Archive for the 'Plants' Category

A different kind of weeding

While Lauren and I were locked deep in conversation with a Victory Garden visitor (Well, let me be honest about this…said visitor was expounding on the lack of grocery stores in the Tenderloin and the state of Grocery Nation in San Francisco, and Lauren and I were more trapped than locked deep…), I noticed a man down at the far end of the garden. He seemed to be running up to the statue that sits between City Hall and the garden, smacking the statue and then running away. Then repeating this. Again and again.

I dismissed this behavior as a figment of my imagination, and turned my attention back to the lecture at hand.

A few minutes later, a man in a black leather jacket strode forcefully past the garden, heading toward UN Plaza.

“Want me to come plant some weed?” he yelled.

None of us were quite clear about what he said at first, so I yelled back, “What did you say?” I can hear the collective groan of anyone and everyone who has told me not to engage crazy people in the street. But I cannot help it. I simply have to be polite.

“Some weed!” he yelled back, never breaking stride. “I’ll come in there and plant some weed. It’s a community garden, right?”

“I guess that’s why they have 24-hour guards,” Lauren said.

“Oh my gosh,” I said. “I never thought of THAT kind of vandalism. That’s kind of subversive and brilliant.”

“I think that guy’s having his own kind of day,” said the man who we’d been talking to. Lauren and I turned, and I realized that the prospective weed planter was the same guy who had been slapping the statue down at the other end of the garden. There he was, his arms wrapped around the narrower sibling to the first statue, lifting his body up so his legs stuck out horizontal to the ground. Then he dismounted the second statue and strode toward the street.

“I think,” said the grocery store lecturer, “that’s what happens when you start your day with a breakfast of vodka.”

“Or weed,” I said.

Death to the dead plant

It’s one thing not to clean up your garden for the winter, but leaving the hanging basket up on your front porch with a dead plant for several months in a row? That’s crazy talk. Or crazy doing.

Whatever it is called, I did it. There was a point in the winter when I just decided that the dead plants looked like some kind of cool, structural, khaki plant sculpture. Plus, there was that whole issue of if I spent any time outside trying to take down the basket, my fingers would freeze off, which would make it very difficult to type this blog. And then you would have nothing to read.

Do you see how I do what I do for the people? I thought so.

But now it is spring, even though it snowed yesterday in Cedar Rapids, which made my right eye twitch uncontrollably for half an hour and made me huddle in the corner muttering, “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy.” Then that all stopped and I went about my afternoon.

Before all that, though, and over the weekend, I realized it was beyond time to actually take down the basket and replace the dead plant with something more, you know, springy. And alive.

The cherry blossoms tell you when to plant

Although I have professed my love for the flowering trees of D.C. (and, oh yes, that does include the cherry blossoms), I’ve got to admit – I never spent much time when I lived there thinking about their symbolism.

I mean, the cherry trees? To me, they symbolized the hurray of Spring, and they symbolized that the traffic around the Tidal Basin was about to grind to a halt, and they usually symbolized we were about to get a raw, wet, nasty day, generally timed to directly coincide with the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s long-planned parade, that would knock all the delicate blossoms to the ground as if they were snowflakes.

So I perked up, last May during my visit to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, when Gordon Wilson, the docent leading my walking tour, started explaining what the cherry blossoms meant to the Japanese.

Cherry Blossoms, San Francisco Botanical Garden

“They used them to indicate when to start the rice seed,” he said. “When the trees bloomed, it meant a period of warm weather was coming.”

According to Gordon, the next step in the process came after a specific iris (and although I was taking notes, I didn’t get the name of this one) bloomed as well. That indicated a period of wet weather would be coming soon, so that’s when the rice farmers would plant their crop.

See, this is the kind of gardening marker I can get behind. When this very visible thing happens, start the seed. When this very visible thing happens, plant the seedling. This doesn’t require hoping that the almanac is going to hit the last frost date accurately this year, or require searching old blog posts and weather.com for indicators of when the weather might turn.

Just blossom: start. Blossom: plant. Very simple, and beautiful, to boot.

They could have saved the aloe

I’m going to admit a weakness for Twitter, an online microblogging service I once discounted as totally stupid and now? Now? I’m completely hooked.

It was through Twitter’s blog that I learned about a service that just might have solved my aloe problem: Botanicalls. This company has set up plants that actually send you a message via Twitter when they need to be watered. Not too soon, not too late. Just right.

Check this out: here’s a plant that you can actually follow. Of course, because none of us know where it is (besides New York City), we can’t answer the call for help when it comes. But to watch the drama play out on my very own cellphone? I can barely resist.

