Monday, April 25, 2011

Dr. Watson At Your Service

Who am I?

I ran across the beautiful specimen of a plant today and had to purchase it.  It was from a bush and tree nursery who occasionally have a smattering of ornamental plants.  This place is mainly to the trade so I wasn't immediately indignant that there wasn't a tag on it.

When a woman came up to ask me if she could help, I asked her what it was, and she said, point blank, Foxglove.

To which I said, "this cannot be foxglove."  I said it out loud too, which is highly unusual, being a relative newbie gardener, I try to keep el moutho firmly shut out in the real world so I do not look like an idiot.   For some reason, to you folks reading here, looking like an idiot is much less an obstacle.

Anyhow, she repeated, foxglove.   To which I said, "you cannot possibly convince me that this is foxglove.  First of all, it does not resemble it in the slightest, and second foxglove would be a crispy critter after a day in the full sun where it is currently sitting.  Honestly, foxgloves are 3 or 4 feet tall with bells and tall spike form.  Haven't you ever seen one?" To this she started digging around through all of the pots looking for an ID card and came up with one that said, "primrose."  Oh for heaven sake, I thought, it didn't look like primrose either.
I could have better accepted primrose as a possibility, yet by now I was dubious.  That this lady was seemingly convinced one minute it was foxglove and another minute it was primrose was highly suspect.   And in light of the fact that it didn't, on the face of it, resemble either, yet she seemed to be completely unaware of this fact...

I couldn't help myself.  I hauled off, gathered speed, and gave her the big fat hairy eyeball... so hairy one could reclassify it as a furry eyeball (but I would use a tag so people wouldn't be confused when choosing between hairy and furry eyeballs).

For some reason this woman was running around this nursery pretending to work here... this could be the only explanation.  As dear old Holmes would say, when you've eliminated the impossible, whatever is remaining, however improbable, is the truth.

So having solved that mystery with swift efficiency, I brought the plant home and got out my smoking jacket and pipe and weird little hat (I forwent the cocaine... you have to draw the line somewhere with these rhetorical devices.)   I began studying the facts.  The flowers, in my vastly inferior experience, resemble something like those of torenia or even more like those of a thunburgia vine (blue sky flower/blackeyed susan vine).  The habit and leaves looked nothing like either, this has simple medium green leaves, opposite, appearing from the bottom through the mid point of the stem.  The stems are blackish, stiff and thin.  The flowers are a bluish purple, non waxy, relatively small and seem to pop up one after another on each sprig, but not all together.   Its about 12 inches high, with an obvious tendency for sprawliness, and was basking in full frontal Southern sun.  It also sat for 15 minutes in the parking lot locked in the car on the way home while I stopped by Jack's Comic Dogs for an Omega Dog and a diet coke.  The steamy 115 degree sauna inside the car had no effect.  Tropical, I presume?

Foxglove indeed.  Such treatment would have surely left an ordinary foxglove looking like a wet noodle with a dress on.  Armed with my trusty pipe and MacBook I preceded to type in all descriptors I could imagine might fit this plant.  I searched for look alike flowers.  I searched for full sun tropicals that might fit the color and description.  I searched for black stemmed flowers.  I even searched for South Carolina natives hoping maybe it actually came from around here.   Zip. Zilch. Nada.

So exasperated, I finally typed into Google: primrose foxglove.  And you're not going to believe this.  7 entries down, on the first page, the very first entry that was speaking of a unique plant (not a varietal name of foxglove, or foxgloves with primroses), I see a plant called Asystasia gangetica.   Also known as Ganges Primrose, Creeping Foxglove and they've added a third name to which the generally associated plant has zero in common: Chinese Violets. Sure enough, its my plant.  It's not genetically related whatsoever to foxglove (digitalis), primrose (primula or oenothera) or violets (viola), but it hasn't stopped the official plant naming committee from trying to confuse gardeners as often and as thoroughly as possible.  Honestly people, do we lack that much in the creativity department that we have to reuse names?

The moral of this story is that I am obviously no Sherlock, but instead a total Watson.  And one should probably not be throwing around hairy eyeballs no matter how much evidence is stacked against another person.   Sorry, lady at the nursery.  You were right, on both accounts, whether you knew it or not (this is still a mystery).  I guess you probably do work there after all.  Maybe.

But I will add myself one pat on the back.. it is indeed related to thunbergia, and it is tropical.   And now that I've researched it, looking at just the stalks and form, it does look a heck of a lot like some ruellias, to which it is also related.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Sound And The Fury

For the past few weeks, as I'm sure a lot of you have either witnessed or heard on the news, the south has been getting some destructive storms... wind, hail, tornados.  A week ago, we were on a two day alert about the white cell that eventually laid waste to swath of about 4 states.  It didn't even rain here, even though our weather people were predicting 100% chance.  Not a drop.

That all changed yesterday as a mother nature came without warning, again making me realize that checking the weather is completely senseless (as telling me its hailing when its hailing is not all that useful, I've noticed).   They do not know and the illusion that they do can only serve to bite you in the ass.

