdragon

To add in the future: Milkweed, Asters

For more information:
Clemson University Extension's on-line publications on Butterfly Gardening, Annuals, and Perennials.
Why flowers come in colors
So a butterfly flew into a bar...

Coming soon: Gardening to attract other animals, like bumblebees and hummingbirds


South Carolina- It's Planting Time!

The official time to start your annuals in Zone 7, determined by the last frost date, is April 15th. Like most gardeners, however, I started a little earlier than that this year. I call it the global warming fudge factor, but really it's more to do with my impatience than any scientific justification.

In early April, I set out some tomato plants, which actually came from the hydroponics experiment I did with my classes back in January. Dreaming of some tomato caprese, I also sowed seeds for basil and oregano, and these little seedlings are coming along nicely.

There's still plenty left for me to do, however. This weekend is my official planting date. The local master gardening group is having a plant sale this weekend, the stores are overflowing with beautiful plants, and most importantly, today was the end of classes for the spring term. After being stuck inside grading papers and writing finals day and night for the last week, I'm ready to get outside and get digging.

So what will I plant? My focus this year will be getting in some perennials to attract butterflies, birds, and other critters. They are picky about what flowers they visit, as I mentioned in my "Why Flowers Come in Colors" post. The Clemson University Extension has a great deal of information on Butterfly Gardening, and I'll be looking for some of their suggested plants when I'm shopping tomorrow.


Must-see South Carolina Gardens: Edisto Gardens of Orangeburg, SC

Hard to believe that this beautiful place was once the site of a landfill! Since the 1920's the land has been gradually converted to the lovely Edisto Memorial Gardens of Orangeburg, SC.

Some unique features:

Testing ground for the All American Rose Selection process
Long boardwalk through a Tupelo/Cypress Wetland
Sensory garden complete with botanical markers in Braille

You can visit the city's webpage to find out more about the Edisto Memorial Gardens.


Earth Friendly Gardening

Happy Earth Day!

This picture was from Sonia's post about the Earth as Art exhibit that was previously at the Library of Congress. She has more great pictures on her blog, so it's worth a visit.

Lena Delta, Asia

In honor of Earth Day, I'd like to propose an impromptu Carnival of Earth Friendly Gardening.

How do you show your concern for the Earth in how you garden?

This week, I noticed Jenn and Judith posted a notice about the environmental impact of cypress mulches. I appreciate the heads-up, since I was totally clueless about this issue. They also suggest other mulching alternatives. I'd like to point out that mulching is actually great for the environment, just choose a different kind of mulch. The environmental benefits of mulching include reduced erosion and water conservation, since the mulch holds the water and prevents runoff.

Susan continues to write about lectures on invasive plants and their impact on the environment. The basic message is grow native plants as much as possible. My recent post, Plant Spam, proposes a new name for invasives.

Amy and Andrea continue to promote their organic perspective. But isn't neccessarily all or nothing when it comes to organic gardening. Even gardeners like myself who occasionally pull out the Miracle Grow can incorporate organic practices in their gardening. In fact, you probably already do. Remember if you build a compost pile you are not only helping your garden, but also helping the environment. Did you know that one of the largest components our landfills is yard waste? Compost is also a natural mulch and fertilizer, which is better for the environment than synthetic chemicals. I recently also starting using soap sprays to deter insects instead of pesticides. Now that I'm almost 4 months pregnant, I'm starting to seriously consider how to cut down on toxins that my future child could be exposed to.

On aol they just posted an article entitled "Green Yards" describing ways to conserve when caring for your lawn. A few interesting ideas included solar powered lawn mowers and renting goats to mow your lawn! My husband's former company actually found it cost-effective to raise a herd of goats instead of mowing their lawn.

I'd like to wrap up with a quote from Susan - "I remain confused as hell but unshaken in my belief that gardening can be not only [not] harmful but actually beneficial to the environment." I second that comment! The more you read about any environmental issue, the complexity of the problem becomes apparent, and thus the more confusing it gets. But we can only do our best!

So please share your ideas and any favorite posts I missed. I'll be glad to add them. Just comment on this post or send a link to my e-mail with "Carnival of Earth Friendly Gardening" in the title.


Pansy Power

I just love pansies. The novelty of growing flowers in the winter hasn't worn off yet, and now they are especially beautiful in their spring growth spurt.

