Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Corpse Flowers and Voodoo Lilies

About 20 years ago, a gardening friend of mine, very excited and breathless, lugged a 25 gallon plastic plant container into my garden shop. The pot was full of soil and heavy. Something was trying to emerge. I don't remember exactly what he said to convince me that if I would display it my customers would get the thrill of their lives, but I conceded.

"What is it?", I asked? He pulled a wrinkled page from his pocket, spread it out on a table, and said, "It's THAT!" The picture was grainy, but the thing looked massive and strange. We placed the container in full view of the front door.

Eventually a long, thick, flesh-colored stalk mottled with dark green, black and brownish spots emerged. It looked almost human...and diseased. A big leaf unfolded. The thing was well over 6 feet tall. Very impressive!

Visitors couldn't avoid it. Most would walk around it, cautiously touch it, walk around it some more, touch it, squeeze it, and do it again. Some backed off like they were thinking, "I can't touch this!"

The plant was Amorphophallus titanum. Modest taxonomists translate "amorphophallus" to mean "without definite form." A little more accurately, the entire name means "oddly shaped phallus of enormous strength." (I blush.) It is commonly called Titan Arum or Corpse Flower.

When we think of flowers, we imagine colorful, sweet-smelling blossoms attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Right? We think of cut flowers, corsages, bouquets and nose-gays. The Corpse Flower isn't that. Carry a bouquet of it and you smell like dead meat. The flower stinks mightily.

Fortunately, the thing did not bloom in my shop. If it had, I might have had to raze the store.

Plants such as the Corpse Flower aren't pollinated by the usual birds, butterflies and bees seeking sweet nectar. They're visited by vectors (pollinating agents) that feed on dung and carrion. What a fantastic design.

Titan Arum may be the most impressive of the Araceae family, but it grows larger than most gardeners can accommodate, and is not easy to obtain. Smaller members of the family are more appropriate for most of us. Typhonium venosum is a good choice. Its name means smoky and veined. The foliage turns very dark colored and the plant certainly looks veined. It also goes by other botanical names including Sauromatum guttatum, Sauromatum venosum, Arum venosum and Arum cornutum. Its common name is Voodoo Lily, and is native to tropical Africa and Asia.

Voodoo Lily grows 24 inches to 48 inches in height. The flower, which appears in late winter or spring, looks grotesque and bulbous with a burgundy spotted spathe and a dark spadix. Yes, it does smell, but not as mightily as the Titan Arum.

For the gardener who likes unusual plants, Voodoo Lily is perfect. It can be grown outdoors, but can also be brought indoors (for awhile) as a unique design element. Though it has a tropical appearance, it is reliably hardy in USDA climate zones 9 through 11, and can be grown into zone 6 if mulched well during winter. Plant it in partial shade to full shade in loamy soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. To determine if your soil pH is hospitable to Voodoo Lily, take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.

Cultivate the soil to 12 inches deep and remove all traces of weeds. Incorporate fertilizer or soil amendments according to Extension Service recommendations. Space the plants 6 inches to 10 inches apart, and three times as deep as the corm-like rhizome is wide. Planting depth is measured to the bottom of the hole. Water well when planting, but allow the soil to dry between watering.

Voodoo Lily is certainly a curiosity, and for that reason you should grow it. It's not difficult. Gardeners who enjoy growing plants of medicinal interest should also be interested for Typhonium is used in Chinese medicine. Keep in mind, however, that self-treatment is not recommended for Typhonium can be toxic if ingested and may cause allergic reactions in sensitive persons.

A planting of Voodoo Lily will certainly intrigue your friends and give you something to proudly show.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

How to keep neighbor's bamboo out of your yard.

Bamboo can be a very effective visual screen in the landscape, but some species can out-grow their welcome. There are two types of bamboo: those that grow in clumps, and those that spread via long rhizomes.  The later are known as 'runners.'  The runners are the ones that can cause problems, especially between neighbors.  Runners spread rapidly, so they screen quickly and economically, but they don't know when to stop.

If you choose to plant running bamboo, do your neighbor a favor and keep it contained.  If your neighbor's bamboo is invading your yard, you can block it by installing a bamboo barrier.

Begin by digging a trench around the bamboo planting.  Mechanical trenchers are available from tool rental companies, or you can hire a contractor to do it.  Depending upon the site and type of bamboo, the trench may be from 22 inches to 34 inches deep.

High-density polypropylene, 40 mil or heavier, makes an effective barrier. It is commercially available and often comes with installation instructions.  The plastic barrier should extend above the soil surface at least 2 inches.  Replace soil on both sides of the barrier, and pack it well.

When the bamboo rhizomes reach the barrier, the shoots will be deflected upward for easy removal.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

FAQ: How soon after receiving them should my bare root plants be planted?

Gardeners who wish to economize may purchase certain plants bare root.  Bare root plants are simply those which have had the soil removed from the roots.  Usually, young plants are sold that way.  When they have grown to the point that their roots are strong enough to be planted in the landscape, they are lifted, the soil rinsed off, and shipped.  Because the plants are small, the purchase price is lower.  Shipping without soil minimizes weight and shipping costs.  So bare root plants can be a very good bargain.

However, bare root plants are more vulnerable, and should be treated with care. Growers wrap them in moist packing material (usually in bundles), bag in plastic, box and ship as soon as possible.

