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Setting Up Xanadu

Monday, November 9, 2015

When my sister Micky and I were young, we loved to play Trolls. We had these little folding vinyl lunchbox-like houses for them with a few bits of doll furniture we'd scrounged, augmented with rocks. We'd spend a long time setting everything up just so. And then it was over. Once it was set up, there was nothing to "play." Same deal in the sand patch in the backyard. We'd get our Matchbox cars arranged, make little garages and houses and driveways, and once everything was just like we wanted it, we were done.

I now embrace the reality, that the setting up and arranging and rearranging is actually the whole thing, and when I need a break from whatever I'm doing, I go down to play Greenhouse. Repotting and rearranging and preening my plants is the whole game. Just messing about with plants and soil, pots and pedestals. Do I ever sit there and just drink it in? Sure, in the dead of winter, maybe for a few minutes with a cup of hot tea or a rare pale ale. The rest of the time I'm working away, arranging it all just so. That work is my play. 

Bacon keeps me company. In the dead of winter, though, he demands to be on my lap, because the concrete's too cold. If anyone can make me sit down, it's Baker. Hey, he makes me run, too!

I don't know why my pitcher plants sulk in the pond all summer, with a few green strappy leaves, then send up a mess of spectacular pitchers in October, but that's what they do. Reasoning that they need to digest all the insects they've caught, I bring them into the greenhouse for the winter.

It's pretty chilling to look down in the pitchers. Stuffed FULL of bees, wasps, earwigs, and moths. None of 'em getting out. The pitcher plant slowly digests them alive, until they're just husks. When the pitcher leaf finally croaks, I slit it down the side and have lots of fun trying to identify all the things it's caught. 

Considering that the pitchers are about 2' high, that's a lot of pollinators! I check them daily and use a stick to help bumblebees and honeybees and the odd moth or hapless wasp out. Can't stand to see them suffer--or hear them buzzing in there. Earwigs, you can have!

You can see the pitcher plants on the floor, where they'll stay cool. I keep them wet, because they were submerged in the pond all summer. I've decided this plant is indestructible; doesn't seem to care if it spends the winter encased in ice or in the greenhouse; they still come back in spring and bloom!

Speaking of pollinators, I have a huge Polistes wasp nest in the greenhouse, built over the summer. 

Eek, you say? Yeah, me too. But the thing is, they've never once made a move to attack me, even through all the schlepping of plants in and out as autumn comes on. Every time I go in, I look up to see how many are still hanging in there. It's November! But it's warm in here. I guess I'm curious what they'll do.  They're not hurting anything living in here. There are no capped cells with pupae; they're done breeding. What happens now? In nature, they'd die, I guess. Or overwinter somewhere. Maybe here. 

Update: I accidentally brushed the nest with my hand while hanging twinkly lights tonight. The wasps looked calmly at me. "We know you didn't mean to."

I always remember what my parents told me when I was little and would freak out about a wasp. "Don't bother him and he won't bother you." 

Schlumbergia is not the prettiest Latin name for a plant. I have to say it fits Christmas cacti pretty well when they're not in bloom. But when they're in bloom, they belong to genus Euphoria!!!!!

I picked this little number up at a Kroger grocery store. I still haven't seen one I like better. 
When it's done blooming I'm going to divide it into several pieces. It's rootbound and getting sort of sad (blossoms notwithstanding). People say Christmas cacti thrive on neglect. Hmm. Nothing in my greenhouse gets neglected. I want to see it firm and dark green and happy again. Needs more root room.

Last May I ordered another hibiscus from Logee's Greenhouse. She arrived healthy and happy, about a foot tall. Now she's about 2 1/2' tall and loaded with buds. This is "Creole Lady," in bud. That bud stayed exposed but tightly furled for about a week. I almost burst with anticipation. Had I known what was coming, I WOULD have burst!

You're going to have to wait to see her. Because I had to wait. I had to wait since May!! By the way, that fabulous neon-orange flower in the background is not a fuchsia. It's a dwarf pomegranate! And it's fruiting like mad!

Waiting for Creole Lady, I kept myself happy with the gentle blue beauty of lobelia, that seeded itself into my poet's jasmine pot. Love it when that happens.

I took a cutting of this geranium from a planter outside a natural foods restaurant in Ithaca last October. It was the end of the growing season; she wouldn't miss it.
Now she graces my greenhouse. I think this is "Petals."

This glorious creature is "Happy Thought Red." It has become one of my favorite gerania, despite its easily shattered flowers. "Shattering" is a grower's term for a geranium that easily drops its petals. I used to dislike easily shattered geraniums. 

