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Archive for May, 2011

Last fall, I went to the nursery with Andrea and bought a bunch of what I like to call ‘old world’ herbs, many that I was missing and have never owned before. They are mentioned in all the old herbals and religious texts and included in ancient remedies for everything under the sun, including the breaking of hexes and the warding off of evil. They were in every witch’s garden according to old texts. Many are still used in the kitchen or for teas, and in health food stores in that section I like to call the ‘hippie aisle’ where you can get things like ‘tinctures’ and ‘ear candles.’ Some of them are toxic and deliciously dangerous. If this were another time and another place, I would be condemned for practicing witchcraft and burned at the stake just for growing them and knowing what they can do for you, or to you. But this is here and now and I get to do whatever I want with my herbs!

Wortcunning at its best. Bwahahahaha!


What I did when I bought them is put them in the one and only patch of sun available in the winter garden and hoped they would survive, leaving their little nursery markers in the dirt with them until I could learn something about each one. They not only survived, they thrived. Now they’re bushing into each other and don’t have quite enough room. First, I took pictures of each plant with its marker and removed the markers, which kept getting mixed up by the weather and the cats. Then, I rolled out my unbleached craft paper and wrote the names on the paper. Cuttings of each plant were taken and placed on the paper near the name. All of my books came off the shelf and I combed through each one for information on the plants, writing the good stuff down in my journal. This information will be supplemented by anything modern I can find on the internet. This is a necessary step because modern science has allowed the testing of plant chemicals and you need to keep updated. Some plants we once thought were safe are now known to be toxic. As I study the cut leaves and read all my data, I’ll get a feel for each plant until I can get to know it by sight and smell, and not have to rely on the markers. If you’re going to have toxic plants and edible herbs, you need to know very positively how to distinguish one from the other, especially since many herbs look similar. Over the next month I will be moving them to permanent homes where they have room, and also posting mini-articles and photos for each one.

Clary Sage - big big leaves


It’s a project I’ve had in my mind for a long time and the herbs have been whispering in my ear all Spring. Their names have been on the wind for hundreds of years. These herbs are important to me, they represent our history, the unimaginable power of plants, women’s folklore, and forbidden knowledge. When I’m done learning, drying, tasting and transplanting, or breaking any hexes I see laying around, I’ll get some new herbs and start all over. Not a bad way to spend a summer.

Samples for studying

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We’ve had our ‘Manila’ Mango, Mangifera indica, for three years.The first summer we had it we didn’t get any fruit, but I expect that from a sapling. Last year it put out fruit but it was all very tiny, like large jelly beans covered with ugly dark spots. The mini-fruits that I taste tested were so good, I couldn’t wait for the tree to mature and put out regular sized healthy fruit, and I was hoping the black spots were not a sign of trouble. This year, it looks dead in the water and there is no new growth and no sign of an impending inflorescence, and the spots are now all over the leaves. I’ve been painfully aware of its troubles for months and I finally have the time to investigate why.

Manila Mango


Mangoes do not need trimming or a lot of fussing, but they do need good drainage and I think this might be the issue here. It’s planted on a slight raise in the lawn but the soil underneath is heavy clay. Sometimes the water sits in the plant well for hours before soaking in and this could lead to root diseases. Time for mulching and soil amendment, and a good feeding since it has to compete with the lawn for nutrients.

poor thing


Also, I think it has a fungus called ‘anthracnose’, which is such an awesome name for a wicked fungus don’t you think?

So, I have treated it with a fungicide and I’m hoping for the best. It has the entire summer to rest and recover in the sun and let the medicine do its job. If it doesn’t improve or show some signs of forward-moving life in the next few months, it will have to be pulled out and replaced, or moved to a pot where I can air out the root system. We do our best, but sometimes a plant is beyond recovery. Sadly, I have not been entirely happy with both of the fruit trees I bought at this particular nursery. Both trees were stunted in severe ways and have not done well.

My sister-in-law, Lori, really loves mangoes and this one is planted in between our houses just for that reason. For her sake, I hope it pulls through…fingers crossed!

