"Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity. " ~Lindley Karstens

Monday, August 30, 2010

One Story About My Plants Obsession

I am obsessed with plants!  (In case you have not already known...) I think every garden blogger out there can easily make the same statement about themselves.  If you are a gardener, and growing a garden alone is not satisfying enough, you have to talk about it, write about it, and read about it, the chance that you are obsessed with the plants is quite big!  Don't you agree? 

One typical symptom of this obsession is that you saw one plant in some public or private garden, or from somebody's blog, and you fell love into it.  Then you "google" it, or "bing" it, try to find as much information as possible.  If all the researches tell you that you also could OWN such a plant, and this plant is a good fit (or a "close" fit) in your climate, you put it on your watch list, and even start selecting a spot in your garden in your mind for this special plant.    To very extreme, you might even dream about it!  At that time, you know you are obsessed!

To back up my statement, let me tell you one story about my obsession.

It all started with this picture that I took in a garden when I visited China this summer.

The plant in the container is called Medinilla magnifica.  That was my first time to see this plant, and I was just fascinated by both its flowers and the foliage.  So I took a picture of the plant label, and came back to google it.   When I found out that some people in Florida also grow this plant, I got excited!  That means I also could have it in my garden if I could find one!  I also included this same picture in one of my China trip posts as well.

Since I have not seen anything like this in my one year extensive plant shopping experience, I also knew this would not be an easy find.  So I kind of setting the low expectation to it.  You know, high expectation sometime means big disappointment.  

Until one Sunday night, hubby and I went to a big box store to buy something, and I checked out their garden center like everytime we went to this store.  I saw three plants sitting on the floor that looked just like Medinilla magnifica that I remembered!  Of course, since it has been a while, I could not remember the name anymore (in case you also didn't know that I am very bad at names, both plants' and people's), I was not certain if it is the exact same plant that I saw in China, and therefore it might not be a good fit to my garden (you know the reputation of big box store to sell the wrong plants sometimes?) .  So, I decided that I will hold on the purchase until I go back home to double check and do more research on it. (a decision that I regretted so much later!)   We left the store with the label name written on a piece of paper.

That night, I went back home, googled it with that name, and compared to the picture once more, I knew I have found it!  So I went to sleep picturing where I can put that beautiful plant in my garden.  I was so certain that only thing left for me to do is just going there to buy it.  Next day was Monday, I went to work early morning, and after work, I needed to take my boys to their weekly piano lesson.  During the piano lesson, Hubby called me that he needed to go back to that big box store to buy more stuffs that he needed. I asked him if he could also buy that plant for me. 

"What plant?"  he asked.

"The one I showed you in the store. "  I said.

"Which one?  You showed me lots of plants." He asked again.

"The one we all saw in China, and I also put it in one of my blog posts.  The one that has pink pendulous flowers and big leaves.  The one that they put in the shaded area of the garden center..."  I kept to add more clues for him.

"I still don't know what you are talking about."  He seemed confused even more. 

At that moment, I realized that although he supported my gardening obsessions, and helped me removing the sod, digging the roots, carrying all those soils and gravels,  he is NOT the gardener, and lots of plants to him probably still look the same.  I should not expect he can remember every single plant I showed to him.  Not wanting to take the risk for him to bring the wrong plant home, I decided that I will go to buy it the next day myself since it would be too late to go after the piano lesson and kids needed to eat the dinner first.

Tuesday right after the work, I directly drove to the store and walked to the exact spot to get that plant.  I COULD NOT FIND IT!  All three were gone, and even not single one left!  My heart just sunk at that moment.  I asked the store cashier, and he said he did not remember such plants.  "Maybe they were sold out, maybe the supplier came to take them away, or maybe they were moved to somewhere else".  He lifted my hope, so I pushed the cart in the garden center hoping they were still hidden somewhere.  After three rounds of searching, I knew I lost it!  You can imagine how disappointed I was when I drove back home, and I kept blaming myself that I did not buy it when I first saw it in the store!

Within three weeks after that day, I still occasionally talked about this plant, and showed the picture to hubby one more time.  I even showed hubby the spot that I thought would be the best for that plant!  Hubby felt bad about it since he did not buy it for me when he was in the store one day earlier.  "Why don't you go to the store to ask where they got the plants from, maybe you can go to the supplier directly.  Maybe you can check other stores to see if they have any..."  He tried to give me some suggestions, but I thought if it is gone from one store, then other stores won't have any either.  Maybe I was just afraid to have more disappointments...