Soon it will get too hot and I'll have to replace them with heat-tolerant annuals for part sun. Any ideas? I was thinking maybe petunias.


Plant Spam

This March I’ve spent considerable time pulling up English Ivy and Honeysuckle. “Non-native” or “invasive” doesn't fully convey the amount of aggravation involved in dealing with these uninvited, fast-growing plants. That’s why I love the term “plant spam”.

I just discovered this term in an article by Marty Hair, forwarded on by a master gardener in my area.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Joan Boram saw Carolina lupine in a mail-order plant catalog and sent away for it. In her Ferndale garden, she loves its striking yellow flowers. What Boram didn't expect is that the plant's seeds scatter and grow so freely that she now has Carolina lupine everywhere.Call it plant spam. Like computer spam, plant spam pops up where it's not invited. And it can be tough, though not impossible, to exclude”

The article goes on to mention a good tip that’s worked for me in dealing with one type of plant spam- mint. I plant mint in a container, then nestle the container among the other plants in my herb garden. I also have chives in a pot, and the containers look colorful in the garden.

But the best defense against plant spam is to be careful what you sow. Because what you sow could be what you reap and reap and reap and reap.


Quick and easy humming bird food

As I mentioned in my last post, the lady that used to live in our house was very protective of the humming birds and left me detailed instructions on taking care them. In this post I'll share her recipe and a few tips I've figured out on my own.

Quick and easy humming bird nectar
1. Heat up 4 cups (1 Liter) of water to boiling. I do this in a large glass measuring cup in my microwave.
2. Add 1 cup sugar. Stir until dissolved.
3. Let cool. I cover and leave the nectar on the counter for a while, then transfer to the refrigerator.
Note: If you are making extra nectar ahead, keep it in the refrigerator. It will mold if left out too long.

So when should you put out feeders? I was told March 20th, although last year I didn't see any visitors until April. Well, the bar is open here when they are ready to drink up!


South Carolina "Snow"

When I first looked outside this morning, I thought we'd had a snowstorm. The sidewalk was covered in tiny white flecks. But we've had highs in the 50's lately, so it definitely was not snow.

Alas, it was only a case of tree dandruff. The rain over the past few days brought down most of the white petals from the bradford pear trees.

Don't fret, we are still enjoying plenty of spring blooms here. The pansies are going through a major growth spurt, and the cherry trees looked spectacular last weekend. Jill in North Carolina just posted a nice picture of the blossoms of a cherry tree.

The daffodils are still going, too. I was pleased to find that the previous owners of our house had done an interesting job in planting them; there are at least 4 different varieties of daffodils in our front yard. The natural tendency, for me at least, is to pick up one variety and go to town. Here, though, we have a smorgasboard of daffodils poking up under the trees, from pale yellow and frilly to bold lines in orange on white.

I'm also thankful the previous owners of our house for bequeathing me their humming bird feeders. I still have the original note she left, with special instructions for feeding them. She was really crazy about those birds, and I promised to take care of them. It was an important part of the negotiations, along with leaving the washer and dryer. What a nice bonus to get along with a house.

So I will remember this every time I start resenting them for building "the wall", which will be the subject of a later post.


So a butterfly flew into a bar...

Butterflies do not randomly pollinate any good-looking flower. As I mentioned previously, butterflies have discriminating eyes. And unless female butterflies have indulged too much in dandelion wine , they have some stringent selection criteria on their minds when they are deciding what gardens to pollinate in.

Butterflies expect to be wined and dined. If you are running low on cash and just throw in a few milkweed plants, don't expect a migration of monarchs in your backyard. Butterflies like large splashes of color. Lots of color = lots of food. The butterfly bush, Buddleia, will give you a lot of bang for your buck.

Another important thing to know about the female butterfly is that like most females, she is hearing the tick of her biological clock and thinking about laying her eggs. Yes, some fine dining might keep her visiting temporarily, but sooner or later she'll be wondering if this where she wants to lay her precious eggs.

Keep in mind that her babies have discriminating tastes in food plants. Caterpillars are not the munching machines that they appear. They have discriminating palates. Some will demand a diet of only one specific plant, and then they will have prolonged discussions over their meal- "Hmmm..some nice fruity essences here...munch munch munch...a little bit tannic for my taste though...munch munch munch" So to create a butterfly garden that will keep her coming back for more, you need both nectar plants and host plants.