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Well, it isn’t even summer yet and I have fallen in love. With a flower. She’s a ‘Red Lion’ Hippeastrum vittatum. Most of us know this plant as an Amaryllis and we usually buy them around Christmas-time because they’re on sale everywhere. They are relatives in the same plant family, Amaryllidaceae, but are a different genus and species. True Amaryllis looks like this. Not that it matters a hill of beans when you’ve lost your breath in her beauty and taken a hundred photos because you can’t get enough. I’ve been watching closely for a month now while Nature did her magic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, ‘Red Lion’ Hippeastrum vittatum:

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All of the books I’ve read lately have been for school. Now that that’s over for the summer, I can read for pleasure again. I started with a Sookie Stackhouse book since the new season begins this weekend. Television has been abysmal without Sookie! As I read, I realized I wasn’t trying to memorize anything or keep track of testable information. It was truly wonderful. Today I worked hard catching up on everything I let get behind last week. Gardening is put off until I catch up everywhere else – this weekend, hopefully. Tonight I’m going to read some more Sookie, just for pleasure. Maybe a long hot bath first. Ahhhh.

"The New Novel" by Winslow Homer - 1877

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Hello and Happy Sunday! I’m celebrating extra today because school’s out for summer! Thursday was my last day of class until fall and I couldn’t be happier. Not that I won’t miss school, because I know I will. Happy because I did so well in botany. Yep – I totally kicked ass! When I started back to school, when was it – almost three years ago? – I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, but botany was there over my head in flashing chlorophyll-colored neon lights. It was fun to say and fun to think about. Really, I didn’t quite know what it all meant and what would be involved and which road I had to take to get there. Options were left wide open so I didn’t get my hopes up for something I couldn’t handle, namely science. Safe, reserved, lacking in self confidence, and feeling my lack of eduction in every fiber of my being…tentative. I already knew I loved plants, but what if I didn’t love the science part, which is the whole point of botany? Thankfully this class was not difficult, it was an introductory class that focused on the way humans have used plants and why we couldn’t live without them. The science was fairly straightforward and spread out over the semester so it could be digested, but the big picture, our relationship with plants and how they drive our lives, was UH-MAY-ZING. Somewhere along the line when I wasn’t even looking, I fell in love with science, biology, and totally serious botany. I cannot wait to get more. MORE!

When I got home from the last class, Tom had a bottle of bubbly waiting to toast. Afterward, I took my glass of Champagne happiness outside for a walk around my beloved garden, to cry like a baby (I do that when I’m proud of myself) and to let my new reality sink in, taking photos along the way so I could see what had been going on in my near-complete absence. The tour was wooly to say the least, with everything overgrown in the wildest way. So much so that I’m inspired to re-read “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett this summer. You can’t really tell the plants apart because they’re growing into each other, but at least they’re healthy. Each corner needs some of my loving attention, and with these photos I’ll plan out my summer in the garden.

Hollyhocks on the West side of the house...a bit slow this year but still alive.


Under the Lemon tree - the Roses have taken over. Who knows what else is there...


Leeks, Nasturtium, Swiss Chard, Borage, Grass, Weeds....can't even see the nifty border I had put in to separate the garden from the lawn.


Peas, Purple Beans, a volunteer Rose...this space will be cleared for tomatoes soon as I can get to it.


One Large Empty Pot...well, except for the grass that took over - nature abhors a vacuum and she will plant grass wherever there's one in the garden! Whatever shall I plant here?


The Wisteria - badly in need of trellising - and a sunny chair with my name on it.


my Schefflera is so root-bound it makes me claustrophobic. It's ability to hang in there means it gets the first of all my future transplanting efforts. This is no way to treat a 'money plant!'


East side of the house - where the wild things are. Honestly, I don't know what lives back here any more, but I'm sure I'll have a lovely time finding out!


my 'little' herb garden has become too bushy...there's a huge statue there and you can't even see her! also a wooly apple tree at the end of the row, which looks more like an apple bush.


Had an ugly yucca-type thing dug out here. We're letting the Earth rest before replanting...with who knows what.


Nasturtiums took over the "Iron Butterfly" and the Hummingbirds love it! Somewhere under all the Fennel herb, there's a Hydrangea trying to bloom, and hopefully some Cilantro.


Where in the world is Guatama Buddha? Somewhere under the fig tree covered in grass. I'll bet he doesn't mind though.


