Showing posts from September, 2011
Growing Standard Water Lilies Successfully

  Watergardening has become very popular in many areas, and justly so; the availability of great aquatic plants has never been better. Years ago, water lilies were the domain of large gardens and large ponds. The availability of plants at retail garden centers was poor at best. In recent years, the production of water plants has increased, but the quality of plants at retail centers is still less than it could be. I wonder if the supply:demand curve may have something to do with the lack of education on the customer's side of economics. I believe the true reason is more subtle: people don't want to get wet ! Locally, people feel that water gardens are high-maintenance mosquito attractors. The mosquito problem can be solved easily and economically by adding a few surface-feeding fish like guppies, gouramis, paradise fish or mosquito fish.  There are wonderful ways to have a great water garden in a small space, but homeowners need to…
Underwater Gardens ? Why Not ! ?

Over the last 15 months I have written over 130 blogs about plants and all things terrestrial - horticultural. I thought it was well past due that I should speak about the world of underwater plants. The aquarium and water gardening business is a thriving one. Florida has a burgeoning set of aquatic businesses, split into several groups including aquatic plants and aquarium fish. It is indeed possible to have an underwater garden ( immersed), although the choices are more limited than a terrestrial above-water garden ( emersed). Very surprisingly, some "regular" foliage plant growers sell plants for the aquatic plant  market, a fact I found surprising when I worked in a foliage nursery 20 years ago. Quite a few "garden" plants can be grown underwater for a very long time. 

Many of the same criteria are needed for aquatic plants as for emersed plants: light, oxygen, and fertilizer, but in different proportions to…
Coffee, Chocolate, Vanilla, ..........and?.........Tea !

What else could there be to complete the world of great tastes and brews than Tea ? Empires have been made and lost on the sweat of workers and the hillsides in the tropics in cultivating tea, coffee, and chocolate. Tea is one of the oldest cultivated plants used for brewing, and is one of the simplest in terms of garden-to-market processing. It is, however, land-intensive, requiring large tracts of land and a LOT of hand labor to pick young tea leaves at just the right stage of maturity. The young leaves are dried, then packaged for sale and shipment. There are hundreds of varieties and dozens of ways to make tea as a drink, but they are all based on just one species of plant: Camellia thea.

 Tea is grown in low mountainous areas, preferably with a mild climate. The major growing areas for tea are China, India, central-east Africa and Sri Lanka, but other countries produce tea in respectable quantities. Tea still ranks as…
Grow Your Own Chocolate ? Why Not ?

Last week I wrote a blog about Vanilla and where it comes from. I thought, "why not write a blog about its companion--Chocolate " ? Both Vanilla and Chocolate are tropical plants originally from the equatorial regions, now grown in many countries far from their home countries. Chocolate is an interesting tree in an unusual family, the Sterculiaceae, which contains both ornamental flowering and economical trees, including Cola, from whence comes some popular soft drinks.

Chocolate comes from a small tree, often called cacao. This is an interesting paradox, since the species of the commercial plant is Theobroma cacao, and is both the common name of the plant as well as the products produced from the fruit. I can imagine how "cocoa" came about from "cacao". The tree is unremarkable when looking at it, with a rather scraggly appearance, tiny flowers, and strongly veined deep green parchment-like leaves. The pods are abou…
First Was Vanilla, then Chocolate Coffee

 In the previous two blogs, I looked at two of the world's favorite food products, vanilla and chocolate, both of which have spawned global businesses. In this blog I'll look at one of the two remaining "empire" foods you CAN grow in your own garden: coffee. ( A hint for the next installation: it's an Asian Camellia).

Coffee is a curious brew of alkaloids and tannins and a smorgasbord of other chemistries with long names. Even when brewed well, it is bitter, sometimes sour, so what is the fascination with this stuff ? One of its attractions is its punch of caffeine, whose pick-me-up benefits outweigh the bitterness of the brew. Add some sweetener and a dairy product to mellow the taste and the mix becomes both highly drinkable and highly profitable. 40 years ago, if someone said they'd make a multi-billion-dollar enterprise based on a $ 5 cup of coffee with up to 6 additives, that someone would have bee…
Bonsai Basics for Beginners

Bonsai trees are more popular than ever before. Once the domain of royalty and private estate gardens, Bonsai are now produced and imported by the thousands. The Miami Bonsai Society meets at Pinecrest Gardens every month, and I must say I am learning a lot about Bonsai techniques.

I have seen Bonsai at their very best in California, Washington D.C. at the National Arboretum, and at the Philadelphia Flower Show (  which I judge annually). Some of the oldest trees presented are just mesmerizing, and the care needed to produce trees of such exceptional quality is inspiring. Just imagine: some of the champion trees are over 200 years old, and have been cared for, perfectly, for 8 generations.  Can you say that anything in your life has been tended for 8 generations ? Such trees are works of living art, and are treated as national treasures.
These venerated tree-masterpieces are the exception, not the norm. It is the culmination of decades of skills training, and…
Carnivorous Plants- Taking a Bite Out of the Myths
If I mention "carnivorous plants" to almost any gardener I know, the immediate reaction is "Venus Flytrap". As a kid I remember seeing little clear plastic eggs containing a sad little Venus Flytrap inside, sold at florist shops. The instructions were a sure way to kill the plant: feed it bits of hamburger and water it when it was dry. There are a dozen varieties of Venus Flytrap, and I know some expert growers of them. They rarely feed their plants, they keep them outside in bright sunlight, and the plants get daily watering with highly purified water. The plants catch their own food, and thrive when potted in sphagnum moss or moss-sand-perlite mixes in small pots. 

There are lots of varieties of carnivorous plants ( often abbreviated as CPs to save typing), but in this blog I'll show off some of the more common American varieties, except one of the Sundew varieties (it's African). They really are ins…