Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata cv.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mystery Plant

Here is another older picture I came across recently when going through my image files. If I remember correctly I took this one in a park in Delhi; the shrub was scruffy and leafless but its orange flowers are quite showy.

I do not have the slightest idea as to the identity of this plant. Anyone care to enlighten me?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Garden on the Beach

I was going through some older pictures looking for images to use in one of my final projects and I came across this picture I took of a little garden of palms and various succulents someone had laid out around the remnants of a wooden boat on a largely deserted stretch of beach in southern Portugal:

I have no idea who created this little landscape in such a tough environment - sandy, hot, arid, and constantly exposed to salt spray - but I find its improvised, hardscrabble aesthetic very intriguing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011


It just occurred to me that today is December 4, the feast day of Saint Barbara, and that I have almost let the day pass without writing a post about the flower-related traditions associated with this date. Following an old custom, many people in Germany cut branches of spring-flowering trees and shrubs - those of the sweet cherry (Prunus avium) are most commonly used where I grew up - and bring them inside to put in a vase. In the warmth of the house, the Barbarazweige or "Barbara twigs" are supposed to blossom by Christmas.

 Prunus sp.

You can find my previous, more extensive posts on Barbaratag here and here... And I assume that the forcing of the branches works just as well if one cuts them on December 5...

Another Houseplant Update

My collection of houseplants in my apartment at school has been slowly and steadily expanding. The relatively low light levels make it a bit of a challenge to find suitable plants but by and large things are doing well.

One of my African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha), just beginning to flower for the second time

Date palm seedlings (Phoenix dactylifera) just sprouting

A white-flowered cultivar of Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)

Young coleus seedlings (Solenostemon scutellarioides) beginning to display their different leaf patterns

Miniature Phalaenopsis, still flowering and already setting the next set of buds

With the African violets doing so well, I wonder if I should start giving some other gesneriads a try. Episcias particularly intrigue me, especially since they come in intense shades of red. Of course, I would have to find a good source for such plants first, preferably one compatible with a graduate student's rather limited budget.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Flowers and Foliage at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

I have posted before about the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Detroit's Belle Isle and since I went there again this past weekend when I was home for Thanksgiving I have some new pictures I thought I would share:

This appears to be something in the ginger family, though I have no idea what species. Does anybody know?

Foliage plants in the central Palm House

Strelitzia nicolai in bloom

A view of the Fernery

 Colorful foliage

A path in the Succulent House

Solandra maxima in the Tropical House

I really love this place and I am a bit worried that, given the dismal financial situation of the City of Detroit and the fact that much of the upkeep of the conservatory and its plantings is provided by elderly volunteers, it will not be around for that much longer...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some Reading

