Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Cactus of a Different Color

So how bored must a plant-lover be to want to get the latest in (artificial) color couture? Euro Cactus out of the Netherlands has come out with a wide array of colorful succulents. And in order to leave nothing to chance, they have been spray painting them to make sure people notice.
A friend of mine who is well-versed in horticulture, picked up an unusual succulent with absolutely no tags or signage while shopping at Alsip Nursery in St. John, IN. It was the novelty, obviously. What plant sports leaves of this color? And as a gardener who has picked out thousands of plants in her lifetime, why couldn't she find any sign of a tag that would tell her about the plant?

I'd been talking to Dan Biernacki of Ted's Greenhouse in Tinley Park, IL about succulents in general, and he mentioned the insurgence of fancifully-colored Echeverias and other plants that have been coming out of Europe. By the time I'd gotten home I'd forgotten about it, but the next day my friend showed me this Echeveria of a different color that she'd purchased.

Dan Biernacki said: "The company doing it claims it is a 'special' paint, but in my youth I made many a delivery to florists who had a plethora of "floral" paints that they sprayed on open blooms to achieve various effects. I would gather that if you can spray the delicate tissue of a rose, you could most certainly paint a succulent as well. The paint does seem to remain adhered to the plant quite well but as the cells elongate and the plant grows, the new growth will be the original color of the leaf, usually some shade of green. Also, I have noticed that the growth tends to be "soft" looking, perhaps due to the fact that with the paint on the leaves, the plant cannot perform photosynthesis through the painted areas?"

So now we know how it was done and why the plant actually looks nearly natural as it grows out. But here's the thing that bothers me. Nowhere in the pot or on the plant does it tell the consumer that it has been artificially colored and that the new growth will come out green. It won't stay that color! And let's face it, the color is the reason it was purchased! If you look closely at the photo you can see overspray on the rim of the pot.

Weigh in on whether you think living plants should be spray painted in order to be noticed, and therefore purchased!


Friday, March 15, 2013

The Last Snow - Or Am I Jinxing It?

Like pancake make-up or a fresh coat of paint, snow covers a myriad of messes. The perennials I left to cut back in spring didn't look bad in October, but by late February they started to look more than a little haggard. As of today, I'm declaring the six or so inches that blanketed northwest Indiana ten days ago the last snow.

The last snow made creamy cones on top of the Tiki torches left out from our New Year's Festivus. It made long-empty seed pods look like dangling ornaments on the skeleton of an aster, put a new roof on our dilapidated shed, and made my view so peaceful I could feel the muscles loosening up around my neck.

The last snow that's pretty much gone today even made the girls' yard look pretty. The girls' yard is the fenced-off area open to the doggie door from which our three girl dogs, Olive, Abbie and Poppy emerge whenever they feel like it. It's partitioned off by various degrees of wire fencing in order to try to re-grow some grass (long story involving short-legged digger).

The last snow is the one we'll think about when it's too hot to go outside to deadhead. It's the one that we'll turn the clock back to when we realize it's gardening season and we have so much to do. And as it melts, the last snow, combined with lengthening daylight, will be the first in a series of gentle nudges to let the plants know it's time to wake up.

Happy Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!


Friday, March 1, 2013

Lowly Leek Loses Out


According to legend, a monk who would later be named Saint David, helped out in a sixth century battle between the Welsh and the Saxons. The Welsh were struggling to maintain their ground against the Saxons and the monk saw that part of the problem was that the men were not able to differentiate between their own and the other side. The monk found some wild leek on the battleground and told all of his fellow Welshmen to put a piece of the plant in their helmets so they would know who was who. The Welsh army won the battle, and the lowly leek became part of a legend.
The monk who would be named the patron of Wales died on March 1 some time in the sixth century, and that date each year is called Saint David’s Day. Based on historical literature, Saint David lived a monastic life and therefore it was unlikely he was out in the midst of a battlefield handing out leeks. However, leek legend number two occurred 800 years later when the Welsh battled the French in a field of leeks. So if a plant cries out for legend status in Welsh history, it most certainly is the leek.
Gardeners know leeks are in the onion family, and have a flower that is rounded, a bit bigger than a golf ball, and resembles a pale purple sphere. 

Leek relative, ornamental Allium
Its beauty is visible up close, as it’s not a particularly showy bloom in color or size. It wasn’t until 1911 that the daffodil was embraced by the Welsh as their national flower. The rationale at the time seems to have involved the fact that on Saint David’s day, March 1, daffodils were usually in bloom. And that they don’t smell as out of place in social circumstances as leeks.

UK Supreme Court emblem

Fast forward to 2008 when the official emblem of the new United Kingdom Supreme Court was unveiled, and Welshmen took offense at the daffodil’s absence. While flowers of the other nations—the Tudor rose for England, the Scotch thistle for Scotland and flax for Ireland—are represented in colorful renderings, the leek shows up as a set of three leaves between the thistle and rose. From a design perspective, three focal points are more artistic than four, so it makes sense to use only three spots of color in the layout. Also from a design perspective, the leek flower rendered in a simple design in keeping with the other three flowers would likely be too similar to the thistle in both color and form.
Scotch Thistle

Stylized version of the four flowers
I've written about how Indiana chose the peony as its state flower (It revolved around politics), and now realize just how widespread and prevalent the practice seems to be. 


  • England - the Tudor rose
  •  Ireland – the flax, orange lily, or shamrock
  •  Scotland – the Scotch thistle, Scottish bluebell (harebell) or heather
  •  Wales - the daffodil, leek or sessile oak