Saturday, May 21, 2011

News & Cool Stuff

Normally this blog would be devoted to Vertical Horticulture and really unusual plants but
earlier in the week I was contacted indirectly and informed that a bookstore in Montclair NJ wanted to carry a few copies of the book.  Some of you may not yet know that I've published a book called 'Southern Skies: A Northern Guide To Southern Gardening'.  The book's name aside it is written as a functional guide for gardening in the eastern coastal states from South Carolina to New York.  Well if your living in New Jersey, and happen to be near Montclair which is in Essex county and is near Newark and want to lay hands on a copy check out Watchung Booksellers on 54 Fairfield Street.

Now as for odd and unusual plants, I'd like to talk about two specific ones, Chinese Foxglove and Wild Tobacco.

Rhemannia elata - Chinese Foxglove

Once known as Rhemannia angulata, Chinese foxglove is an interesting addition to any partial shade/partial sun garden if only for it's large lavender flowers. In appearance the flowers resemble a larger foxglove/lobelia hybrid and are born on thin dark  stems that droop allowing the flower to hang.  The leaves are spatulate which is off set by the wildly serrated leaves that literally seem to defy  the text book definition of serrated leaf margins. As a whole the plant can get up to three feet tall and possesses some fairly rigid stems. It reproduces by seed and by underground runner and in time creates fairly dense colonies. Some references say the plant is hardy only in zone 8-10 yet others increase the rage to 7-11. As most of North  Carolina is zone 7 I would suggest a little winter protection.  Did I mention Chinese Foxglove is evergreen?  Give this one a try when you find it at a nursery but remember to give it a little compost and nurse it through the transplant period.

Nicotiana rustica
- Wild Tobacco

Tobacco itself is a interesting group from a purely biological perspective. Generally tobacco is better known for Smoking tobacco, and flowering tobacco, but wild tobacco is the insecticide powerhouse of the family. While both smoking tobacco and wild tobacco have levels of Nicotine, the level of this compound  is higher in wild tobacco to a point that at one point it was grown for the production of Nicotine-Sulfide a powerful non-selective pesticide.
Now I can imagine what you might be thinking 'Why the heck would I plant that!?' well Wild Tobacco is a source of a biological pesticide, paired with Pyrethrum or Mint Oil extract it can prove to be a effective way to get rid of pests with little lingering environmental side-effects.  Plus it's one heck of an argument for all you non-smokers out there to never start smoking, nicotiana is serious business. Give it a consideration if you're tired of paying out the big bucks for pesticides that don't seem to work. It should be noted you can order this as seed from Richter's in Canada, the seed germinate fairly easily but are very fine and hard to manipulate. Once germinated and growing their first few true leaves grow wild tobacco as you would any other tobacco, regular water, good soil and partial to full sun. Spacing should be 6-10 inches and soil depth should be at least 6 inches. The slow way to make nicotine pesticide is to match 2 cups boiling water to 1 cup of harvested leaves allow to soak until the water takes on a dark coloration in a sealed container. The darker the liquid the better, once the color is to your liking strain out the leaves and store fluid in an appropriate container for use as a pesticide.  The amount of water to leaves  determines the base concentration but environmental variables can dilute the nicotine compounds. It is also recommended you wear rubber gloves during this entire process.

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