I am extremely fond of gardening books. They fill my shelves, pile up on the coffee table and next to my bed, and are generally my favorite thing to find under the Christmas tree. I carry them with me as leisurely reading on plane rides and beach vacations and occasionally I write academic papers on topics that allow me to use them as sources. Whenever possible, I want to acquire more of them - from any place or time period, covering any horticultural or landscape design topic, and in any language that I have even the remotest chance of being able to read. On several occasions I have actually had to muster considerable will power to keep myself from purchasing a number of Chinese gardening books, despite the fact that I can decipher a measly three characters out of the thousands employed in the Chinese script. I have, however, indulged in the acquisition of a number of vintage gardening books over the last couple of years, all found while accompanying my parents on visits to antique stores in various parts of the country. The oldest of the works, and in some ways my favorite, is a 1910 edition of Ida D. Bennett's The Flower Garden: A Manual for the Amateur Gardener. Carol at May Dreams Gardens has collected most of the available information about Bennett and her works in an interesting post here. The book itself is a relatively small volume of 257 pages that includes a number of black-and-white photographs and drawn plans for planting schemes and is defined by a rather rigid vision of what a proper flower garden can and should be. Bennett appears to have been a big fan of growing plants from seed, for this is the course of action she advocates wherever possible - even for waterlilies and many tuberous ornamentals like Cannas - on the grounds that it is more economical. She also appears to address herself exclusively to a female audience, ornamental horticulture being considered a particularly "suitable" or "proper" occupation for women at that time. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the last chapter, entitled "A Chapter of Don'ts." At once sternly admonishing and encouraging, authoritarian and idealistic, I find it such an intriguing piece of garden writing that I thought it fit to reproduce it here:
A Chapter of Don'ts
Don't forget to air the hotbeds on warm, sunny days, and to protect them on cold ones.
Don't forget that plants need room to develop, and set them far enough apart to make this possible.
Don't forget to water the window-boxes every day, and to keep the sand in the sand-box wet all the time.
Don't forget to go over the Pansies and Sweet-peas every day, and remove all withered flowers. Don't let them suffer for want of water at any period of their bloom.
Don't try to raise more plants than you have room for, or strength and time to cultivate. A few plants well cared for are better than a neglected garden - a most discouraging sight. The gardener will find enough real difficulty without inviting disaster.
Don't try to follow all the advice that is offered you; make up your mind what you want to do and go steadily ahead. If you fail you will know how, and why, which is in itself a gain. It is a good rule never to take the advice of an unsuccessful person, no matter how reasonable it sounds. Distrust garrulous advice; the gardener with real knowledge is not inclined to force advice upon others.
Don't be cast down by adverse criticism unless your judgment tells you it is deserved. The person who "knows it all" is never so much at home as in someone else's flower-garden, where the principal labour may be done with the tongue.
Don't be wheedled into spoiling your plants by saving seed for one who is perfectly able to buy; instead, give the address of the dealer from whom you purchased, and suggest that he will be glad to fill orders. Don't rob your plant of cuttings that are necessary to its symmetry; this, too, is a case for the florist. There are people who seem to feel it an injustice for any one to possess a plant with more than one branch so long as they are not supplied with that particular variety.
Don't, when you have purchased a dozen Violets or Primulas, meaning to divide them after awhile to make the border you did not feel like purchasing outright, be imposed upon to the extent of giving half of them away to some one who has been waiting for this very opportunity. The experienced gardener learns to steer such people away from plants she does not wish to part with, or have mutilated, but the amateur is looked upon as legitimate prey. I have frequently known people to break a branch from plants they were handling, with the expectation of being told to keep it. The remedy for this sort of thing is to immediately place it in the ground with some remark about having a place for it.
Don't supply with cut flowers, plants, and the like, people who spend more money for unnecessary luxuries than you do for your whole garden, and then tell you how foolish you are to spend so much time and money, and work so hard for your flowers. Don't be too deeply impressed with the sudden friendship at gardening time of the woman who has managed to get along without your society all winter. Don't be imposed upon by the chronic plant-beggar, but suggest to her that you will be glad to lend your catalogues; that in them she will find, at reasonable prices, all the things you have in your garden; and that the florist will doubtless be glad of her patronage.
Don't, on the other hand, be lacking in generosity of the right sort. Flowers may be given to rich an poor alike, and carry no hint of obligation, or unfitness. To the tired worker who has neither time nor space to cultivate them, a handful of flowers, or a potted plant, which can be spared from your abundance, will make a bit of sunshine well worth the trouble. For many who cannot spare the trifling amount a single plant or packet of seed would cost, the surplus plants from flats or hotbeds will be a great pleasure, and one should not wait for requests. Those who really cannot afford these things are rarely guilty of the petty meanness of the professional plant-beggars. It is a good plan to jot down, from time to time as they occur, the names of those you would like to benefit in this way, and then, when you have surplus plants, send word of that fact, and of the time when it will be convenient to take them up. This will be better than sending the plants, which might arrive when it would be inconvenient or impossible to attend to them.
There are so many ways of giving pleasure with flowers that one need never be embarrassed with a surplus: the sick; the young girl who will enjoy them for her party; the young matron, for her pretty luncheon; the church service; the humble funeral, where the choicest and best should go. A beautiful tact may be shown by a choice in harmony with the taste of the recipient and the occasion for which they are intended. Do not send all white flowers, or flowers with a heavy perfume, to the sick-room. Bright flowers are better. Notice the cheer in a pot of golden Daffodils or a bunch of Hepaticas. A charming thing is a handful of Japanese Morning-glory buds picked and sent the night before, that the invalid may watch their unfolding in the morning. I have known these to give the greatest pleasure.
Don't be too greatly cast down by failures; they have their uses. One failure, if it sets you to studying out the cause and remedy, is worth a dozen haphazard successes. We grow plants with even success for some time, then, without any recognised change in the treatment, we meet with failure. We look for the reason, and our education is begun. When we have found the cause of failure, we have made a long step forward.
Don't fail to take some good floral magazines, they are helpful in many ways, and keep you in touch with what other workers are doing.
Don't try to work in unsuitable clothing. Easy, broad, solid shoes - not any old run-down pair - should be considered as essential as a spade, or rake, and skirts that clear the instep, and hang comfortably. Waists with easy arm-holes and collar will enable one to work with a degree of comfort that means the accomplishment of an amount of work in a morning quite impossible were one less comfortably clad. Skirts of blue denim, made Princess style, and ankle length, with comfortable shirt-waists - denim for cool days, calico for warm -  make a thoroughly comfortable outfit.