Until this past Sunday, after I dropped kids to Sunday Chinese school, I went to the same big box store, but near by the school to look around.  [Here is another symptom of the plants obsession for women:  enjoying plants shopping in the hot nursery center as much as (or even more than) cloth/shoe shopping in the air-conditioned mall.]  In the house plants section, among all the greens, I spotted something pink!  And there it is! 

Only two of them were left, so I grabbed one immediately. When I drove back to the Chinese school, I had big smiles on my face all the way. Since there was still one hour left before the class ended, I could not take the risk to have the plants cooked in the hot car, I took the plants inside the waiting area of the school where other parents were waiting for their kids. I felt like a proud mom to show off her kids when other parents gave the compliments to the plant!

Can you blame me for being obsessed with this beauty? 

Although the plant label only says "Medinilla, Rose Grape", after more research, I found out what I got still has slight difference from what I saw in China. This one is called Medinilla cumingii. You can see the difference of the flowers. The flower is a little smaller, and doesn't have the petals outside of the grape shaped flower cluster. The leaves are also a little smaller. This is the more compact and dwarf type compared to Medinilla magnifica. The young flower is soft pink, and then the pink becomes darker and darker when the flower ages.  The final stage of the flower looks like berries. So you often can see different shade of pink flowers in one plant. It is said the flowers can hold quite long on the plant. I will know more about it later.

It is said that this plant loves bright shade with moist soil. It can not tolerate the frost, but could tolerate near freezing cold weather. For this reason, I might put it into a big container, and then situate the container to the spot that I have selected for it way before (remember that planting in the mind?).  In this case, I can bring it indoor in case any long-lasting frost days for the coming winter.

Needless to say, my husband was also glad that I finally got what I wanted.  First he doesn't have to listen to my nagging any more, second he does not have to feel guilty any more.

Well, this is one story about my plants obsession.  Hope it did not bore you too much.  Do you have any story about your plants obsession?  Come on, write about it and be brave to admit it!  Let's all hear it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Favorites -- August 2010

Once again, I am joining Susan at Simply Susan! to show my favorites of this month.  

From top left clockwise: Cats' Wiskers (Orthosiphon stamenis) seems very happy with the new partial shade spot in my new sidegarden bed. One kind of ground orchid is also at the blooming peak. Torenia is my new favorite in the garden. It really brings lots of color into the shady spot of the garden. Angelonia angustifolia is the new addition to the garden. Datura metel double layered huge trumpet shaped flower sometimes looks so unreal, yet just gorgeous! Siam Tulip (Curcuma alismatifolia) is also my new favorite of this month.

The above are my heat loving favorites.  From top left clockwise: Zinnia, Allamanda (It has been blooming so flower prolifically!), another type of zinnia (a gift from my son);  Marigolds has passed its peak time, but now I have lots of seeds for the new season.  Canna Lily (Bengal Tiger) is soaring high into the sky.  My biggest zinnia in the garden! 

My favorite foliage:  From top left clockwise:  Crotons (can you believe they were just bare sticks after our January freeze?), Charmed Wine Oxalis, young caladium leaves hidden among the ornamental sweet potato leaves, Brazilian Red Hots (Alternanthera), more Caladiums!

Here comes more of my favorite foliage:

From top left clockwise: Coleus, Bromeliad (Neoregelia X Ultima), Coleus, Bromeliad (Neoregelia Tequila), Bromeliad (Neoregelia spectabilis), coleus. 
Center: Two kinds of bromeliad (identification, anybody?).

What are your favorites for this month?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Update On My New Playground Project and More

The progress of my new playground and the pathway around it has been rather slow with the unbearable daytime heat and my lack of time.  Although it is still not finished, I do have a little progress to show you.

Here is what I have left last time with this new flower bed on the west side of my house.

Since then, more plants were put in, and the bed was mulched with pine bark nuggets. I love the color and the texture of pine barks, and the smell too! The other bonus is if I need to dig and plant later, the soil mess made on the TOP of the mulch won't be so obvious, kind of a nice feature for this not very tidy gardener :)

Here are two pictures of this bed from different angles.

