Monday, December 10, 2012

Seasons Greetings II: Indoor and Outdoor

Welcome back to the second of the holiday episodes of Lost In the Farmer’s Market, today we have a short list of interesting plants that may make great gifts for those gardeners you know. But before I get into that, I would like to talk to you about a quick garden topic and explain the odd posting schedule. 
In case you are wondering why there was a double post today it is because the first post of the month was delayed with me buried in finals for the last two weeks. This post was intended to appear yesterday, and so both are posted back-to-back in chronological order so no one misses out on anything. That said lets get on with the garden stuff.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, every square inch of your gardening space is home to something. And those things play a critical role in the balance of your garden. Your actions can ensure the proper balance of the soil, growth of your plants and the long-term health of the micro-climate that is composed of your yard. If you are being mindful of the way in which you garden you should then have no problem attracting beneficial creatures and making sure that your soil is productive and well balanced.

Case in point if any of you will remember, I reported seeing larger numbers of toads in the test gardens last year. I’d like to think this was a direct response to the installation of seasonal drip irrigation and the rain barrels. This year I spotted green frogs living near the rainbarrels too. Frogs as you may know pretty much need clean water to survive, and moisture to be healthy. To see them this summer was quite important because it meant the rain barrels were the right choice. But now for the first time in perhaps ten to fifteen years the Small green lizards are showing up.

I think the lizard is a bit camera shy, I blame all this GEICO business really. It hid under the cover of the leaves of the Coffee chicory as I took this photo.

Some of you might say, ‘So what it’s a lizard’ and a few years back I might have agreed. But the Green Anole is important because it eats large insects, which means moths, crickets palmetto bugs, slugs and a entire host of things I don’t necessarily want messing with the crops. Which in turn means less chemical controls are needed; not that I use many of those anyway. That aside seeing them proves that my efforts are providing an environment in which they can function and I can continue onward doing what I do anyway.

This individual was about 6" long and about as thick as a pencil.

Close up of the head of the snake, as you can see the head is angled making it easier to burrow.
The next critter in the list is this guy. Some of you may be thinking ‘God it’s a snake kill it!’ first off put the shovel down, not every snake is venomous. This is a Eastern Worm Snake they don’t get any longer then 11 inches on average with the largest noted being 13 inches. The key here is that they are NOT venomous in fact they lack fangs because their primary prey is exclusively invertebrates. Their name both comes from their tiny size which often is comparable to that of a particularly large worm, often their coloration bay be brown or grey. What makes these guys important is that their presence indicates there are plenty of invertebrate organisms living in the soil, and they are present to keep the numbers in check. The noted prey of this particular species includes slugs, snails, grubs, caterpillars, other soft-bodied insect larvae and of course worms. Because worm snakes prefer to be near rotting logs it is possible they also eat termites. Considering this particular snake is adept at digging as its reduced and pointed head suggests, it may play some role in aerating the soil. Chances are you may have these guys in your yard but may never see them, for some that is just as well.

This small slow-growing cactus is noted for its fragile stem-joints. These two cuttings are about six months old but the one on the upper right has doubled in that time probably due to soil fertility.  I barely water these and keep them in full sun.
The mammilaria cactus  as a whole are best known by their common name, Nipple Cactus. The name stems from the usual round shape of the stems when seen from above and the rings of blooms which make the cactus roughly resemble an areola when seen from the top down. I think we all know from the name of this group what classical agronomists had on mind while wandering the wilderness. Believe when I say the names only get worse when you delve into the meanings of horticultural names.

That aside, Thimble cacti are typically small, they form short branches that are roughly shaped like a thimble. This cactus is easily propagated from its small easily separated branches. Though like most cactus you must be patient with new cuttings as they take some time to form roots.  Overall the thimble cactus requires cactus soil or standard potting mix, in the case of the latter you must remember to water very sparingly. Like all cactus, thimble cactus require very little water and definitely do not like having wet foliage or extended periods of wet soil. What makes thimble cactus desirable for gifts is their lack of dangerous spines, while the thimble cacti do have a coating of curved spines it takes some special effort to come into contact with the glochids or to lodge one of the primary spines in the skin.

The real gift-able feature of these cacti is their potential for use in living sculptures. When used in a role similar to bonsai, with colored gravel and assorted miniature statues the thimble cactus transforms into an interesting living accent. The whitish colored spines on the thimble cactus can be used to contrast with a dark pot or dark colored sand or gravel to make the plant especially striking. If paired with more angular or darker foliage house plants in a single pot the effect can make for quite a nice miniature garden. Also when added into a small miniature glass conservatory it makes a nice companion to other slow growing cacti.

I often use this plant as a metaphor for understanding and tolerance. If you look closely that somewhat Z shaped ridge in the middle of the plant was the original growth, it used to be a straight line, over time this cactus will contort in odd ways.

This is a monstrose form cactus. The term monstrose essentially means mutated or warped.  called ‘Caterpilar’, it was bought roughly 2005 from Home Despot on loan as a part of the Cactus exhibition for VanVleck House and Gardens. This very slow growing cactus is now pushing its seven year in my care and is the only outright prickly cactus in the collection. As for that metaphor, I often use the cactus to emphasize tolerance and understanding because what is more misunderstood then a prickly cactus? In this case the warped lumpy shape plus the spines tends to add to the point of what is being said.

As for how I use it to represent tolerance and understanding as you can see in the picture other plants have colonized the pot. There is a bunch of dragon cactus, and that brown curved thing at the top of the picture is a Million bells petunia plant. The three plants live in the same pot with no problems. During the spring and summer the million bells grows out and covers one entire side of the pot in foliage and bright pink blooms. Typically I aim the million bells side at someone and ask for their first impression, then after turn the cactus side towards them and ask the same question. Often they won’t even look at the cactus closely, which demonstrates a lack of tolerance because all they can see are the spines. Yet if you look closely you can see that it in shape resembles coral, or some kind of brain-like organ, the adjectives are endless. But the point made is that, how can one expect to be tolerant and understanding they are not willing to look past what they see from afar instead of looking closer and examining the situation?

For gift ideas this is a plant you give to someone fascinated with arid climates and desert regions. Also if you know a horticulture-inclined person who wants a unique plant this may be it. What really makes this a good gift plant, is that it grows slowly needs little in the way of care and can be put outdoors in for the summer. Appearance wise it is a very unique and in a dish shaped pot with attractive gravel, pebbles or sand it can make for an interesting centerpiece.  This is a unique gift that requires some thought and planning as well as knowing that this cactus will develop into a more interesting specimen over time.  When I bought this plant it formed a singular crest, but over the years it’s developed the lobes lumps and numerous crests you see in the picture. Who knows what it’ll look like in another seven or so years?

This wraps up another episode of lost in the farmer’s market, I hope the plant ideas and the thoughts on biodiversity help to get your ideas flowing not only for the holidays but also for the coming growing year. Thank you for reading, and as always Keep ‘em Growing!

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