Source: Bennett, Ida D. The Flower Garden: A Manual for the Amateur Gardener. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1910.

Happy First Advent Sunday!

In Germany, it is customary to celebrate Advent, or the four weeks leading up to Christmas, with an Adventskranz or "Advent wreath" bearing four candles. On the Sunday four weeks before Christmas one candle is lit and one more is lit each successive Sunday, until by the time Christmas finally comes all four candles are burning. My mom designs her own Adventskranz every year and this year she went for a very modern interpretation which nonetheless has a bit of a retro element.

Our Adventskranz

My posts on our advent wreaths from the last two years can be found here and here. Happy holidays everyone!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Houseplants at Home

Since yesterday was Thanksgiving I am at my parents' house in Michigan at the moment, enjoying the comforts of home and relaxing for a few days before heading back East for the last round of exams and final papers before Christmas. Of course, the first thing I did when we got home from the airport was to check on all my potted plants. My mom has been taking excellent care of them and many have grown considerably since I left for school at the end of August. I thought I would just post a few pictures, so here we go:

One of my African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha); another one with blue double flowers is just budding

My three-year old Aloe vera is sending up its first flower spike; at the same time it has begun off-setting, producing four little plantlets so far

A white-flowered florist's cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) - I realize that this is not a particularly impressive specimen but I am nevertheless very pleased with it since is three years old now has been flowering for most of that time period. It only takes a relatively brief break during the hottest part of the summer, bouncing right back in the fall to flower continuously until late spring.

Of the various coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) variants that I have grown this chance seedlings is pretty much my favorite in terms of leaf color and pattern but unfortunately it does not appear to be very vigorous. Maybe that extreme leaf color affects its ability to photosynthesize...

View along the windowsill in my room

These are all plants that are currently quartered in my room. Similar collections have taken up winter residence in various other places throughout the house, in addition to the handful of plants that spend the whole year as houseplants. Maybe I will take some cuttings or offsets of the most shade-tolerant - such as the African violents, my Boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata), and Philodendron scandens - with me when I go back so as to build up my collection at school.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Garden Images in the Media - Part 2: Doctor Zhivago (1965)

I have to admit that I have never seen David Lean's 1965 adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago, first published in 1957, in its entirety. However, a reference to it that I encountered a few years back in a German article about the garden of Klaus Bender and Manfred Lucenz (their garden website can be found here) first drew my attention not only to the film but also to the potential power of media images of gardens and landscapes more generally. I therefore figured that I should include it here. As for the reference, apparently Manfred Lucenz was very impressed with the Siberian daffodil meadows that he saw depicted in Doctor Zhivago that years later when he and Bender began their garden he set out to recreate them with thousands of bulbs. So here are some screen captures of the daffodil meadows in question:

I personally find the juxtaposition of the yellow daffodils with the white trunks of the birches quite interesting. Have you ever been inspired by a film - or some other artwork - in one of your garden projects?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Houseplant Update: Another Coleus

Here is another coleus cutting (Solenostemon scutellarioides) that I recently potted up and which so far has been growing quite well:

Interestingly enough, instead of opposing pairs of leaves, this variety has whirls of three leaves each, which gives it a fuller, sturdier overall appearance.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Article Worth a Look

Here is a new article from The New York Times that I found interesting; it reports on efforts by New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation to use locally sourced seeds, especially of native plants, as well as seed collection and seed-related biodiversity preservation efforts more generally:

Seeds for New York: The Lawn Guy

I, for my part, find that there is something very satisfying about collecting seeds. It is a bit like a treasure hunt, really, and holds such promise of future growth...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Wonderful Surprise

A few days ago I got an unexpected package in the mail which turned out to be a belated birthday present from our family friend Maggie. She had ordered me an assortment of six different Tillandsias or air plants from the California-based Tillandsia nursery Rainforest Flora, Inc.; according to the labels attached to each plantlet I am now the owner of the following species:

Tillandsia aeranthos

Tillandsia bulbosa

Tillandsia ionantha

Tillandsia juncea

Tillandsia stricta

Tillandsia tenuifolia

I did not really know how to best install these rootless epiphytes in my window but eventually I ended up tying them to a long wooden dowel bought at the hardwood store which I stuck in between my various potted plants. Hopefully this way they will get plenty of light while also benefiting from the higher humidity caused by the evaporation from the plants below.

