Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Only for Now"

Ok, so obviously you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelette. But, just for Phillip, here are before and after pics of the great terrarium adventure which I undertook yesterday. It had to happen, and it was a Saturday which was too cold for outside work and during which no housecleaning, shopping, or cooking (for ourselves or anyone else!) was necessary, so I took the plunge. I should have taken pictures of the entire process, but my hands were too dirty, and I was trying (unsuccessfully) to keep the kitchen somewhat clean, so I didn't add photography to the mix. Why the kitchen, you may ask (as did my partner)? It was too cold and dark in the garage, and our obnoxious kitchen lighting is so glaring that one could perform a tonsillectomy on the kitchen table, if necessary. I posted a pic of the seriously overgrown bottle garden before, but here it is again:
I used a tool called a wire puller, a flexible wire coil which opens its "arms" when pressure is applied on the handle, and a tool I made from a teaspoon, some electrical tape, and a bamboo stake (which had to be reinforced along its length by three heavy-guage wire insulation holders after breaking in the middle of the procedure). I started out very carefully, trying hard to lock the pincers of the wire puller around the crowns of each plant, reverse its polarity, shake off the soil, and pull it gently through the neck of the Florence flask. After about 10 minutes of cursing which would have made Tony Soprano blush, I gave up and started getting Medieval on the mass of vegetation. When everything was extracted, I ended up with the following:
9 pots of Begonia 'Buttercup' rhizomes in various stages of growth, but which I feel will produce beautiful plants in a few months. This is a hybrid involving B. prismatocarpa, an African species which requires lots of warmth and humidity to do well, but produces occasional bright yellow blooms. From the enormous pile of severed leaves I prepared about a dozen leaf cuttings as well (why? - there's no place to grow them here at all, and they're not hardy, which is the kiss of death at a plant sale around here...). These are under a humidity dome on a heat mat below a bank of fluorescent lights in the garage right now (how many prepositions can you use in a sentence?)
Along with the wreckage of the begonia, I extracted a jewel orchid (Ludisia or Haemaria, depending on the source of info, discolor) which broke into several viable pieces; several tubers of mini Sinningias; three nice Autumn ferns; and a very healthy Holly fern. Interestingly, I never planted the Sinningias or ferns in the terrarium - they were volunteers. Anyway, they'll all recover, I think, and the only damage was to the kitchen (cleaning that is next on my list of projects.) I took advantage of the mess to bring in and separate about 50 Bletilla seedlings (a cross I made of two B. striata varieties - the pure white one and the more uncommon blue cultivar, 'Murasaki Shikibu'), so that's another tedious indoor task to take off the list.
What to plant in the terrarium next? It's a tough call - whatever I use has to enjoy constant humidity, thrive in low light (the terrarium would overheat and cook the plants in a sunny spot), and maintain less than a 12" diameter and 8" height. I have some seedlings of Gesneria cuneifolia which might fill the bill, but they're miniscule, and it'll be some time before they put on much of a show. There's also the actual species form of Begonia prismatocarpa, which seems to remain smaller than its hybrid; who knows what it might do, though, given unlimited warmth and humidity? Pearcea hypocyrtiflora is another candidate, but it's a touchy critter and I'm still learning to grow it. For now, the bottle is in the garage drying out - I won't be able to get the old potting medium out until that happens.

Remember the dirt in the kitchen? I might have landed in hot water over that, except for a couple of very fortuitous accidents. Last week I finally managed to break my trusty elliptical trainer - 75-90 minutes of hard labor daily over a period of four years would cause any of us to crash, and it did so spectacularly at 4 AM last Monday morning, sending me tumbling sideways into the thirty gallon aquarium next to it. Somehow the tank survived to break my fall, although the angel fish, who've known me for years, still seem to view me with trepidation. Anyway, while the part for the elliptical is on order, I've been forced to rig up the contraption below in order to ride my ancient 10-speed in the living room for 2.5 hours every morning (it takes a lot longer to get the same cardio effect on the bike as one does on an elliptical, and skipping the workout is NOT an option) while working on the computer (I'm pedaling my butt off, literally, right now). I've discovered that I love rigging things up in order to make them work - now if I only looked like MacGyver!
As I was dismantling my terrarium, Ron decided to try out the bike, and did fine until he tried to dismount, at which point he managed to knock over the banana plant I had just potted up and moved in from the garage (you can see it directly behind the bike.) He felt so bad, and was so busy cleaning up his own mess, that nothing was ever said about the perlite and vermiculite on the kitchen table. We went with friends to see "Avenue Q" in Norfolk and had dinner out, so the kitchen was never a prioity.