Older and wiser now, I look at the slow cascade of petals as hearts breaking and falling.

 Let it rain.

This big upright/semi-trailing fuchsia (Trandshen Bonnstadt) is my new fave. I have propagated it out the wazoo. They're everywhere! They're everywhere! Even have one in the master bath, where it's doing fabulously. Although I think, being a German cultivar, its name should be spelled Trandchen Bonnstadt.

You do not see fuchsias like Trandchen Bonnstadt in nurseries. I got it at The Glasshouse Works. This one (below) is a typical big-nursery fuchsia. Very nice, but without the impact of T.B, simply because it never gets much more than 8" tall. I don't know why, but fuchsias like these seem to lack vigor, lose hope easily. Give me big strapping ones like T.B. and Gartenmeister Bonstedt any day.

Yep, there's a party goin' on in Xanadu!

Woot woot!

The Path keeps the salsa music going night and day. Really, she can be a bit much as a roomie.

Some days, she's got her nose pressed up against the back window, hollering and waving, trying to get people to come inside and dance. 

It's hard to upstage a Rex begonia like "Cancun," but she does, oh she does.

Hold on, Miss The Path, because Little Sister's puttin' her makeup on.

I peeled back that unfurling tangerine petal on Creole Lady and saw... deep lavender?? 

 And an aphid, which I squished. 

Stay tuned! 
The Creole Reveal on Thursday!


This potting and repotting, mixing soil so it's just right, making sure the drainage is good, setting each plant where it will get what it most needs, morning light, all day light, low light, warmth, coolth (I like coolth better than coolness), heat, catching the bad bugs in time, watering, misting -- all this nurturing with the reward of strapping healthy plants, patterns, texture, color, fragrance: just so satisfying. :big sigh: perfect for the koselig season.

Posted by Gail Spratley November 9, 2015 at 7:19 PM

I don't know why people freak out so about wasp nests on their property. I've never been attacked by one, It's true: leave them be and they will let you be. Laissez-faire.

I've read that plants flower when they feel stressed -- sort of like "Oh, no! I'm gonna die! I'd better try to breed first!" So every once in a while, when I'm talking to my plants, I will tell them that their taxes are due soon or that their progeny has been hanging out with the "fast" crowd. Seems to work; my Hibiscuses always seem to spend the winter aflower.

Posted by Anonymous November 10, 2015 at 4:02 AM

Lol, Mimi! I've always connected lush blooming with stress, too. Like when we pruned the everlovin' crap out of our apple orchard and they were bending down with apples the next fall. And then, oops, they all died.

Gail, koselig. Oh my gosh. A word I've never heard, but a concept I've unconsciously embraced. Too, too good. Thank you, thank you.

I have that same Christmas came as a gift when I went to a breeder's home in Putney, KY over 20 yrs ago, to be approved to purchase my Corgi pup. While showing us around their home, I spotted these hanging baskets of Christmas Cactus. They had just divided them and offered me one! I still have that cactus and it has never been repotted. I cut it totally back to the soil about 4 yrs ago. Now it is lush and 'hanging' again. A recent photo is on my fb page. I am going to have to repot this year after bloom because the darn thing has become so heavy the pot is breaking.

Posted by Janet Tincher November 10, 2015 at 7:31 AM

Wasps go after me for no reason. I get stung while simply sitting still. Recently had one get me under my chin while sitting inside my neighbor's house. I do not trust wasps because they know they can sting you repeatedly. Bees, on the other hand, seem to love me.
Loved this post. I was thinking it was time for a greenhouse report! Thank you, Julie!!

Every year I look forward to your greenhouse (groanhouse) post. I used to think I had a green thumb, but if yours is green, mine is more of a pale honeydew color. BEAUTIFUL flowers, as always.

I can hardly believe how relevatory this statement is for me. "I now embrace the reality, that the setting up and arranging and rearranging is actually the whole thing, and when I need a break from whatever I'm doing, I go down to play .."

Wonderful words as always.

Wasps won't bother you if you don't bother them. Unfortunately, their notion of "bother" may be different from ours! Like dogs, they don't go after people for "no reason".... it's just we may not know what their reasons are! (at least we can learn how dogs tell us their reasons though... can we learn wasp "body language"???)

I used to hate earwigs with a fiery passion. Any that crossed my path were squashed, indoors or out. Then I read that they eat aphids! Now I tell myself they can't help being ugly, and leave them be.

Your plants are gorgeous - GORGEOUS.

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