The hail was one thing, mostly about bb sized, with some about dime sized and a few that looked like wadded up pieces of hubba bubba.  I noticed this because the hail was coming directly sideways into the west side of my house and were skidding across the upstairs porch.  You could see them doing high fives with each other and brushing the pollen off. Woohoo WILD RIDE MAN!

The bigger issue was the wind that was sending it horizontal.  First, I was scared for my windows as the smack that they were making against the panes sounded pretty brutal.  Then I looked outside and saw the whipping circular motions everything was making on the east side of my yard... it was an 'ut oh' moment.   And here I was thinking JUST that morning that it was nice that we were having our normal thunderstormy type weather this summer, which I felt sure was a great improvement over the past two years where it never rained all summer.

Even right before the storm, I was outside thinking, yeehaw, I don't have to water, because this thunderstorm is going to take care of it.  Well, and then some.  60 mph winds.  60.  On the rocks.

Stupid weather.  Why can't we just have normal?  NORMAL!!!  I am sick to death of coldest winters and hottest summers and droughts and destructo storms.

So the destruction included the toppling of two newly planted maple trees (fixable), the flattening of anything tall in the garden (pathetic and not sure how to fix), busted and now flowerless roses,  and the destruction of all the just emerged THIS WEEK foxglove.  Hate.  Seeing Red.  Flames, flames on the side of my face. Broken in half with most of the flowers unopened.

Also very angry at myself too as I had plenty of stakes sitting right there.... Well, I hope it at least took out a few squirrels.   And the rat that chewed through my cars window washer fluid hose... again.   GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Garden Pics From My Actual Garden!

Things have finally filled in to the point that I can get a good couple of shots without a dead looking hydrangea in the frame.  April 2011 is weeks ahead of last year. The star jasmine is out in its full glory, and the first flush of roses beat out nearly everything in the garden.   Cleome is up and blooming, though significantly shorter than normal for bloom time. The salvias are looking like its mid June.    The coneflowers, beebalm, and garden phlox are totally ignoring all this and are all about 4 inches high, wondering what the heck all the rush is for.

The jasmine, as you see, is definitely blooming, so obviously the disease from March didn't kill it, however, it did lose most of its leaves.  New leaves have come up, but it is looking about as wimpy leaved as any jasmine I've ever seen!!!  Still, its not dead, and no longer losing any leaves.  Hopefully I can keep it clear for a year so it can recover can get a little less tragic looking.


Finally, a close-up of the Showy Evening Primrose, so you can see why I didn't rip it entirely out this year.  It is so invasive but so pretty.  I have to pull some out every week to keep it in check.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I Think This Pretty Much Says It All

Grumble grumble, squirrelly bastards...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Through A Different Lens

I've said before that Charleston is a garden that happens to have some old houses in it, and at no time is this more apparent than April.   The pink trees and the camellias might be gone, and the lady banks roses, wisteria and azaleas are the next to be history for this year, but now everything else is out.  All the roses.  Jasmine and pittosporum. All of them are blooming and the scent is wafting down the streets.  And it is so picturesque.

In Charleston there are other people besides me who wander around smelling the roses with camera in hand.  Frankly I'm a halfhearted amateur.  Joan, on the other hand, runs a blog which features a picture a day from Charleston and the surrounding area.  Many feature architecture and gardens, something you can't escape, and something many of you have commented on here in my pictures.  She also is very quirky and sees the lighter side of life (her quirky label tab is a riot).  So today, I'm all about 'stealing' some of her fine photos to show you how lovely Charleston is through a different lens.  If you like what you see, go check out her blog for a daily dose!  Its one of my favorites and I live here.  And if you don't live here its like a mini vacation walking through the streets.

All photos courtesy of Joan via Charleston Daily Photo:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When Wildlife Won't Stay Put

A few other bloggers around the blogosphere have got me thinking about the wildlife that shows up in my garden (and in my house) regularly. Heidi, at Gippsland Gardens in Australia has been visited by a two foot long lizard, and Jean, in Maine (or Pennsylvania - I can never tell), is discussing her efforts to remove non-native invasives and encourage native species.   And myself, well last night I had a two hour mad maniac cat on my hands.  The true definition of wildlife. While she's looking relatively calm today (and also looking like she's trying out to be the "I'm a Mac" commercial spokeswoman), at 10 pm last night she was going bananas and hanging from a wall mounted painting.

Aside from trying to save the antique barware underneath said painting by moving it out of maniac cat's way, I also had to take the picture down and show her that there was NOTHING behind the painting or anywhere on the painting.  There's a good lesson here, btw, on why you should mount your paintings with correct picturing mounting hardware.

Anyhow, she still stood posted for at least an hour afterwards, occasionally rattling around in the barware.  At midnight, as I'm about to pack up my toys and go to bed, I see out of the corner of my eye a little form quickly moving across the rug in the dining room.  It was definitely a lizard, and this AHHA moment came over me.   My thought that it was a no-see-em bug that got away was wrong.  It was this lizard all the time.