My new Tillandsia arrangement

I have never grown any Tillandsias before, so we will see how things go...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Urban Wilderness - Part 3

Here is another instance of visually pleasing wild growth from my daily route to campus, this one spotted in a parking lot at the side of the street.

A climber, this delicate blue-flowered plant is weaving its way through the shrubs at the edge of the parking lot

A close-up of the leaves and flowers

Apparently this is bird vetch (Vicia cracca), a plant originally native to Europe and Asia. It has become an invasive weed in some parts of the country, yet on the other hand it enriches soil by fixing nitrogen - like other leguminous plants - and apparently also makes a good forage crop and can be used to curb erosion.

Sources: Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast by Peter Del Tredici,

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cool Campus Landscaping

Roughly a week ago when work crews began cutting down and ripping up the straggly hawthorns and yew hedges in front of one of the main science buildings on campus I was rather annoyed, assuming that they would be replaced with even more hardscaping or more drab, shoddily planted shrubbery. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when a truckload of large bamboo plants was delivered along with some rather futuristic-looking planters. Installation was completed yesterday and I think the result is quite cool:

A partial view

The new planting and seating area stretch along much of the front of the building

A close-up of one of the planters

I am not sure I like the design of the individual planters but the overall effect I find very appealing. Using raised planters is also a good solution to the problem of containing large, spreading species of bamboo, though I am a bit surprised that they do not seem to be worried about winter hardiness with the bamboo growing in containers rather than in the ground.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More Coleus

In a post I wrote a few days ago about my new coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) I mentioned that a surviving specimen from my first sowing of coleus over two years ago still grows on a windowsill in my room back home in Michigan. My mom, being the awesome blog-reading and ever-supportive mother that she is, promptly emailed me a current picture of the plant in question:

The little plant with leaves patterned in pink, cream, and green at the bottom must be a chance seedling from a no longer existant neighboring plant. I really love those colors so hopefully it will grow up strong and maybe my new sowing here will yield some more plants within that color range.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Article on Refugee Farming

Here is yet another interesting article from The New York Times, this one not about ornamental gardening but about the growth and positive impact of refugee farming and market gardening in various parts of the US:

When the Uprooted Put Down Roots

Here in this area there are a number of refugee farming programs, some of which even deliver their produce to a farmers' market held on campus on Tuesdays.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Garden Images in the Media - Part 1: Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

One of the things I have recently become quite fascinated with is the portrayal of gardens - and man-made landscapes more generally - in various forms of modern media. Many films, for instance, make conspicuous use of garden settings. Sometimes these are relevant to the film's plot or at least its overall mood, while at other times they seem more coincidental, a mere pretty backdrop that could be exchanged for some other setting without fundamentally altering the work. Actual gardens or cultivated landscapes are often used as locations for shooting scenes but at least as frequent are the artificial creations of set designers. The latter can rarely conceal their artificiality from someone familiar with plants and gardens, yet even so they can occasionally be inspiring, even if they just as often come across as tacky and fake. Since I find this variety very intriguing and would like to gain a better understanding of what media portrayals of gardens might have to say about their larger social and cultural roles - and because winter will all too soon deprive me of interesting "outdoor" material for posts - I am starting a series on garden images from films, music videos, and the like. First up is the Indian historical epic Mughal-e-Azam from 1960, directed by K. Asif and starring Madhubala, Prithviraj Kapoor, and Dilip Kumar. One of the most successful Hindi-language films of all times, it tells the tragic love story between the Mughal prince Salim - the future emperor Jahangir - and the dancing girl Anarkali or "pomegranate blossom." There are a number of garden scenes in the film, most of which accompany romantic musical sequences, the "gardens" in question being exuberant studio recreations of elements taken from Mughal and Rajput gardens and garden images.

I would love input on this - What do you think of these garden images? What movie or other media depictions of gardens, if any, have a struck a chord with you? Do you pay attention to garden or landscapes as they appear in films and other media? Any thoughts are welcome... :)