Saturday, September 6, 2008

Personalish: 2 June 2008 to 30 August 2008

That tealy blue patch toward the center is from the Emergency Room visits (one, two) and associated stress from getting bills, thinking I was going to have to lose my job, etc. (Considering that summer will happen again, it might not be a bad idea to be looking around for other work anyway, but: aside from the parts where I'm getting stabbed by cacti, inhaling pesticide fumes, or almost cooking to death, I do like the job, which makes it a tough call.) As blue patches go, it coulda been worse. Having my appendix out was, like, electric blue.

The somewhat purpler blue at the left side would have been, more or less, the flood. It's purple instead of straight blue because the flood was sort of fun, in a weird way, and fun is red.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, this post (specifically item 2 of that post) has the explanation.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Well? Which will it be?

Saw this at a competitor's and just about died laughing. Probably you had to be there, but I'm sharing the picture anyway. (Joke may be more obvious if the picture is opened in a new window.)

It does make me wonder what they charge for the fugly mums.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Funeral Plants, Part I (for the senders)

We get a fair number of people at work calling or coming in to ask about houseplants that they've received via a funeral. Usually by the time they're asking about the plant, it's too late to help it, and it makes better economic sense to pitch it in the trash and buy a new one. I don't tell them that, though. They're attached; they have a history with the plant. Emotional investment and all. I get it. So we do what we can.

I think houseplants are one of the better things to send to funerals.1 Definitely preferable to flowers. My mother has a small speech about the inappropriateness of cut flower arrangements for funerals, which goes like this,

They're nice and everything, but every time you look at them, you're going to be reminded of the person who's just died, and then too the flowers aren't going to last forever either, they're just going to die and you're going to have to throw them away and it just makes the person that much deader. They're depressing and a waste of money.
Her version takes longer, but that's the gist. And I happen to agree with her, in case you didn't guess.

Aglaonema 'Maria,' a common condolence plant.

On one sad occasion at a previous job, a co-worker's father had just died (car/motorcycle accident), and there was a group discussion about what the department should send her family. Someone proposed a little yard ornament kind of thing, I don't remember what it allegedly looked like, but I remember that it was supposed to have the inscription "father and daughter" somewhere on it, or something like that, and I remember that I was very intensely against the idea. Intense to the degree that it kinda surprised me, even. My logic was, basically, that something like that was always going to look how it looked, and consequently was always going to symbolize what it symbolized, and maybe the co-worker wouldn't appreciate a daily knife through the heart for the rest of her life and we should look for something that would maybe change over time. I don't know, now, whether that logic was especially sound, but people did listen to me (all the more remarkable because I'd only been working there for about a month and a half), we went with a tree instead, and I can come up with a couple more reasons why whatever it was would have been a bad idea,2 so I remain comfortable with my argument.

Also, some such items are backhandedly horrible. Surely it would be better to have nothing at all than to have something like this:

And this is comforting how, exactly? Is it supposed to be cheery because it rhymes? I mean, holy crap, if you were looking for ways to prove that God is a total asshole. . . .

Probably, some people shouldn't be given houseplants either, but you're not necessarily sticking anybody with something they don't want by sending one. My most recent relative's funeral (grandmother) involved maybe a half-dozen houseplants, which her kids either took with them or not, depending on whether they wanted to and who'd sent them in the first place. This may or may not be typical for all families, but it strikes me as a sensible enough way of doing it.3 Anyway.

The flower shop tells me that the typical funeral plant order is very non-specific: usually something like "$30 green plant,"4 no more specific than that. Then they go in the greenhouse, find something of the specified price, put some foil on the pot and stick a card in, and out the door it goes.

Spathiphyllum spp., arguably the houseplant currently most associated with funerals.

Because the orders are usually so non-specific, whoever is filling the order for the flower shop has fairly broad discretion for what they can use to fill it, in theory. In practice, they stick as closely as possible to a few species regarded as safe, and ignore everything else unless they've got more particular instructions. So if you order a "green plant" for a funeral, you're probably going to be getting one of these eight:

