Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Pineapple Trials

Ever since we nearly crash landed on Lanai (the pilot must have been accredited somewhere but those details have eroded with the passage of time ) and visited the pineapple fields of Hawaii, I've been wanting to grow my own pineapple or, perhaps, secretly compete with Dole.

"Off with their heads" as the Queen of Hearts likes to say, and plant the tops in a well behaved soil. That's what I did (expecting very little).

I put mine out on the front lawn (another ham-handed attempt at defying the natural order of things). My two plants, Scorn and Derision, were just a pair of curiosities in a garden of curiosities. Those that passed seemed to mutter - Is that a pineapple next to the croquet hoops?

What really surprised me (apart from success) was that the fruit, multiple fruit to be exact, begins to form when the temperature is the lowest (in February at about 50°F). I thought that July or August would have been more logical (but quite wrong).

My pineapples don't get as big as the supermarket ones (they must cheat), but they are quite charming and tasty (I think they need more water but seem to survive my uncompromising neglect).

Monday, March 30, 2009


I grew these hybrid Amaryllis plants from seed (from Germany) a few years ago.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Be A Peach

Be(e) a peach. (B, A Peach)

A bug visits my peach blossom. Spring must be returning from season purgatory (or where ever it habitually goes). Happy to have you back, old friend. And you too, bug.

No doubt a member of the insect glitterati, this frantic creature shows a characteristic, almost symbiotic, disdain for photographers. It sneers, feigns indignation, then collects pollen, affidavits, or whatever well-educated insects do. I wouldn't be surprised if it were a hedge fund manager or a law clerk. The electric, flighty movements give it away.

If anyone is looking for me today I'll be in the vegetable garden (the tutelary urchin in tow).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Einstein in the garden

Last fall I planted 6 packs of lettuce seed. All at once. I had enough lettuce to feed all the rabbits in the free world. What I should have done is plant two packs at a time - at one month intervals. I'm tempted to say that this is where special relativity is most applicable, but will refrain from making such gratuitous speculation.

Pictures (lettuce showing signs of end of season exhaustion):
Top row, left to right: Rubin lettuce (my favorite, slow to bolt); Japanese Minowase Daikon radish (gone to seed).

Bottom row: Forellenschluss lettuce (speckled like a trout); and Parris Island Cos.

Tomorrow I will pull out all the lettuce that has gone to seed - and put it in the compost pile.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Melianthus major is a stunning shrub. It is one of my favorite South African native plants. It proudly announces dramatically sculptured pale-green leaves. The flowers are nested in large maroon bracts, some over one foot in length. It is happiest between 50°F and 70°F, where the foliage luxuriates and the flowers offer sweet nectar to birds (hummingbirds especially). The colloquial name, Honey Bush, is in reference to the irresistible nectar.

In keeping with the schizophrenic attributes of many plants, another common name for the plant is Touch-Me-Not. This, however, refers to the leaves. As one rubs or crushes the foliage, an offensive odor is produced.

The seeds take approximately 30 days to germinate. They should be planted when temperatures are between 50°F and 70°F with a 10°F - 15°F day/night differential.

The odor of the leaves is a harbinger of its toxicity (of particular concern to horses, cattle and other ruminants). Luckily, the foul smelling leaves usually deter an animal’s willingness to graze on them. If you have a Melianthus plant and animals, do be aware of the potential hazard.

Moving On To Other Pressing Issues

It's time to clean out the urchin's cave and sort through the daily collection of artifacts. Most usually, we have paper globs and the occasional undigested grape (urchins hate grapes, though, curiously, they collect them with puzzling alacrity). It is a testament to their undying cleverness that urchins do not consume grapes.

Special Note To Dog Owners

Unlike urchins, your dog may not realize that grapes (and raisins), in moderate to large quantities are a big no- no. You may know that onions and chocolate are bad for dogs, but you should also know about grapes/raisins (particularly since dogs do like the taste of sweet raisins).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Proteas in the urchin's lair

This is Protea obtusifolia (Limestone Sugarbush). I hope viewers will excuse the temporal sleight of hand, for this photo was taken in January, some time before the blog's inception.

It is relevant, however, since I am at present nursing a few Protea obtusifolia seedlings (also in the litter are Protea susannae and Protea cynaroides). Stowaways in the tray include several heaths (Erica bauera ssp gouriquae, Erica diaphana, Erica mammosa and Erica margaritacea). Both diaphana and bauera have germinated, rapturously.

I'll report on the Ericas later, but let's just say that they are highly experimental and have a slim chance of growing in my zone 11 give-it-a-try universe. I should disabuse myself of the notion that everything grows here, but have always found this far too sensible a notion to adopt without serious prejudice.

Protea obtusifolia was my second Protea to transition from seed to mature flowering plant. The first was Protea lanceolata, but sadly, it passed away. Sniff, sniff. Both of these species were chosen since they thrive on alkaline soil, which is opportune since I can almost certainly supply the world with that poky limestone.