Did you see that small tree with bare sticks next to the rain berrel?  That is the Datura metel with all leaves eaten by tomato hornworms that I told you in my last post.  Fortunately, I already saw the new leaves are emerging from the tree.

The pathway turned out to be lots of work. As I mentioned before, this area is a low point of the garden. Therefore, the recent frequent rain made the pathway very muddy to work on. We removed the grass roots as much as we can, and then put a layer of weedblock fabric, followed by small gravels.  We still need to place the stepping stones, and then cover the rest area with bigger marble chips. With school starts tomorrow, we may have to hold this last part of project a little longer.

Nevertheless, this area is alerady much nicer to look at, no more muddy grass-less area to walk on! Not to mention I got a new playground!

Here is the broad view of this area so far.

Oh, wait, do you see that little flower bed at the right bottom side? I never showed this to you before because it did not exist!

When working on the pathway on the side yard, we figured the remaining grass area to the paved backyard is also  looking ugly with the same water puddle issue.  So we decided to extend the side path way to connect the backyard paved area. 

Of course, I don't want to waste any unnecessary space for this pathway, so another tiny flower bed was opened, and perfect for some of my shade loving plants that have been overflowing at my front patio for quite long time!  So, here it is,  another new flowerbed filled up with plants already!

Some plants in this bed include Coleus, Purple Queen, Spathiphyllum (Peace lily), Torenias, two kinds of Begonias, Kalanchoe, Impatiens.

Oh, where are my EXTRA plants going to go if there is no more grass area for me to open?!

Well, maybe I should worry about that later.  For now, I am going to enjoy my new space and hope good things keep coming to my garden :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One Unknown Plant , Some New Blooms and A Feast for Tomato Hornworms

Need some help to identify one self seedling from my garden.

The seedling appeared near to my Brazilian Red Hots (Alternanthera), so I assumed it was Brazilian Red Hots. Once the seedling got a little bigger, I transplanted it, and waited for its vibrant variegated foliage with purplish centers and fuchsia edges to show up. Now the plant seems already grew to a mature size, but that expected color is still not shown.

Can somebody identify it for me (above, located at the left side of the oyster plant)? Or it is just a weed that I have been nurturing from the beginning? I did not see any flower buds so far, so not sure if it is a flower plant or just foliage.  I don't see any other plants in my garden that look like this one.

Meanwhile, there are some new flowers blooming in the garden.

Very first a couple of blue butterfly flowers on this very young plant!  Love its unique shape and beautiful blue color! 
Clerodendrum ugandense (Blue Butterfly Bush)
 I really loved beautiful Cleome flowers planted in mass in Chengdu Panda Research Base in China.  After I came back, I happened to see this Proven Winners Senorita rosalita Cleome Hybrid for sale in the big box store, just could not resist bringing one home. 

Proven Winners Senorita rosalita Cleome Hybrid  (Spider Flower)
It was said this type will not self seed, and is not sticky and doesn’t have thorns, but the flowers are smaller than classic cleome.  Although I think I still prefer the bigger flowers :)

Three different colors of Torenias were bought for my new partial shade garden.  I know they are annuals, but will enjoy them as much as I can, and hope they will seed themselves for next year too!

Oh, I have to show you what happened to my Datura metel (Devil's trumpet).  It was blooming very well with half dozen of buds waiting to open as well.  It looked great in my new flowerbed.

Until tomato hornworms found it...  I actually found there were 13 of them on this plant!!!   This time, I decided to leave them alone to expect they will become beautiful moths someday...

In just two days, my bush looked like this, no single leaf was spared!  What a feast they had!

My question is after they finished the leaves, where did they go?  I can not find any cocoons anywhere nearby.  The nature is a real amazing thing!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

China Trip Part 3: A Preserved Historical Residential Area in ChengDu

In part 1 and part 2 of my China trip posts, I introduced you some natural scenery of China.  What I am going to write today is not much garden related (well, maybe still a little.).  It is a preserved historical residential area in ChengDu, the capital city of SiChuan province, where my in-laws live in.