Aglaonema spp. (Chinese evergreen; especially the darker varieties like 'Maria')
Dieffenbachia spp. (somewhat disfavored due to toxicity, but still usable, especially if they look nice)
Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime,' 'Janet Craig,' 'Warneckei/Jumbo/Ulises'
Ficus benjamina (I don't approve of Ficus benjamina for funerals: ficus trees can be nerve-wracking enough without adding the pressure of keeping the plant alive in honor of someone who has died. Among other things, you can pretty much guarantee that they're going to drop a bunch of leaves within that first two or three weeks. The one big plus is that they're exceptionally planty-looking.)
Ficus elastica (particularly the darker black-purple varieties like 'Burgundy')
Philodendron 'Xanadu' or 'Hope' (infrequently used)
Spathiphyllum spp. (the overwhelming majority of funeral orders seem to be filled with Spathiphyllums or Ficus elasticas)
Syngonium podophyllum cvv. (arrowhead vine)

Why so limited? Well, there are a lot of things to take into account. You want something relatively straightforwardly planty-looking so the grief-stricken will know what it is,5 something non-trailing so that people aren't stepping on it during delivery or at the service, something relatively upright and compact, something that's not going to fall to pieces as it gets moved from place to place over the next couple weeks, and something that is size/price proportionate. One criterion which surprised me is that plants that are too sharp and angular (Yucca guatemalensis, e.g.) are usually passed over, too. Some people find visual jaggedness unsettling. I don't really relate to those people, but I can still take it into account.

There's certainly nothing stopping you from asking for a particular plant that's not on the Big 8 list. I think there are definite reasons to consider any reasonably large and respectable-looking specimen, of any mostly upright and easy-care plant. Zamioculcas zamiifolia, Ficus maclellandii (pointiness be damned!), Dracaena fragrans,6 Rhapis excelsa, Dracaena surculosa, Sansevieria trifasciata, maybe even a bromeliad like Guzmania spp. or Vriesea splendens.

Ficus elastica 'Rubra,' I think. (I could be mistaken about the cultivar name.) Also a very common condolence plant.

But more important than what you get, at least to my mind, is whether or not the recipient knows how to care for it when they get it. I don't know how many florists would do this for you, but if you could get them to include a care tag that contains some actual information, instead of just a tag that reads "Peace lily. Tolerates low light. Keep evenly moist," that would be a big step in the right direction.

Of course, that assumes that you're dealing with florists who know how to care for the plants they're selling, which is not as safe of a bet as you'd think. So hedge your bets and ask for a tag with the botanical and common names, so that the recipient can look up care info if s/he wants to.7 The florist might think you're being high-maintenance, and maybe you are, but the plant may need all the advantages you can give it. 'Cause bad things happen when people try to guess at a plant's needs based on how it looks.


Photo credits: My photos, except for the Ficus elastica, which was by donation from Garden Webber "Pepperomia."

1 I think food is better, because it is practical and useful. The grieving don't necessarily want to eat, but they still need to, and if there's food right there, then that's one less obstacle to doing so.
2 A "father and daughter" object is not especially respectful to the mother or brother (with whom the co-worker was still living at the time); also such ornaments are sometimes exquisitely tacky, not something you want to commit to sight unseen. People, for the most part, are comfortable with the existence of trees, and consequently don't mind more of them, but it takes a much narrower slice of the population to be okay with any given lawn decoration. Though people do hold grudges against specific trees sometimes, so it's not a sure bet.
3 No, I didn't take one. I probably could have, if I'd wanted, and nobody would have said anything. And it would even have been somewhat appropriate, since the grandmother in question is probably the person most responsible for me being into houseplants. (Not in a huggable, movie-montage, bonding-over-seedlings way. She was never ever ever a cuddly, twinkly-eyed grandmother. Not even a little bit. But she liked houseplants, and had several, and also had houseplant books, which I could entertain myself with while she did other stuff elsewhere in the house.) But the options were boring. Peace lilies, mainly. There was a croton too. And a mum. Yawn.
4 "Green plants" don't have to be green, and they also don't have to be plants grown for foliage necessarily. The meaning, as it's used where I work, anyway, is basically a plant that one could reasonably expect to look acceptably good in three months, given ordinary semicompetent care. The antonym is "blooming plants," which are things like Rieger begonias, azaleas, cyclamens, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, and so forth, all of which conceivably could survive to bloom again, but which aren't likely to do so unless someone really knows what they're doing. But still, "blooming plants" may have nice foliage (cyclamen), and "green plants" may have flowers (Anthurium).
5 No, seriously. The brains of people who are grieving aren't necessarily working right. If you're going to send a plant, send one that looks as much like the platonic ideal of the word houseplant as possible. (An absolutely devastating firsthand account of brains not working right due to grief can be found in Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Not everybody will like it - Didion is taken to task in the Amazon reviews for being cold, repetitive, and oddly detached - but this, of course, is precisely the point: that's how she always wrote before the death of her husband, and that's still how she writes after. The point is not how she tells you, it's what she tells you: details like not being willing to get rid of her husband's shoes because some part of her brain was insisting that he would be coming back, and that when he came back he would need shoes. The degree to which you'll like the book is probably parallel to the degree to which you overlap her in personality and worldview. Check your public library.)
6 (which actually does get used occasionally, though not so much by us: we don't generally have very many of them in stock at any given time, for reasons which are unclear to me. Though they should be clear, since I'm the person who decides what we have in stock at any given time.)
7 Tragically, most people won't bother to. Even in the Age of Google, a surprising number of people have no idea how to find information about anything: it doesn't occur to them to go buy a book, or look in the library, or go on-line and do a search. I could tell you stories about the phone calls I get. One is tempted to assume that these people have never needed to know anything before, ever, and consequently never developed these skills, but that's impossible, right? Nobody gets through life without occasionally needing to look stuff up, do they?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Work-related: Aglaonema mold