Growing your own fynbos garden is a great way to unnerve your neighbors and further reinforce, in their minds, that you are, as they increasingly suspect, a witch doctor. Let me explain: plants from the South African fynbos are seasonally ravaged by fires. Hence, the seeds germinate well in smoky ash-filled environments. Protea growers often advocate creating an ad hoc tent for the purpose of subjecting the seeds to the smoke of burning fynbos detritus.

I have since determined that this is quite unnecessary (though spectacularly intriguing). The seeds germinate well with no pre-treatment. The trick is to sow them when you have a good night-day temperature differential. For me, that means plant your seeds any time from December to March. Success will follow. Most Proteas germinate in 30 days under these conditions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Graptopetalum paraguayense (or plants of the urchin's lair).

Urchins are voracious readers, too. They anticipate the mail delivery. More than that, they scheme and plot about our inerrant postal service. Once the mail has arrived, and after a few apotropaic gestures, they pounce. Even colorful gimcrack is sought out to read.

Graptopetalum paraguayense (Sedum weinbergii, Ghost Plant, Mother of Pearl Plant or Gee I Don't Know What To Be Called Plant) seems happy on cool days like today. It comes from Mexico, which is quite a drive from here (and Ghost Plants are notoriously bad drivers).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Poinciana garden is sleeping.

Urchins can be a problem. Therefore, you must take care to urchin-proof your property. Though they are sweet, they can easily escape through small openings. This, by the way, is the Poinciana garden. A perfect sort of garden for urchins.

Even though the back wall is a little low (urchins can jump many times their height) - the bamboo makes an almost impenetrable barrier. Of course, many urchins can walk through walls and a perfect solution to keeping them still alludes even the most accomplished gardener.

If you care to look, trusted viewer, you can see a few large woody pods dangling from the leafless poinciana (top left). This is hardly surprising since the tree is a legume (pea family). Still, a foot and a half pea pod is an impressive sight.

At present, the garden is sleeping. I just added a clump of heliconia at the back (transplanted from elsewhere in another mad frenzy of re-landscaping). There are gingers, blood lilies (Scadoxus multiflorus), and voodoo plants (Amorphophallus) throughout.

The cycad in the foreground is Dioon spinulosa, grown from seed a few years ago. When things warm up a bit it proudly displays bright green leaves and is a very pleasant addition to the garden.

I'm a little worried that the heliconias won't bloom this year since they were, against their best judgment and under gentle protestation, relocated.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Vegetable Garden in March (09)

This is the vegetable garden (formerly the swimming pool's proposed location, formerly the arboretum, formerly the Ministry of Information). It was all grass last summer when I decided to 'ungrass" it (it looked like a plucked chicken in the aftermath). On October 25th, I was ready for my major fall planting. I sowed lettuce, radish, beet, carrot, turnip (of course) and potato (on the right).

I must very soon harvest the potatoes, turn over the soil and plant before it's too late. Here's where a modicum of professional experience would come in handy. But since I have none, I must sweat it out.

Last year's hastily devised summer garden was an unmitigated disaster. If this year's effort is a disaster, I'll be happy. It'll be an improvement. One must continually winnow the good experiences from the bad.

I suggested this blog was going to be about environment-friendly landscaping. I didn't say anything about stunning successes, punctiliously good gardening advice or super deals on heart-healthy recipe books.

The leafless tree you see is a neem tree (more on this later).

Sunday, March 22, 2009


This blogging is lots of fun. Especially when no one knows you're there, writing, jpeg(ing) [a new verb]. My idea about this blog is to document a re-vamping of my backyard. I want to give priority to useful or environment-friendly landscaping. Inventing verbs is just a sideline. Some habits (growing deceptively useless plants), nevertheless, die hard. Jpegged is lithops aucampiae 'Snowcap'. It's about the size of a small bottle cap. A real beauty but I wouldn't be sore at anyone who missed it altogether, or just thought it was a pretty pebble. Of course, if you were four inches tall and habitually reconnoiter the ground, you'd have bumped into it days ago.

I say deceptively useful since the bushmen of Africa, in time of extreme drought, used Lithops as thirst quenching water vessels. The plant, as any plant, may potentially hold the key to eradicating a serious disease or affliction (such as treating a banker's lack of moral compass or athlete's foot).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The lawn wars

Basically, I hate grass. Sure, it has its usefulness - maybe in some institutional place, like an insane asylum or perhaps the Ministry of Public Works. It might be nice, there. Or concomitantly, if you have young children, grass can be tolerated without great hesitation.

However, I recoil upon considering how much poisonous fertilizer, herbicides, shampoos and conditioners have been sacrificed on the altar of our sacred, beauteous lawns. Did I mention water (that precious commodity)?

You can still see a little grass in the bottom right hand corner. There is still work to do.