Sometimes things just work out, and even though the show seemed superficial and silly at first, it did emphasize some deeper themes, with applications even in the gardening world. Like the period of time during which any planting, including a terrarium, looks really good, everything that happens is "only for now." Gardening, like life, is performance art. And that can be a good, or a bad, thing...
PS - this is Sinningia 'Orange Zinger', which looks good, but "only for now". It'll collapse into a well-deserved rest period after another few weeks.

15 comments:

Les said...

Apparently plants are not your only interest. 75-90 minutes of cardio a day? Impressive if not compulsive.

Jeff said...

Let's just say that "Monk" is among my favorite TV shows. I depend on compulsive exercise to counteract compulsive eating (I recently found out it's a syndrome called "orthorexia"), and to maintain the energy level required for my job, which has become very physically demanding in the last couple of years. Without the daily workout, I'd weigh 300 pounds, as I did five years ago. Between constant dietary vigilance and the exercise, I stay between 165 and 175 these days. Just the tip of a very complicated iceberg of eccentricities, idiosyncracies, and neuroses...

walk2write said...

I found your site from a comment you left on someone's blog. Now if I could only remember whose it was! Garden Faerie's maybe? Anyway, I love reading your posts. They're informative, witty, and reflective. You're a very good storyteller, Mr. Jeff, and your blog is a treasure.

walk2write said...

Nope, it was Philip's (How It Grows) post about skunk cabbage. The short-term memory is fading fast these days.

queenofseaford said...

My goodness I got tired just reading through it!! wow!

Jeff said...

Thanks so much, walk2write - after reading your info, this compliment means even more. I enjoy posting and reading other blogs, but I wish I had more time to do so. Actually, that's my biggest general complaint in life!

I know, QofS. - just think how exhausting it must be to live with me!

. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
. said...

Jeff,
That sounds like an awful lot of hard work.
Wouldn't the plants flourish just as much in a container with a wider neck?

Jeff said...

That might be true if the plants were the actual point of the activity. The flask was a gift from my mom about 30 years ago; she rescued it from the lab at the now long-defunct chemical company where she worked, and I've loved it ever since.

Phillip M said...

Congratulations on a successful replanting! BTW, your post reminded me that I need to figure out a way to make an exercise-bike-powered t.v. That's about the only way I would ever get a workout. With your expertise in contraptions, you might be just the person to rig it up for me!

Jeff said...

Those are available (I've had the same idea!), but they're expensive, and made by much smarter people than I am. For now, I just pretend that the bike or the elliptical is powering the TV. It helps that I'm totally incapable of staying awake if I'm sitting in front of the TV, probably because I don't sit down until I'm about ready to fall down from exhaustion, anyway.

Granny Hawk said...

Hi, just beautiful...do you carry seeds of sinningias, say concinna, pusilla etc...

Jeff said...

Thanks, Granny Hawk, but I don't really "carry" anything - I'm just an amateur gardener, saving my own seeds occasionally or obtaining them through sources such as the ges. society seed exchange, etc.

thumperinflorida said...

Stumbled upon your words on gesneriads and read with interest and chuckles. You really should try Episcias in the window boxes. If you are ever in need of a few to get you started...give me a shout. I would love to see some of mine happpily growing along with your other gesneriads.

Jeff said...

Thanks, Thumper - I actually grow half a dozen or so episcias, but it's never seemed worth the effort to grow them outside here, since we only have about three months of the constant humidity that they really demand. No problem planting them out in summer, but autumns are so busy, given my return to teaching in September, that I'd surely leave them outside too long and find them toast one morning in October. Still, it's something to try, since I usually do have a surplus, and they grow pretty rapidly. Thanks for the offer!