Fahrenheit Obsession

A Pillbox Relaxes Me

A little blue pillbox has solved my sleep problems.

I’ve touted the abundance of fresh figs I gather in summer and fall from my greenhouse, and the salad greens in winter. Not to mention the transplants for the garden in spring and summer.

All this has come at a price: sleep. In winter I often worry that something will go awry with the heater that keeps greenhouse temperatures from dropping below freezing, threatening the life of the in-ground fig trees and the salad greens.

And things have occasionally gone awry. One winter, the gas company didn’t deliver the gas for the propane heater on time. Another winter the pilot light kept going out on the heater. Another winter there was an interruption in electrical service, just a small amount of which is needed for the thermostat.

From the warmth of my home, how could I know if my plants were suffering …

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Valentinic Communiqués

Be Careful What You Say/Send/Deliver

As you look online or peruse the seed and nursery catalogues that turn up in your mailbox, take note of those flowers that you might need to grow and preserve for the purpose of delivering messages for Valentines Day next year. For this year, fresh flowers from a florist will do. The Household Guide, or Practical Helps for Every Home (including Home Remedies for Man and Beast) written by Professor B. G. Jefferis, M.D., Ph.D. in 1893 serves as my reference on the language of flowers.

“Say it with flowers,” suggests the florist of today. Before presenting flowers, make sure you know what you are saying?

Everyone knows that a rose represents an expression of romantic love. But watch out! According to my little book, you had better heed what kind of rose you pull out from behind your back to present to the one you love. In …

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Orchid Intimidation

Fear Not

I used to find orchids intimidating to grow. Their dust-sized seeds are fairly unique in not having any food reserves so — in the wild, at least — need the help of a fungus partner to get growing. And some orchids (epiphytes) spend their lives nestled in trees so need a special potting mix when grown in a pot. Orchids have above-ground structures called pseudobulbs. And many, especially those that call humid, tropical forests their homes, demand exacting environmental conditions that are very different from that found in most homes. Whew!

So I steered clear of growing any orchid for many years — until a local orchid enthusiast gave me a plant. After a couple of years, that plant, around this time of year, sent up a slender stalk which was soon punctuated with eight waxy, white flowers, each an inch across. For two months, those flowers greeted me each …

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The Best Winter Herbs

Mini-Trees for Flavor

Second best to fresh-picked vegetables in winter, which are not within most gardener’s grasp with temperatures in the single digits, are fresh-picked herbs. Fresh-picked herbs — indoors — in winter are within the grasp of most gardeners, even non-gardeners.

Flowering and fruiting demand lots of light energy, but it is the leaves of most herbs that provide us with flavoring, so most herbs do fine in any reasonably bright window. The same goes for normal household temperatures and humidity.

So make space near your windows for herb plants!

Let’s look below ground now. Any potting mix suitable for houseplants will also be to the liking of herb plants. The mix should hold some moisture between waterings while at the same time drain well so that roots, which need to breathe, don’t suffocate. My own mix, made  from equal parts compost, perlite, peat moss, and soil, provides air and moisture as well …

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An Early Spring

It could be spring. Now. Indoors, with the sweet fragrance from a flowerpot of pastel colored hyacinths and other spring-flowering bulbs. All it takes is a little bit of trickery. The bulbs don’t have to wait till spring.

Knowing what a bulb is helps understand the trickery. But first: All that we commonly call a “bulb” is not, in fact, a bulb botanically speaking. To conjure up an image of a true bulb, picture a stem that’s been telescoped down from a couple of feet or more long to a fraction of an inch. All the leaves on that bulb also move down and closer together. The leaves, except the innermost ones, are thick and juicy, the better to store both moisture and food reserves. Near the center of the bulb is a sleeping flower bud.

Hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips are true bulbs.

Though often called a bulb, crocus is an example of …

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The Green Faerie

In a Smoke-Filled Café . . . 

What you are about to read might have been improved upon if I had been writing with la fée verde (the green fairy) looking over my shoulder. Or better yet, if I also was writing from a smoke-filled cafe in Paris.

The Green Faerie, Viktor Oliva

Or even better, from a smoke filled cafe at the turn of the 19th century, hanging out with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and Lord Byron.

There’s a certain mystique with drinking absinthe, la fée verde, a distilled spirit concocted from various herbs which might include tansy, fennel, green anise, and bee balm. The most important ingredient is, of course, Artemisia absinthe, absinthe, the plant. Absinthe is one of many plants in the genus Artemisia, commonly referred to as mugwarts or wormwoods.

Full disclosure: I generally am not fond of this genus because it’s one of my …

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Fruit in Winter!

 

Snow Mulching

Only four inches of snow fell a a couple of weeks ago but I decided anyway to go outside and mulch. And shovel snow. And shovel snow and mulch.

What I was trying to do, besides clear snow from the driveway, the paths, and the doorway to the greenhouse, was to create a microclimate. A microclimate is a small area where the climate is slightly different from the general climate.

One group of plants in need of this special treatment are my maypops, Passiflora incarnata. Yes, Passiflora genus is that of passionflower, and maypop is a hardy species of passionflower, native to eastern U.S.. It bears the same breathtaking flowers, whose intricate arrangement of flower parts was used by Christian missionaries to teach native Americans about the “passion” of Christ, as the tropical species. And, like the tropical species, flowers are followed by egg-shaped fruits filled with air and seeds around …

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Life Goes On

 

The dark green wreath was tied with red ribbons and gliding towards me, in its progress stirring up snowflakes gently floating out of the grey sky. No, the wreath was not hanging from a horse-drawn sled, but was plowing through the frigid air affixed to the chrome grille of a gleaming white Cadillac! Here we are in the twenty-first century, still infusing a breath of life into our winters with cut evergreen boughs, just as did the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Jews, Christians, and Druids.

Whether for Christmas, for the ancient winter festival of Saturnalia, or for any other tradition, a wreath celebrates the continuity of life through winter. Evergreens are favorite wreath materials because their year long green flaunts winters’ apparently lifeless cold.

A few evergreen boughs tied together make a doorway more inviting or a room more cozy in winter, but a bona fide wreath creates something special. And the actual …

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Red and Green for Winter

A Mexican Native Adapts to Pot

A recent snowfall draped the landscape in magic. The white blanket settled softly on every horizontal surface to create a harmony in white.

Still, I miss green. Even better than seeing some green plants would be to liven up that green with, from the opposite side of the color wheel, red. And even better still would be to have this red-and-greenery close at hand — indoors.

Three plants fill this bill well, and are easy-care houseplants.

The most obvious and common member of this clan is poinsettia. Breeding, manipulation of their greenhouse environment, and plant growth regulators have transformed this sporadically blooming native of Mexico into a compact plant bursting into large blossoms for Christmas in foil wrapped pots.

(Actually, the “blossoms” are not blossoms, but colored bracts, which are modified leaves. Peer into the whorl of bracts and you’ll see small, round, yellow cups, called cyanthiums in which …

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End of Year Punch List

 

Winterizing

My carpenter friends, near the end of their projects, have their “punch lists” to serve as reminders what odds and ends still need to be done. I similarly have a punch list for my gardens, a punch list that marks the end of the growing season, a list of what (I hope) will get done before I drop the first seeds in the ground next spring.

(No need for an entry on the punch list to have the ground ready for that seed. Beds have been mulched with compost and are ready for planting.)

Hardy, potted plants, including some roses, pear trees, and Nanking cherries, can’t have their roots exposed to the full brunt of winter cold. I’ve huddled all these pots together against the north wall of my house but soon have to mound leaves or wood chips up to their rims to provide further cold protection.

I’ll save some leaves to …

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