I looked over to my right, where the cat was curled up on top of a pillow looking at me, but from that position could not see the lizard.  I had to act fast.  I casually drank the water in my water glass, and sauntered over to the dining room, pretending that I was just cleaning up for the night with my dishes, and quick as I could tried to scoop what I could now see as a tail-less gecko into the glass.  It didn't work.   I tried again to corner it against the wall, and in between my feet, and again failed.  Siggy was upon us (the cat).  Fighting her off with my left elbow, I cupped my hand and smacked it straight down on the gecko.  No time for gentleness at this point.  Safe to say I got his gecko self into the glass and out of the backdoor where he belonged, safe and sound minus the emotional trauma and a tail. Which is probably amongst the barware. Unfortunately, lizard vs cat usually ends with dead lizard at my feet and Siggy sitting there looking immensely please with herself.  So this was a victory.. or was it?

Really, this is all a very long introduction as to how I found this gecko, who clearly walked into my house, and is not native to South Carolina.  As a matter of fact, no geckos are native to South Carolina, and currently NONE are said to inhabit South Carolina.  However, this gecko, the turkish gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus, who I recognize clearly from living in Florida (and who is also distinctive), is definitely here and I bet he's not the only one.  He's an invasive from Europe and will shortly be all over the place, so maybe I should have let the cat get him. I just couldn't. He eats bugs after all.

SC does have a ton of lizards, and many a time I hear people talking about the geckos.  What they usually mean, really, are the green anoles (carolina anolis) which are native here and quite ubiquitous.  I have a bazillion of them in the garden hunting bugs all day.  Green anoles do look a lot like the green geckos popularized by Geico, and hence the confusion... I think.  However, now I'm going to have to listen up and quit dismissing these people because clearly there are geckos here, despite what SC Game and Wildlife seems to think.  Florida obviously forgot to build a glass dome around its borders to keep the lizards, crazy book burning pastors, Disney princesses and the "driving while technically blind" elderly from escaping.

Anyhow, he's an alien. Seeing as this is the only gecko I've seen, whereas I see 50 or so green anoles every day, it doesn't look like their native habitat is being harmed by the gecko, but what do I know?  Technically, anoles are daytime operators and geckos nighttime operators (another reason why I never even thought of a lizard in the house, despite that we've gone through similar scenes dozens of times).   And given how buggy the South is, you'd think there would be plenty of food to go around.

What do you think?  Did I just free Adam of the Adam and Eve pair that will now populate all of South Carolina to the detriment of other species?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

How To Age A Brand New Cement Statue

My favorite statues are those that look like they've been there forever. They sport mossy nooks and stains from rainwater, and they are worn around the edges.  Any statue left in a shady moist environment long enough will take on this look with time.  But the time component is the kicker.  We aren't talking one year, or even two, but many many many years, and I just don't have that sort of patience.  And, apparently, I don't have the patience to wait around and find the perfectly seasoned statue at an estate sale.

Now some people like bright white statues, so this 'how to' is definitely not for you, as I'm sure you'll be of the opinion that it looked better before.  However for those of you who like the look of aged, and have an urn, fountain or statue which is still looking like it stepped off the showroom floor, I have a cheat for you.

Here's what you'll need:
-Little tubes of acrylic paint.  Black, a mossy (not bluish) green, and potentially a brown.
-A kitchen sponge
-a 3-4 cup container (nonstaining)

Mix a few cups of water with just a dollop (like half a teaspoon) of the green paint.  Mix well.  If you are a nervous nelly feel free to make the mixture even more watered down, because this is permanent so you can always add, but you cannot take away.

Take the sponge and totally soak it into the stain and then start squeezing it above the statue letting gravity and the natural shape of the figure dictate where the water will run.  This is what is going to give you the most natural effect, just as it would had the drippings from a tree been the agent.  I did this 3-4 times over with the light green concoction.

Repeat this process with a dollop of 1/3 green and 2/3s black.  I did these a little more sparsely, but with the same method, over the top of the statues head in order to simulate how this really happens.   Do not be alarmed if the initial effect while wet seems sort of dark and streaky.  It dries much lighter.

Finally, if you like the slightly rust colors that occasionally show up in nooks and crannies repeat the process with a medium brown/burnt sienna mixed tone.   I did this very sparsely, literally one spongeful.

And voila: brand spanking new off the show room floor statue looking quite a few years older than she did 30 minutes ago, without that fake "applied by the manufacturer" look.   I am going to leave her at this point and let nature take over from here.


ps. if you hadn't noticed by now: I did it! Finally, I got a statue!  It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it was very cheap and I just had to go ahead and bite the bullet.  Mission accomplished, as I like her and to me she doesn't look out of place or gaudy, and will only look better when the clematis and jasmine vines behind her fill in.  Phew. Good thing because she weighs 200 pounds easy.