There are at least 20 different species of plant in this photo, all struggling for space and air and sun. Foxglove, Agapanthus, Daylillies, Evening Primrose, Fennel herb, etc...and one magnificent red velvet Amaryllis down at the end...


...red velvet Amaryllis rising up above a sea of wildness - I can't wait for the Grand Opening - stay tuned...


At one time this was the 'meditation circle/wedding chapel' and now it is a sea of nasturtiums giving way to a sea of grass. I can't wait to see what's under there. This is one of my top summer projects, starting from scratch and doing things a bit differently.


Grapes...definitely NOT vine-ing, mostly spreading out waving their little arms in the air like unruly children. Good for them, I say!


The door to the Secret Garden has grown most enticingly closed.


There is a path here, complete with stepping stones. Hmmm....


Matalija Poppies, Artichokes, Agapanthus, Passion Fruit, and one Pomegranate tree that might actually give fruit for the first time this summer - if I can find it! and what should I do with that old pipe structure?


Indoors - half of my former Orchid collection...the rest suffered neglect but I am impressed that any lived, so no sadness allowed!

Well, that’s the tour of the back garden. It’s amazing that I neglected it so much but it still looks like my familiar old garden, my faithful friend. I didn’t tour the front that day because I was in my pj’s five minutes after I got home from class. The Roses in front are thriving and the Avocado tree is fine if not hungry, the Lime and Mango trees need serious help and I can’t find the Asparagus under the Beans. Which translates into “all is well” despite the need for some serious Mama love – my kinda love. Maybe I’ll start today, maybe I’ll wait until I have a good long self-indulgent nap and another mimosa. Cheers!

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Well, first let me say OOPS! about missing yesterday’s post. The whole point of having an official Tuesday theme is that you post for sure on a Tuesday. Then again, the whole point of having a blog of my very own is that I’m allowed to change the rules whenever I want or need to. Teehee. Yesterday, I was pooped. On Monday I took three quizzes and two tests and read I don’t know how many chapters on fossils of Homo sapiens found in this cave or that. There was the chapter on deforestation and overpopulation – seriously depressing stuff… by the time I got home from class yesterday it was time to study for the next test and after dinner I didn’t move. Seriously, I had trouble getting up to go to bed. There’s something demoralizing about waking up in the morning on the couch with my butt hanging down between the two sections because they slide apart on the wooden floor, so I mustered.

Miss Peanut


It’s all good though, I have only one test left tomorrow in botany and one possible extra credit paper. Extra credit assignments are not something I can generally leave alone. I can be ahead in a class with an A++ and I still have to do the extra credit so the assignments list is clean and neat. Never thought of myself as obsessive or compulsive, but I suppose it’s time to admit. Hello, my name is Pam and I am an obsessive compulsive student. There.

X-Ray Peas


So how did the Muse visit me yesterday? Well, it was a song playing in the car on the way home from class…Macy Gray’s “Beauty in The World” The lyrics hit me in the emotional gut all at once even though I listen to the song often – I just hadn’t been listening. So much bad news, so much worry and sadness and things to do and ‘eyes down’ focus. I had forgotten to look around and appreciate the abundance of beauty in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t neglect that fact very often. But even a couple days of focusing solely on the negatives will drag on you. So, between the botany class I had just attended (nothing cheers me up like a botany class!), the song on the radio, and coming home to my man, I was cheered! Kind of like that last 100 feet of a 10K when people you don’t even know start clapping for you and you suddenly have a spurt of energy to get yourself to the finish line – maybe even sprint!

There is help along the road.

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These are crazy days for me. The final countdown of the semester has me hopping in all three classes and this is a busy time at work too. Today the Muse came to me in color, bright fuchsia to be exact, appreciated ever so briefly while walking to class. Sometimes we must take our inspiration in quick little sips while doing other things. We can save it for later, when there’s time….more time. Perhaps I need some flowers this color, or some socks. Either way, the shocking color, so beautiful and casually flowing around a large stone, made me smile for a good two blocks. The Muse even knew that a contrasting color was a good idea and she threw in a charming yellow dandelion flower and a little poof for wish-making. Seriously awesome stuff!

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