Last year at approximately this time, I had a customer point out to me that there was a disturbing black mold growing on the backs of some of our Aglaonema leaves. This happened on a particularly wet and cool day, and the plants were crowded pretty tightly on the tables (which cuts down air circulation and encourages fungus), so I thought, oh no, we have a fungus outbreak, and I pulled them all out of the greenhouse and wiped each and every leaf on each and every plant with a series of wet, soapy paper towels, followed by spraying them with a fungicide, and it kinda sucked. Took basically an entire day to do.

The mold wiped right off, very easily, and didn't leave a mark on the leaves, and they all stayed clear, into the colder and wetter winter and spring, so I gradually forgot about it. Fluke mold situation, obviously. Could happen to anybody.

Then about two weeks ago, I noticed that it was back:

The weather hadn't been wet and cold, and the plants weren't particularly crowded, so this didn't make much sense. The plants had seemed happy enough, too: no dropped leaves or anything. Hell, they'd even just flowered, most of them. But it was definitely the same stuff.

So out came the paper towels again, though I didn't bother with the soap or the fungicide this time. And as I was wiping, I noticed something: some plants had it much worse than others, and even on a particular plant, the mold was much heavier on some leaves. Think, Subjunctive, think: what could explain this pattern?

And then I realized: the ones that were still moldless were the ones that hadn't flowered yet. Which, some of the flowers had had droplets of something sticky (nectar? some kind of flower-related guttation?) on the spathes. And it would make sense that the mold would happen at the same time of year again, if the Aglaonemas flowered at specific times of the year, like most plants do. So I went through and cut off all the flowers (which I possibly should have done anyway: people buy for the leaves, not for the flowers, and flowers do take energy to produce), and so far, the mold hasn't come back again.

I need to keep watching them, but I'm hoping that I solved the mystery, and can keep this from happening again next year. Maybe we won't know until then, though. Anybody else seen this one?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pretty picture: Convolvulus sp.

Just a placeholdery post (though the picture's decent, no?) while I try to do everything in a single day again. Let's call it a coming-attractions post.

Much writing, much watering. Maybe some erranding. Posts pending on 1) sending plants to funerals (done), 2) receiving plants from funerals, and 3) Begonia rex-cultorum (done), as well as 4) the much overdue review of Flower Confidential and posts about 5) food irradiation, 6) pesticides, 7) watering, and 8) sentimental attachments to individual plant specimens. Some of those last four will probably not actually ever happen, because they've been in the works for a long time and I'm finding them unreasonably difficult to do. But we'll see what happens.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The . . . Blotties?, or, Don't Call Me Churly

2008 Blotanical Awards

Well. So. Nominations are open for The 2008 Blotanical Awards.

This is not uncool of Stuart (Blotanical founder) to set up and everything, but it's surprisingly difficult at the moment. The categories are either very narrow (Best South American Blog, which has four candidates for five finalist spots) or very broad (Best Newcomer Blog, which is open to any Blotanical member: I'm not sure how many that is right now, but it's got to be more than 200, for five finalist spots). This is probably how it has to be (no way to put everybody on equal footing other than to make every blog a possible nominee, however absurd it might be to list Wicked Gardener as an option for Drought-Tolerant Blog or to put Plant Crazy in contention for Best Agrarian Blog), but it also means that the same handful of blogs that already win everything (you know who I'm talking about) are likely to win these as well, which makes the whole exercise feel a little pointless.