Sun, wind, sub-freezing or blistering temperatures can damage or kill the plants.  Upon receipt, the package should be moved very soon to a shady, temperate location, and opened.  If left un-opened for a day or two, darkness can yellow the foliage and excessive moisture can cause the plants to rot.

Upon opening the package, set the plants upright in the box and maintain slight moisture around the roots. They should be okay if re-planted within a couple of days.  If they can not be re-planted within 48 hours, they may be 'heeled-in' to protect them. To do so, find a place in the garden where the bundled plants can be stored.  Dig a hole about 4 times as large as the bundled roots, place the roots in it, cover them with 6 to 8 inches of soil. Water well.  Soil should be in close contact with the roots.  If moisture is maintained, the plants may be stored like this for several days.

If you don't have a place in the garden for your plants to be 'heeled-in', you can do the same in a nursery container.  Half-fill a nursery container of appropriate size with potting soil.  Place the bundled plants upright in the center of it.  Fill in around them with more potting soil.  Water well, making sure soil is in close contact with the roots.

Though they can be stored like this for awhile, the answer to the question is: 'Better sooner than later.'

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Monday, November 15, 2010

How To Prepare Your Garden For The Winter

I believe you'll benefit from the following article by guest blogger, Julie Armstrong.

When you have a garden, you have to prepare it for each season. The spring planning and summer planning are normally the most straight forward. Planning your garden for winter is a bit harder for some as they are not sure what to do exactly. Below we will discuss what you can do to prepare for the winter months for your garden.

Before it gets too cold you need to harvest everything in your garden. This might be the garden vegetables that you have that are still growing. If it gets too cold, you will lose everything. Harvest it all before it is too late.

Prune anything in your garden for the winter months. This is best done in the late fall. Do not wait until spring as you will not get as much production out of things that are not properly pruned. This gets the plants ready to grow productively as soon as it is spring.

Do what you can to weed your garden. Remove anything that you do not want to be growing in the spring. If you wait too long, things will sprout up and cause problems in your garden during the spring. Getting it out now makes it much easier than waiting until things are growing more productively later.

Do what you can to work on your soil. Composting is a good practice for this since you will get healthy and productive soil. You can be making this all year long so it is always ready when you are going to plant. This will give your spring plants a huge advantage. Work on this during the winter.

You can still be growing something in your garden during the winter if you want to. You can use plastics, a green house, or even fish aquariums to help heat up the soil and make it warm enough to continue to grow fall plants even in the middle of winter. This is something to consider if you want to keep growing.


Julie has been writing articles online for nearly 4 years now. She also publishes reviews of various consumer products.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

7206 Tokalon, Dallas, TX

7206 Tokalon is a pleasant address with attractive curb appeal near White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas.  The quiet residential street lined with modest homes doesn't seem to hide anything extraordinary.  But the owner-designed landscape is quite remarkable.  The plant list includes nearly 100 different varieties of groundcovers, grasses, perennials, vines, shrubs and trees growing on a little over 1/2 acre lot.  That such a small landscape could include so many plants in a coherent design seems practically impossible.  But the homeowner is David Rolston, a prominent Landscape Architect in Dallas.

I met Dave and toured his garden during the 2009 Dallas Tour of Homes. The clean lines of the house and the street-side landscape, as well-conceived as they are, did not prepare me for the special place created behind the garden wall.

The 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath home was built in 1948 and honored as a Better Homes and Gardens House Of The Year.  After a house fire in 2006, it was remodeled by Architect Jim Manning to make it appear much larger with generous open spaces and an expansive view to the garden.

A small lot usually invites unwanted visual incursion from neighboring properties, but Rolston has created a private glade for family and friends to enjoy.  An imaginative collection trees and shrubs screen the outdoor living area from view without crowding available space for relaxing and entertaining.  At the same time, the screening provides lovely backdrops for an abundance of carefully selected ornamental grasses and perennials.  Even utilitarian corners are appropriately obscured, as with this bamboo screen.

In time-honored tradition, the garden is arranged into free-form rooms with water features, alcoves, and seating areas joined by paths and vistas.  A grassy stairway leads downward to a welcoming entertainment area warmed by a fire pit.

Rolston is very conservation conscious, and his design reflects it.  Not easily seen from the ground, he designed a tiny lawn in the form of a "green roof" sheltering the screened porch, providing a place for relaxation and play.  By minimizing lawn areas and substituting ground covers such as Mondo (Ophiopogon japonicus), he reduced mowing maintenance.  Taking advantage of the slope of the landscape, he created a catch basin at the end of the entertainment area to retrieve run-off and recycle it for irrigation.  The gravel drive and parking area allows rainfall to percolate downward.  He is also careful to use native ornamental plants where appropriate.

Dave is an artist at heart, as his use of beautiful objects, form, color and texture demonstrates.  Each season brings a new delight.  Autumn, for example, is resplendent with fall-blooming perennials, grasses and Japanese maples.

Too often, landscape architects wish to impose their own visions upon their clients' landscapes.  Not so with Rolston's firm.  An affable fellow, Dave makes friends easily.  Consequently, meeting his clients' needs and tastes is his goal.  As he says himself, One of the things I most enjoy is learning about what a person likes and who they are as people…then finding coherent ways to express that in the landscape

As he wishes for his clients, he wishes for himself.  Clearly, the garden at 7206 Tokalon is an expression of David Rolston's congeniality, hospitality, and love of gardening.

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