Well now is the time (at least here in the Southeast US) to plant the seeds for a butterfly garden that will be buzzing with life in a couple short months. Some things I'm planting now:

Nectar plants:
1. Butterfly weed (Asclepias)
2. Phlox
3. Blueberries
4. Impatiens
5. Cosmos

Host plants:
1. Fennel (for the Black Swallowtail caterpillars)
2. Parsley (also for the Black Swallowtail)
3. Milkweed is also a host plant

For now my list is short, but if I convince my hubby to help tear up the front yard to make more room for more plants, then there'll be more to report!

Looking for more detailed information? The Clemson University Extention has a great article on Butterfly Gardening in South Carolina, including popular nectar and host plants. I've also enjoyed watching the progress of a Texas butterfly garden over at Gardening Obsession.


How do you Mulch?

My list of early spring chores continues to expand. It's also time to add some mulch around the established landscape. But what mulch to choose? The variety to choose from out there is just mind-boggling. I decided last year to mulch my herb garden in some kind of wood mulch, and I was surprised at the countless varieties out there. I choose shredded cedar just based on appearances. It seemed to work well for me.

Editors note: Please visit my Earth Day post to find out more about mulching.


Slumbering Gardeners, awake!

For the past months, I've been dreaming about my spring garden. But now it's time to wake up and make it happen! (At least for us Southern gardeners, around zone 7)

I have spring break coming up next week, so I'm compiling a list of garden chores . I can see that some of my neighbors in Upstate South Carolina have already gotten a head start of some of these tasks. Here's a few of these late-winter tasks that we're up to around here:

1. Pruning our summer- and fall- blooming shrubs. (Now is NOT the time for the early spring bloomers, like azaleas. Wait until after they bloom.) This afternoon, I plan to finally get around to the unruly vitex and butterfly bushes.

2. Pruning the Lilirope. At Clemson University, they put the mower at the highest setting and just run them over. Seems to work fine, but I'll stick to my pruners.

3. Starting those seeds. Most of my seed packets say start 6-8 weeks before the last frost, and that time is NOW for us! Thanks to my husband's hard work this weekend, I have an awesome area in the garage to sow and start my seeds. I'll post a picture soon, once I'm more organized. (Also coming soon- list of seeds I'm starting for butterflies)

4. Organizing and taking inventory of garden tools, seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, etc. We got a good start on this yesterday.

5. Pick up some of the sticks left over from the ice storm and dead annuals.

6. Collecting plastic soda bottles to fill with sugar water and use with the hummingbird feeder.

7. Planting berry plants like blackberries or blueberries. I'm planting some blueberries this year.

8. As a side project, I'm building a container water garden, so I'll be ready when the water lilies arrive at the nursery.

That should be enough to keep us busy!


Why flowers come in colors

While many of us are dreaming of the fantastic flowers that await us this spring, have you ever wondered why there are so many beautiful colors to choose from?

Part of the reason is that different animals are attracted to different colors. A colorful flower is just an advertisement to a humming bird or butterfly. "Come here, I have nectar" scream the flowers wordlessly through their bright colors.

But not all animals are attracted to the same colors. Have you noticed how the bumble bees tend to flock toward blue and violet flowers, like clover or vitex? Meanwhile, I've watched hummingbirds feed on orange-red daylilies snubbed by the bees. Pollinators are particular about their favorite colors, leading to lots of color variation in wild flowers. This is fortunate, since it gives us more colors for us to choose from in our gardens.

So what colors do critters prefer, and what's the attraction? It's more than just having a favorite color; there's good reasons for their selections.

Moths and Bats tend to feed on white flowers. These animals both feed at night, and the white colored flowers reflect the most light, and therefore are most visible to night-time feeders. Some of these bat-fertilized flowers bloom only at night. I found a picture of a typical bat-pollinated flower posted on the UCLA botanical gardens' web site.

As many of you gardeners know, butterflies have a keen sense of color. They flock to bright colors from yellow to blue to red. Common plants grown in butterfly gardens, such as the milk weed favored by monarch butterflies, come in bright pinks, oranges, and purples. Butterflies especially like the butterfly bush. I love to post pictures of the tiger swallow-tail and gulf fritlillary I've seen in my garden. These butterflies love the tiny clusters of flowers on the butterfly bush since there's ample room to land and feed. Jill at Once Daily posted a lovely close-up of a feeding butterfly.