And there is, of course, no category for indoor gardening, because there is never a category for indoor gardening. Because indoor gardening is somehow not serious. (I blame Amy Stewart.) Nor occupational gardening, either, as far as that goes. (Read the updates at the bottom of the page.)

It's a little churlish ("of, resembling, or characteristic of a churl," says the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) of me to be critical here, seeing as how I haven't put together an award thing of my own. I mean, it's hard to stack the bricks and mortar them together; it's easy to jeer and throw rocks from the sidelines. So that's not how I mean this (though to be honest, I am just as bitter about the lack of an indoor gardening category as I sounded above). I just mean that it would be easier to feel invested in the process if I felt like there was a chance of being nominated, and it'd be easier to feel I had a chance if there were narrower categories. I'm also a little unclear on what some of the current categories are in the first place: how is Best Blog Design different from Most User-Friendly Blog? Aren't user-friendly designs good by definition, and don't good designs have to be user-friendly? And, if we're all Newcomers this year, then how is Best Newcomer Blog distinct from Blog of the Year?

And then I feel stupid because they're only internet blog awards. Meaningful, yes, within the garden blogging community, and a good way for people to be recognized for their contributions and all, but it's not like there's a gold medal and a trip to Stockholm riding on this. This competitive thing of mine is silly and unattractive (like a churl!). So I should probably just go lie down for a while.

Or, when all else fails, go meta: I should start up a betting pool for just how many awards [insert garden-blogging behemoth of your choice] is going to pick up this year.

UPDATE: Mrs. Blotanical, in comments, says that Indoor Gardening is being added, "just for [me]." Which is both unexpected and appreciated.

Though wouldn't it be "Mrs. Robinson?"

Or is she actually married to the blog aggregate? Is that legal in Australia?

Also: so are we going to go with "Blotties," then? It sounds like a line of kids' clothing. Or possibly some kind of disposable wipe.

Maybe "Blotanies?"


SECOND UPDATE: The rumors are true. Indoor Gardening (which also includes balcony/patio gardening and small-space gardening in general) has been added. Thank you very much, Stuart. In your face, Amy!


P.S. If you wondered: a churl is basically a hick/redneck, just nine centuries ago and in England.
P.P.S. You should still join Blotanical if you have a gardening blog. It's fun.
P.P.P.S. I worry that the intent of the P.P.S. was unclear. I was being sincere.

Boston Fern Scrunchie

Repotting Boston ferns is a pain. They're big. They have fronds flopping every which way, there are often dead fronds around the base of the plant, right where you have to add the new dirt, which can be so stiff they're sharp. And so it's kind of an ordeal.

But when I was getting ready to repot a customer's plant on Saturday, I had an idea. Here's what I did.

I cut a piece of plastic from a roll we've got in the potting room.

I popped the fern out of its old pot.

I laid it down on the piece of plastic I cut, so the foliage rested on the plastic and the root ball was not on the plastic.

Then I rolled the foliage up in the plastic and then taped the plastic to itself, basically making it into the scrunchie for a fern ponytail:

I repotted with this on the plant, which kept the fronds out of my way and let me get my hands in close enough to add the dirt around the root ball, and then when the repotting was finished, I pulled the plastic off --

-- and it was done.

Granted, it's a little bit complicated to wrap the fern in plastic in the first place, but I think it's still faster to take the time to do that than it is to have to keep brushing fronds back so you can see where to put the dirt. Even if it actually takes longer, it's way less frustrating.

One could substitute butcher paper for plastic and the basic theory would still hold up, I think.

Maybe this is not a big deal, and everybody else already knew about this. But I was pretty proud of myself.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Random plant event: Homalomena 'Perma Press' flowers

Not the most amazing flower. Looks a lot, actually, like all the other aroid flowers (Alocasia, Philodendron, Dieffenbachia, etc.). But it's different enough.

The plant itself is huge (potentially), and looks like this:

It's tempting, except for the part where I have no room for such a monster, and very little confidence in my ability to grow Homalomenas in general. (Though 'Emerald Gem' and I are getting along somewhat better now. So it's not hopeless.) I'll be slightly jealous of whichever customer gets it.