Garden moments

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes in my comics feed:


In the land of sentient plants.

Meanwhile, I’ve been laboring on getting my little container garden in hand, after a decade of devastation, neglect, and drought. Into the land of vegetative reproduction (cymbidiums,geraniums / pelargoniums, coleus / plecranthus) and nurturing some gift plants (two succulent gardens, kalanchoe, penstemon, and hydrangea).

A bit of history. In Columbus, I had a big, complex garden, which I’ve posted about a number of times. None of that could follow me to California. My original condo on Ramona St. in Palo Alto (which I bought in 1986 and where I am writing this) has a front patio and a back one, and almost immediately I started populating the front patio with cymbidium orchids, one as a birthday present for Jacques every year (January 22nd), plus occasional extras; cymbidiums are gorgeous, they bloom during the winter, they are easy to care for as container plants, and Jacques loved them.

Eventually we moved full-time to California, and I bought a second condo, with two wooden decks, one on each floor — and I went into container gardening in a big way, on both decks. Crowded, complex container gardening, with stands of different heights, and many dozens of species — mostly plants with interesting scents or tastes. (My garden book has gone missing, but I hope to rediscover it in sorting through drawers and cabinets.)

Then one of the decks developed dry rot, and most of the plants had to be moved out. They went to Ramona St., which suddenly was crowded with plants on both patios. Meanwhile, the cybidiums were joined by lots and lots of geraniums (technically, pelargoniums), of many different varieties — also easy to grow, and colorful.

Then the property management service at Ramona St. needed to do all kinds of work on the patios, and the workers jammed everything into one corner of the front patio. And I went through a series of health crises, during which I wasn’t able to tend to the plants. And then came the droughts, and we weren’t supposed to water. And everything died except the cymbidiums and geraniums, which are tough and can survive on very infrequent waterings. Recently, I’ve been stronger and have my balance back, and have been able to work at clearing out the enormous mess. A very slow process, but things are already much improved.

Now, on vegetative reproduction. Cymbidiums produce pseudobulbs (bulblike thickenings of the stem, just like corms, but above-ground), which accumulate and die back over the years, until the plants need to be divided (I have a small handsaw for this purpose), cleaned up, and replanted — a messy, tedius, and time-consuming process that does result in, yes!, several plants where there had been only one before. In recent weeks, I’ve been slowly working my way through the pots of cymbidiums. Now down to four, in which the pseudobulbs have risen 6 inches or more above the top of the pot, and have in fact cracked several pots in their expansion.

On the geranium front, the problem with them is that they’re inclined to get leggier and leggier, with a few leaves at the end of long leafless stems. Not to worry, there’s a solution for this too: you cut the stems back, to get the plants to start new growth earlier down, and you use the cuttings as slips to start new plants, getting them to start roots in a medium of some sort, even plain water, before being transplanted to ordinary soil in pots.

Here I am in better days, back in 2004, working on a winter day with some geraniums and (in front) cymbidiums in a photo by Ned Deily):


The current revival process continues. Still a long way to go with the geraniums, and now there’s also coleus (now plectranthus), in some work to restore a lovely multicolored coleus to full life; like the geraniums, it got leggy and unattractive. Now it has three stems sprouting leaves, and there are three new plants rooted from cuttings.

Meanwhile, I’ve been given quite a few plants as gifts, things to cheer up a plant person in recovery. A fair number of these I could find no suitable spot for on my patios, and some were true annuals, which bloomed beautifully and then died. But there was the coleus; two succulent gardens (flourishing like crazy); a kalanchoe and a penstemon (which came in full flower — nurseries force them into bloom — and are now waiting through to a new season; and a hydrangea (also forced into bloom out of its normal season, but now in bud for another round; it could be reproduced from cuttings, but that looks pretty complex, and anyway, I want to see what the flowers are like — probably pink, from relatively alkaline soil, but we’ll see).

And that’s the gardening news from Ramona St. (Kim Darnell is working on the Staunton Ct. decks, where there’s much to be done.)

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