Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lithops- Living Stones

I bought this Lithops (Living Stone) at Lowe's about a month ago. It already had a flower bud on it and that is why I chose it. I have killed several of these plants before, I suppose with too much water. They seem to need almost none. Lithops are native to dry areas in South Africa and Namibia that get about 2 inches of rain per year. Their entire body is about conserving moisture. The plant is reduced to two leaves that attach to a root system, During their growing season ( winter and spring) a second pair of leaves may develop from the center of the leaves. I had never seen one flower and was very pleased with this one. It is very daisy-like in appearance and lasted about a week. 
Lithops are mimicry plants, able to escape the notice of grazing animals because they resemble pebbles.
  I have a total of 4 of these plants now, and one I have had for about 6 months, the longest I have ever been able to keep one before it suddenly turned to mush. In 6 months time I have given it 3 drops of water. It had started to look a little shriveled and then two new leaves began erupting from the center of the old leaves.

This last picture is a different type of Lithops called Baby Toes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Difference Between Carolina Jessamine and Carolina Jasmine

The above is a picture of Carolina Jessamine. It is blooming now  (March/April) and can be seen gracing the tops of trees as you drive. It is a thin but strong vine native to the southeast and produces yellow flowers without scent. It is not a Jasmine but is Gelsemium sempervirens. It is semi-evergreen and leaves turn a bronze-ish color when the weather is cold. A common name for this is Carolina jasmine although it is not a jasmine. (As far as I know all jasmines have a fragrance). The leaves are about 2 inches long and narrow and pointed.
This is confederate jasmine. It is evergreen and has roundish leaves. Its flowers are fragrant, and it is a much sturdier vine than Jessamine.
As far as I am aware there are no worries about invasiveness of either of these two. Jessamine does reseed somewhat but seedlings are easily removed or shared. There are reports of confederate jasmine making seeds but apparently this is not a problem either.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Narcissus and Muscari

I used to disparage Grape Hyacinths (Muscari), but now I am seeing their merits. For one thing, they seem to persist forever. If they meet with a sudden move in location, they just start growing and blooming wherever they are when spring comes. One at a time they are not much, it's true, but over time,one becomes many and they make a great blue splash against the many yellows in spring. I have seen quite a few clumps in people's yards this year as I drive along and it has made me wish for more for my own yard. Once I planted some double Muscari but they never bloomed well, even though they were in a flower bed, as opposed to having to fight it out with the grass in the lawn. I guess this just shows you should not mess around with a good thing. They were not even that pretty anyway.
 The yellow in this shot is an old timey narcissus that I often see growing about old home sites. There are certainly a lot of them in my yard (this is an old home site).  They are fragrant as all narcissus are. They also have a longer season of bloom than many of the larger flowered narcissus.
We are getting to the end of our spring bulb show. Enjoy while you can.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


The following is an excerpt from the Writer's Almanac. I especially the Thoreau quote.
Did you see the lovely moon last night? If not check it tonight. I am sure it will be equally beautiful.

Today is the first  day of spring. The vernal equinox occurs today, the time when the earth's  axis is not turned toward the sun (summer, for those of us in the Northern  Hemisphere), or away from it (winter), but is aligned with the center of the  sun. The word equinox comes from  Latin: aequus means equal, level, or  calm; nox means night, or darkness.  The equinox, in spring or fall, is a time when the day and night are as  close to equal as they ever are, and when the hours of night are exactly equal  for people living equidistant from the equator either north or south.
 Margaret Atwood wrote: 'Gardening is not a rational  act. What matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth, that ancient  ceremony of which the Pope kissing the tarmac is merely a pallid vestigial  remnant. In the  spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.'
 Henry David Thoreau wrote: 'This phenomenon is more  exhilarating to me than the luxuriance and fertility of vineyards. True, it is  somewhat excrementitious in its character, and there is no end to the heaps of  liver, lights, and bowels, as if the globe were turned wrong side outward; but  this suggests at least that Nature has some bowels, and there again is mother  of humanity. This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It  precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular poetry. I  know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and indigestions. It convinces  me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby  fingers on every side. Fresh curls spring from the baldest brow. There is  nothing inorganic. These foliaceous heaps lie along the bank like the slag of a  furnace, showing that Nature is 'in full blast' within. The earth is  not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a  book, to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry  like the leaves of a tree.'

