Grow Where You Are Planted

I must be surrounded by plants to be at home.

I am fortunate that I have a yard that I can fill up with green friends.

I saw a young lady through a window in Italy, that was a kindred spirit in an urban setting.

This is a photo of her kitchen window. I took it from the window of our apartment elevator.

20151004_170041 These are planters hanging on her window shutters.

We would see her through this window in the evenings. She would be cooking in her kitchen. Probably using herbs from her window boxes.

I never met her, but I love this little Italian cook.


I Sat with an Assassin

I sat down beside an assassin on a bench in the sun.

I looked over and there she was,  looking back at me like an unwanted intruder.


Our eyes met as we sized each other up.

I was clearly bigger, but she was armed and had on armor.


Was this bench in the sun worth fighting over?

My instincts told me to move away,

but I was fascinated by her fearlessness.



Her slow, deliberate movements were mesmerizing.

She kept her eyes on me as she stretched out her arms and tilted her head.

I knew she was part of the Reduviidae clan.


I recognized her weapon. I knew the harm it could do.

So why did I sit beside this assassin, Arilus Cristatus?

We both felt that the bench was ours.

We both wanted to pause in the sunshine.


Neither of us chose to do battle.

Finally, she crawled over the back of the bench.

Feeling her way with her long arms.

Dragging her weapon beneath her.


Follow the fearless FLOWER.


My Favorite Fern

My favorite type of fern is the Autumn Fern, also known as the Japanese Shield Fern.

Autumn Ferns
Autumn Ferns

It is my favorite because it is lovely in fall and winter, when most of my other plants are dead or depressingly dormant.  It loves shade and moisture. It needs protection from wind to get this big without damage.

three-foot-long frond
three-foot-long frond


The fronds are bipinnate/twice-cut, which means there are two divisions of leaflets on the frond stem divisions. They are also triangular.


triangular shaped frond
triangular shaped frond

The sori are arranged in neat little rows along underside of the leaflets.

sori in rows
sori in rows

Its species name is Dryopteris erythrosora.   In Latin that means tree/fern/red/sorus.

A sorus is a packet of spores that looks like a rust spot this time of year.

Here are three sori under a microscope.  Each is a complicated system of catapults. The curled arms unfurl and sling the spores away from the parent plant.

empty sori
empty sori “catapults”

Fresh sori are light colored or transparent. These still contain spores.


Spores are not seeds. They only have half the genetic material of the fern. These germinate into tiny “boy and girl” gametophytes,  which then get together and make the big “baby” sporophytes that we call ferns.

This ancient and strange life cycle is called “alternation of generations.”

I look at my ferns and feel a connection with prehistoric life.

Follow the FERN!

Schlumbergera Secrets

Uncle!  Tio!  Lo Zio!
You can stop twisting my arm.
I’ll tell you my Schlumbergera secrets.

multiple cacti
multiple cacti

First secret:
They bloom from the ends. So if you want more blooms…
You need more ends. Three to five divisions off the main branch is best.
This means purging and pruning the leggy limbs.
They will branch out and produce more ends,
which means more blooms.

Less is more. Too many branches per stem means some don’t  bloom. It’s like having too many children.  The poor mama branch can’t give them all what they need to bloom.

Too many branches
Too many branches

I try to limit my branches to from three to five divisions and total branch length to about twelve segments. Leggy is ugly on a Schlumbergera. Think of a long Christmas cactus as a tall elf. That’s just wrong!  The branches can’t support the blooms, which hang low and are harder to see.

It’s best to do this after they bloom, but I do it for folks who see it now and want it now.

  • Twist off the excess pieces at a joint. If this scares you, cut with sharp scissors, but tearing is best.
  • Twist off at the joint.
    Twist off at the joint.
  • Purged segments should be shortened to root. About 3 links long is best.  Leave the pieces out to harden off and callus over for several days. Do not put in water. The will rot,  not root.
  • Ready for rooting
    Ready for rooting
  • Then put the callused pieces in rooting medium. Label these by color/name/ date.
  • I take requests on facebook and put the future parent’s name on the label.

Second secret:
They need to be outside during the summer in indirect sunlight.
I put some in full sun this year.
They let me know this was a mistake by wrinkling up and turning red.
A green, smooth Schlumbergera is a happy Schlumbergera.


Third secret:
Feed them every few weeks with their water.
Do not over-water. They must be dry on top to get a drink.
But remember, this is a tropical plant not a desert plant.
The term “Cacti” is misleading.
That old saying about not watering them while they are blooming is nonsense.
Just don’t get carried away with water while they are blooming,
(Don’t argue.  “Old wives tell lies”)
Not watering and feeding a blooming Schlumbergera is like not feeding a pregnant woman because she has gained weight …Don’t try that at home, men.