This place is called "Kuan-Zhai Alley" (宽窄巷, meaning Wide-Narrow Alley).  It consists of three parallel alleys, which are "Wide Alley" (宽巷子, Kuan Xiang Zi), "Narrow Alley"(窄巷子, Zhai Xiang Zi), and "Well Alley" (井巷子, Jing Xiang Zi).   To be more accurate, this is a place that used to be the residential area about 300 years ago, the time of Qing Dynasty of China.  Today, this area has been restored, and preserved its old architectural style, and converted to a place that people can come to shop, dine, and feel nostalgic. They can be there to enjoy the mix of the modern time and history. 

My sister's family flew from ShenZhen to Chengdu to see me, and had a tour of this place together with my family.  I hope the pictures I shown here could also have you feel a little bit of Chinese Culture reflected in this place.  I personally felt it was so relaxing to walk on the brick paved street, and wander through those traditional Chinese architectural style stores, trying to feel how the people lived 300 years ago.  I think that is why this place becomes a popular tourist attraction.  The modern people just need a place to rewind, and slow down the fast pace in their real life.

Pair of stone lions are often to be seen in front of the gate to guard the house.

This bronze door has Chinese Gate God engraved to ward off the evil spirits and encourage the flow of good fortune.  Do you see the circle rings on the door?  Those are there for visitors to tap on the door to inform the host, kind of like today's door bell.

Some traditional Chinese crafts are shown on the street.  Those are the part of the cultures that are gradually disappearing. 

This young man was performing using the long-beak tea kettle to pour the tea for the guests.  The beak is about three to four feet long.  It is not easy to pour without the spill while still posing the different gestures.

This is another Chinese traditional craft, molding the statue using the special treated flour paste.  When we were there, this craftsman was making a face mold based on a digital camera picture, quite interesting mix of tradition and modern technology.

The commercial words in front of this pottery store says:  "Must use a good mug to drink lots of water..." 

Sculptures on the wall is another art form that gives the structures in this area very elegant and ornamental effect.

This is a restaurant with an open courtyard in the middle.  This is also typical Chinese residential house style in the old time.

The water feature and some plants setting in the courtyard...  Hmmm, after all, I do still have some garden related pictures to show you in this post.

My son found even this pair of garbage cans are also very traditional.  The left one is for the unrecyclable trash, and the right one is for the recyclable trash.

Love this trellis full of climbing vine against the brick wall...

Familiar bougainvillea and other container plants in front of another store...

This narrow pathway is used to go through between the "Wide Alley" and "Narrow Alley".

Look familiar?  Starbucks Coffee in a traditional Chinese style house!  This house has three layers in the depth.  You can see the Chinese translation of "Starbucks Coffee" in the middle layer.

Bamboos in the planter gives more Chinese touch of this Starbucks coffee.  By the way, the people drinking coffee in the picture are not my family :)

This house is completely empty, seems only for display.  I would love to have those two planters in my garden :)  That empty pond must have been used as water feature in the past.

Another stone planter that I fell love with!

Another courtyard garden in one restaurant where we had dinner...

At the same restaurant, I saw this strange looking plant in a hanging basket.  My sister, who is a professor teaching Botany at College, told me it is called Nepenthes distillatoria (Pitcher Plant, Chinese name: 猪笼草). They are carnivorous plants, and those pitcher like cavities are filled with the liquid known as a pitfall trap to capture the insects, or even rats!

After the dinner, we went to the last alley: "Well Alley".  This drawing on the wall shows people in old time playing the poker on the street while taking out their bird cages for some fresh outdoor air.   It is interesting that even this drawing is mostly flat on the wall, the desk is actually a three-dimensional item that sticks out of the wall.

Even it was dark, my boys found something very entertaining.  It was another Chinese traditional art on the street:  Shadow play (Chinese: 皮影戏, Pi Ying Xi) or shadow puppetry.  This is similar to the puppet show.  The difference is that it uses the figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. 

My boys were moving the puppets using the sticks that were string attached to the figure.

Here is how the figures looked like from the front of the screen.

I am so glad that my boys got some opportunities to feel close to the Chinese culture that day, which we have been trying hard to instill into their life.  Being born and brought up in America, it is not very easy for them to really understand or have the real feeling for the essence of the Chinese culture.  It is a place that definitely we were so happy to take them to.
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