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I have been growing hellebores for maybe less than 5 years, and not many people are growing them in this area at least as far and I know. Two common names for them are Lenton rose and Christmas rose, depending on the earliness of bloom. These are great perennial plants, long-lived and tough. They also reseed to a limited degree, so after a few years you can have enough to share. They are also reported to be deer resistant, but mine have been deer fodder for the last couple years. However, losing their leaves in the winter did not affect their blooming and although all the leaves were eaten leaving just the leaf stalks behind, the flower stems sprang up beautiful and fresh.
The shiny leaves are beautiful all winter (till the deer eat them), at least here in Alabama. They are drought tolerant and survive long hot dry spells well, although they benefit from some shade when the sun is especially hot. Typically sold as shade plants, they bloom best if given some sun.
Some extracts of hellebores are used in homeopathy and traditional medicines.They hail from Europe and Asia, and in some places they grow in open fields with only short grasses to shade them. They were named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2005. They come in white, pink, purple, and even some yellows since the hybridizes got hold of them. The named varieties are great, no doubt, but the  seedlings are not to be disparaged.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chinese Witch Hazel (Loropetalum)

I have threatened to cut this Loropetalum down and poison the roots, but looking at this now, I am having second thoughts. It certainly is beautiful this year as Chinese Witch Hazels seem to be everywhere this spring.
They do have some serious drawbacks though. For one thing, they are just a little too vigorous. They get to be trees if you do not prune on them about twice a year. And if you prune at the wrong time you will cut off next year's flowers as I have done several times. In the above picture I tried to prune this into a small tree form which would have looked nice, at least in my imagination. But the Chinese witch hazel will have none of it and sprouted out at the base as if to cover its unsightly feet..
They shrubs tend to sucker a bit and over time the base of it gets larger (and larger).So what am I to do, prune constantly or have runaway witch hazel? One day recently I saw some "miniature Chinese witch hazels" at a nursery. If they truly were miniature that would be great. I do remember when these things first became the rage. They were being planted in all sorts of tiny spaces, and BOOM! in about 3 years they were as big as a bathroom. Should we trust them again?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ants in Death Circle

This was interesting but also made me think of how it could apply to humans. How often we follow mindlessly along and end up some place we did not want to go, or never wind up anywhere except dead.

Einstein Quote

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.
This is one of those quotes that circle the internet periodically. I tried to look up and see if this was actually an Einstein quote but there comes a point where like the newspapers, someone reports something, true or false, and everyone repeats it so that after a time it takes on a life of its own, true or not.
 But it seems true to me, no matter who said it.
I have seen these types of sentiments applied to animals many times. The truth is if an animal was stupid, it would not last long. Each animal is very smart in the ways it needs to be to live and reproduce. It is not fair to condemn an animal for not being able to dial a telephone or do other things that are associated with a human intellect or life style.
The same is easily applicable to the human species. It is a sort of self fulfilling prophesy. Tell a child (or adult) they are stupid long enough and they will come to believe it. We could all benefit from others reinforcing our strengths instead of our weaknesses. I can't draw realistic figures, but I can still do art that please myself at least. I can't dance with any degree of grace, but I am a champion of hole digging. (Maybe I am part bird dog.)
 Some are academic giants, but can't remember to flush a toilet . Some are excellent cooks, but can't drive a car. Some people can play beautiful music, but can't match their clothes. Lets celebrate the gifts we have and the gifts we see in others instead of dwelling on the have-nots.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Arum italicum

I have grown this beautiful Arum for a number of years and the clump slowly increases in size. It has these beautiful leaves all winter, flowers in the spring with a jack-in-the-pulpit type flower, and red berries follow the flower.It dies down in summer. I have been pleased with it from the very first.
Now I read that it is horribly invasive and almost impossible to get rid of. When it is dug up, invariably some small corm  is left behind or seeds germinate to rise again. I did move the clump once and was surprised when a new clump started where I dug the old one up, so I guess it is true that moving it just spreads it. I do know also that the seed germinate readily as I have planted them in a pot. It is also a fact that invasive plants frequently behave for years til one day they begin to spring up everywhere. Maybe they try to lull you to sleep with good behavior and then start galloping away when you are napping.
Reports from the internet indicate that people who have had it in their gardens 18-20 years will fight it the rest of their lives. It forms a thick mat that closes off the growth of other plants. It seems largely unresponsive to herbicide applications (Roundup). It is reported to be cause allergic reactions, particularly in handling seed.
So what should I do? I do not want to be remembered as the idiot who released a menace on the landscape (witness-Kudzu), but at the same time I do like this plant. Maybe I will move it to a pot and be vigilant about any that are left behind.
It is so beautiful and easy to grow, maybe sort of like a mink, till you try to pet it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Crocuses are still blooming but are beginning to fade some now. These pictures were made when they were in their prime. These are the early blooming crocus with the small flowers.Most of the ones I see for sale in the stores are the hybrid giants that bloom later, and do not have the delicate beauty of these early ones. I planted a handful of bulbs 25 years ago under the oak and now they are thick and even have moved out of the bed to some degree. I think though that they may have gotten pulled out when I was weeding or thinning the old timey butterfly bushes that spread so readily. they just started growing where they lay in the grass. I start watching for them to bloom in December every year, and if the weather is mild, they often do bloom in December. This year it was after mid-January that they began. On bright days they open but when it is cloudy, they stay shut.
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