Fourth secret:
Give them indirect sunshine and warmth while blooming,  but no air flow.
The buds and blooms drop off if they are near a vent or doorway.
It’s the shock of temperature changes.

Also, colors vary with temperatures. You may have two identical cacti in different temperatures and get different colors.

Clones of a different color.
Clones of a different color.

Surprise..There may also be two colors on one plant.  I have peach and white coming off the same branch.

Two colors on one branch.

Fifth  secret:
Turn, turn, turn…
They get uneven if you leave’um.

Oops! I hate it when that happens.
Oops! I hate it when that happens.

FINAL secret: Remove blooms as they wither, especially if there is a new bud beside them.

IMG_6659IMG_6660 IMG_6661

P.S. Singing to them doesn’t hurt.

Follow the FLOWER!

Song of Schlumbergera

Schlumbergera, Schlumbergera,

How lovely are your flowers? (Sing chorus twice)


You’re boring green, while others bloom.

When winter comes, you light the room.

Schlumbergera (peach)

Schlumbergera, Schlumbergera,

Schlumbergera truncata. (Hold the ….ah…tah…)


Schlumbergera, Schlumbergera,

You are the cacti favorite. (Sing twice)

Schlumbergera (true red)

In summer we, your care forget.

In fall we smile and savor it.


Schlumbergera, Schlumbergera,

Schlumbergera truncata. ( Draw out ah….tah….)


Schlumbergera, Schlumbergera,

You are the star of winter. (Sing twice)

Schlumbergera (red/white)

Your colors glow and brighten us,

When winter temp’ tures frighten us.

Schlumbergera (gold)

Schlumbergera, Schlumbergera,

Schlumbergera truncata…


Schlumbergera, Schlumbergera,

How varied are your colors?(Sing twice)

multiple cacti

There’s Golden Charm and and pinks and white,

Schlumbergera (gold)

Enter a caption

Schlumbergera (white)

and reds and peach. Oh, what a sight!


Schlumbergera (peach)

Schlumbergera, Schlumbergera,

Schlumbergera truncata… (HOLD “ah” loudly and spread arms apart, while looking at them lovingly.)

This is my secret to getting them to bloom like this.

Sing with the FLOWER!

Fresh 2 Frozen

I love to grow herbs. I love to cook with them, make herbal vinegar and add them to teas.

The best way to keep their flavor is to freeze them while they are fresh.

I will show you how I take some basil from fresh to frozen, so that it tastes fresh whenever you choose to use it.

Cut the ends of the stems off of the plant. These pieces should be about the top third of the whole branch.

Variegated basil bush.
Variegated basil bush.

If it is blooming, I keep a few blooms when I process the leaves.

Cutting the leaves is not a random act. If you follow the pattern of the leaves on the stem, you will get the best leaves and the most leaves.

Lay out a twig and figure out the growth of leaves and leaflets.

Fresh twig of basil.
Fresh twig of basil.

I call the big leaf attached to the stem the “mama leaf” and the set of leaflets above it the “baby leaflets.”

I usually pull down the mama and cut off the babies for preserving.

Leaf arrangement.
Leaf arrangement.

Then I take my collection of young leaflets to the chopper. I add a little distilled water and give them a whirl.

Chopper and distilled water
Chopper and distilled water
Chopped basil.
Chopped basil.

Then I pack 2 tablespoons of the crushed concoction into small containers to freeze.

Two tablespoon portions.
Two tablespoon portions.

I would have used an ice cube tray, but I couldn’t find one.  Don’t get me started….

Frozen Basil
Frozen Basil

Now, I have frozen blocks of basil in 2 tablespoon amounts to add to spagettis, pastas and soups.

I NEED my Flowers

I do not like oxygen.

I need oxygen.


I do not like flowers.

I need flowers.

Schlumbergera truncata (red)

They lift me up when I am down.S.t. peach/yellow

Their colors are like a party to liven up the loneliness.

S. t. (hot pink)

They shine on the dreary, rainy days.

S. t. (peach)

They add warmth to the coldness.IMG_6514

They add light to the darkness.

S. t. (peach)

They grow on sunshine and water,

then turn into something that feeds my soul.


Beauty that blooms and grows forever.


Cut flowers make me sad, because they are done.  All dressed up to die.

Give me a flower with roots and I see a beautiful future ahead.