Humming birds don't need a place to land, and often feed from long slender flowers. For example, their long beaks can easy feed from the trumpet vine as they hover. Hummingbirds like red and orange flowers, hence feeders are usually made in this color.

Red is the least favorite color of bees, however. I love Jill's pictures of bees, like this Carpenter bee on a clover flower. Notice they tend to favor purples and blues. Unlike us, bees can also see UV light, and some flowers have UV lines that are invisible to us, but these UV markings are valuable guides to bees. On the otherhand, bees cannot see red. Just like UV light and infrared light is out of our human range of vision, the red spectrum of light is not visible to bees. So insects actually see color differently, as shown by this image projecting a bug's view of a plant on the Bog Blog.

So if you're planning a colorful garden, thank those variety of pollinators out there, from bees to birds, for their discriminating tastes in color!


Valentine's Day Gift Plants


Cut flowers will be in demand this week, but what about giving your Valentine a flowering plant instead?
Some good choices:
1. Cyclamen
2. Primroses
3. Orchids
4. Forced bulbs like tulips or hyacinths


I purchased the above two plants recently at a local hardware store. If you give them plenty of light and water, they can bloom and be happy for weeks.

The bulbs don’t last as long, but if your valentine is an avid gardener, he or she might appreciate being able to plant it outside for next year.

This post was inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s writing:
“I like to see flowers growing, but when they are gathered, they cease to please. I look on them as things rootless and perishable; their likeness to life makes me sad. I never offer flowers to those I love; I never wish to receive them from hands dear to me.” – Charlotte Bronte


What's a weed?

"A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows" -Greenville Master Gardener's Newsletter.

"Any plant whose virtues have not been discovered" - Emerson

"A plant that grows where it's not wanted" - a convential wisdom, as listed on Wikipedia

"Any plant that is not valued by the human society" - National Park Service

"A plant out of place" - Diane Relf, Extension Specialist


Chia shoes

Since teaching pays just a little less than the average CEO salary, I've figured out how to make my first million a little quicker. Indroducing my new fashion line- chia accessories!

1. Smear shoes and purses with seeds.
2. Watch them sprout!
3. Top off your ensemble with a chia hat!

Wouldn't sprouts on your shoes put an extra bounce in your step?

Anyone want to front me some start-up cash? I'm sure we could convince some Hollywood Prius-driving types that by wearing chia they are saving the earth. Plants clean the air, right?

I must have some old shoes around here somewhere...


Grow Bags

I attended a Gardening Forum this weekend in Greenville, SC, and learned a lot of interesting tidbits I hope to try out this year. Today I'll share one of my favorite stories from the day, as told by Jim Bennett.

Jim introduced the concept of "grow bags" to me, although I guess they are popular other places. You take a packet of quality potting soil, poke some holes in one side for drainage, and then slice some room on the other side for your plants. Once transplanted, your plants should grow to cover the bag, and you have a lovely planting for your porch.

Jim says he knew an older lady who grew everything this way. Everything from petunias to lantana to vegetables did well in the bags, but she found that her porch was a little shady during parts of the day. She was concerned that the plants weren't getting enough light.

Jim stopped by one afternoon to see her pulling a wagon around her yard. When he got closer, he saw that she was pulling her grow bags of plants in the wagon. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm taking my veggies for a walk, " she replied.


Grow lights on a budget

If you're interested in a set-up for indoor seed-starting, similar to the grow lights we use in the lab, you don't need to invest in one of these expensive units. A wire storage shelf works just as well, and then you can hang your light fixtures with chains. The lighting doesn't need to be expensive either; just typical cool fluorescent tubes will work. I do splurge on full-spectrum lights in my home system, since I grow mature plants and need the extra wavelengths to encourage flowers. My home-made unit cost about $60.

This is a picture from Christmas 2003 of my plant stand and grow lights. Perfect for a graduate student with no garden to call her own. Thank goodness times have changed!

I've seen an avid gardener install several of these units in her basement to start seeds during the winter. That's a great strategy for giving some plants a head start, like tomatoes and impatiens. Most seed packets say to start the seeds 4-6 weeks before your frost date, and that time here in zone 7 is approaching soon!