Resolving the aloe problem

So here’s what I did to resolve my aloe problem: I attempted benign neglect as a resuscitation solution. This, my good readers, is the botanical equivalent of scrunching my eyes shut and wishing everything would go away. That being said, it had been recommended by commenters as an approach, so I assumed it would actually work.

Now, what Heather recommended was actually applying a bleach and water solution, and I admit I was too lazy to actually do that. But I did at least let the plant dry out, and then…

Aloe plant, dyingOK, that’s where I became exceptionally lazy. Although I kept reminding myself to go get some cactus mix potting soil, I also kept forgetting, and there was all that never-ending snow. And after awhile, I just shoved the plant back in the dirt it came with.

The other day, while washing dishes, I bumped the plant with my arm. It flipped right out of the pot, clearly unrooted, and when I picked it up to put it back in, I realized it was, most definitely, a very sick plant. The two final tentacles are mushy and a little bit gray, which is never a good idea for, you know, a plant that’s supposed to be green.

I’d hoped to at least give it a proper burial in the compost bin, but a this point, I worry about spreading its rot any further. Any advice (which, clearly, I may or may not follow) on that issue?

Allergic to asking for help

I really hate asking for help, although you probably couldn’t tell it from this blog.

Or maybe you could tell it, because I’m forever running into trouble with my plants and only then, after I have a bunch o’commenters tell me what’s up, do I do the right thing. So why, then, do I have the conversation with myself about how I should most certainly ask my blog readers a plant question, particularly if I’m too lazy to look it up myself, and then decide to just forge on, helpless and, um, pretty darn inept?

I realize that if any of you could answer this question, you would probably also save me a lot of money in therapy bills. So there’s that.

Aloe, minus rootsRegardless, you have been heard on the aloe plant. No more water! In fact, no more soil, at least for the time being. On Tuesday night, in response to the immediate outpouring of comments on behalf of the beleaguered aloe plant, I removed it from the soil, discovered it had lost whatever roots it had left after I dumped it out in my frigid car, and then removed the mushy tentacles. (I know many of you call them leaves, but I’m still standing by my tentacle thing. I cannot help it, people. I cannot help it.)

When I announced the imminent death of my aloe, Heather recommended the whole 50 percent bleach solution, but I have not yet tried that. But at least I got the thing out of the moldy potting soil it was resting in. (Or, as grammarians would say, in which it was resting.)

And I will go pick up some cactus mix, per Trey’s suggestion, tomorrow night and repot the thing in something resembling a friendly medium. Because that’s how I roll. I am all about providing the friendly medium.

I am coming to grips with the fact that I may have killed the thing, but those of you who have posted stories of hope about aloe plants you have tried—and failed—to kill through the years are wonderful, charitable, kind people. Because you are helping me avoid writing off the plant entirely.

Aloe, I must be dying

When I brought home my little aloe plant and stopped trying to kill it by exposing its roots to the elements, I had a vision of a long relationship. I saw me and the aloe plant riding out the winter together, huddling around candles in my living room, telling each other stories on the long, cold nights. And then, come summer, I envisioned how the aloe plant would provide soothing care when I inevitably underestimate the strength of the sun.

It’s been dry and cold here, and I don’t care if we had one day where the temperatures were near 50 degrees F, that barely counts when the next day brings whiteout blizzard conditions on the highway. I mean, I’m starting to think all those strings Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family tied to themselves so they could find their way to the barn and back in the Illinois winter are starting to make an awful lot of sense. I’m not talking plot devices, people. I’m talking snow that swirls up and blinds you.

To compensate for the dry and cold, I’ve been watering the aloe plant daily. It seemed the thing to do, and it gave me and the plant a moment each morning to hang out and get to know each other better.

I will admit that it crossed my mind just before the weekend that it might behoove me to check and find out how much water an aloe plant actually needs. That, perhaps, I could look up this information up on the Interwebs, or even just get wicked lazy and ask my lovely and helpful blog readers.

But I was busy, and besides, it was just water. How bad could it be?

Dying aloeVery bad, it turns out. Of my aloe plant’s five tentacles (I’m sure there’s an official name for them, a name that has nothing to do with octopi, but I like the word tentacles and don’t usually get to use it in a sentence that has nothing to do with evil people and/or warlords.), three are now mushy and brown at the base of the plant.

So now I don’t know what to do. I’ve stopped watering, but I don’t know whether to trim off the dying tentacles and hope the rest of the plant lives, or if I should just let it be and see what happens.

Trey, I think you spoke to soon when you commented that the plant would be fine. I think I’ve over-attended to it, and now it may not be long for this world.


Getting in touch

Need garden advice? Then you probably shouldn't send me an email.

Also, please note that this site has now relocated and will not be updated. You can find me at the new and improved location.

Take a look back…



All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

Drop in & Decorate

Bake. Decorate. Donate.
Free guide tells you how!