If you've been watching my hydroponic plants grow under their lights, from when we planted the seeds to tending the mature plants we have now, you can see that they work well in the classroom, too. We are starting the next stage in our hydroponic experiments tomorrow, so I'll post soon with our progress.

A couple tips-

1. Mark the fluorescent tubes with the date of purchase with a permanent marker. If you are going to grow plants under them full-time, they will dim and need to be replaced after about a year.

2. Incadensent bulbs generate a lot of heat and will fry your plants.

3. A rubber mat, as pictured here, can collect accidental drips. Now I also put the pots on a plastic tray full of gravel, which also cuts down on leaks.

4. Invest in a simple 24-hour timer and set it for 12-14 hours of "daylight". If you don't want your plant lights to wake you up while you're trying to sleep in on weekends, you can buy a fancier one.


Hydroponics in the Classroom- part II

The little hydroponic garden we started two weeks ago has done well. We have a mixture of lima beans, radishes, and tomatoes growing here in vermiculite, as described in my first hydroponics post.

If you're interested in a similar set-up for indoor seed-starting, you don't need to invest in one of these expensive units. I'll post about it later, but my home-made unit (not pictured here) cost about $60.

The tall plants are the lima beans. They grow quite quickly, making them ideal for the classroom. I'll also post more about fun activities with lima beans later.

I feared at first that the tomatoes hadn't made it, but now they are poking up under the bean plants. It took them about a week to germinate, and they are probably going to be too small for our experiment this week. In the future, it looks like they would need over a month to get to a good size for experiments.

Well maybe they will do well enough under lights to produce fruits if I take them home?Finally, the radish plants. They win the prolific plant award. The packet was full of seeds, and it seems like every one germinated! The plants below were sowed by just one group, about 1/4 of a seed packet.


Baffling the Fire Ants

If you are from the Southern US, or South America, you probably have had the unpleasant experience of being assaulted by fire ants (Solenopsis invicta). Ouch, do they sting. Then they itch like no other insect bite can itch.

I found out recently that fire ants also kill bluebirds! According to Tim Davis, a Clemson extension agent, they are responsible for half the predation on bluebirds. I tend to be a plant person, but bluebirds are one of those animals, like the flatworms, that are just irresistable.

If you love making homes for the bluebirds as much as me, then you might want to protect them with an easy to make baffler. Here are the steps as outlined by Davis to build a fire-ant baffler:

1) Cut the top part off a 12-oz Coke bottle, or the beverage of your choice, to form a funnel. (I also use these makeshift funnels to put dirt into terrariums)

2) Take your funnel and tape it upside-down on the post that holds your bluebird house. Electrical tape works well since it’s waterproof and durable. It’s important to tape it tightly, so you don’t leave any space between the tape and the pole for them to climb through.

3) Enjoy watching your Bluebirds in their safe home!


The urge to deadhead

Over the holidays our family had nice meal at an Italian restaurant in Atlanta. As we walked out, I tuned out my husband’s comments on the various models of cars in the parking lot and focused on the pansies. They were doing nicely, but I immediately noticed several dead flowers on the plants and (*gasp*) even a well-developed seedpod.

I couldn’t overcome the urge to deadhead. I pulled off a few crispy flowers and a seedpod. Then I couldn’t control the botanical urge to slice the pod with my thumb open with my finger, exposing the tiny developing seeds. How could I resist?

This behavior isn’t limited to commercial property, either. If I see a dead flower in anyone’s yard, I can’t stop myself from picking it off. It’s a compulsion. Is this my duty as a good horticultural citizen, or am I just sticking my nose in other people’s soil where it doesn’t belong? I don’t know, but I can’t stop.

This habit actually started in my childhood, when my brother and I shared a newspaper route. One family on my route never pruned their yew bushes, so I took it upon myself to strip off a rouge branch with my bare hands every time I passed. In other yards, I plucked dandelions and faded marigold flowers. My dead-heading addiction started early.

I also have the urge to water other people’s neglected houseplants, but that can be the subject of another post.

I also discovered a poem about deadheading at Directionally Correct. I love the symbolism!


Winter Color- A Fashion "Do" for Your Garden

Today's Gardening InStyle tip is to remember winter color when you design your garden.

Lush Red Winter Berries: a garden fashion DO