21 July 2007

Green thumb? Or Black thumb of Death?

Over the years, I have tried many different methods of maintaining plants of my own. I've met with varying degrees of success.

The Early Years.

Growing up, I helped my parents maintain their gardens. But I wanted to try a thing or two on my own. I was becoming interested in herbs, especially 'wild' herbs. I asked for some space in the garden to grow some Achillea (or yarrow, if you prefer). I had a plan. My parents, having seen my plans in action in the past, were cautious. Dad tilled a piece of grass next to the greenhouse. The greenhouse was a good distance from the garden. It was unlikely any crazy thing I did could disturb the precious green beans and squash. Smart parents.

I had already scouted about on the property, and knew exactly were I could dig up some Achillea for transplant. I had never done this before and wanted to be certain of an at least moderately successful outcome, so I transplanted a lot of Achillea. It turns out Achillea transplants rather well. Under cultivation it does extremely well. The small plot grew far more yarrow than I alone could make use of. (You are doubtless wondering what possible use I might have for 'wild' yarrow. Especially as these are most commonly cultivated into a variety of different flower colors, and wild yarrow flowers are quite plan. A topic for another day.) And then I went away to college and my parents were left to deal with the Achillea madness.

For a time my parents hoped the Achillea would just die off without me there to tend them. And then upon realizing that these plants were a hardy sort, they decided on more drastic measures. The greenhouse was demolished. The earth was scraped even with a tractor. The ground was tilled, limed, fertilized and planted with grass. Mom says the Achillea never made reappearance. She says grass covers all. They claim that it was simply time to do away with the greenhouse. As for me, I think it was the yarrow.

College Dorms (of doom) Part I.
My first year in college I lived in a dorm. The dorm room had very little sunlight. I did attempt to grow a miniature rose (given to me by my mom). To provide the rose with light I had to put it up high on a windowsill behind a tall bookshelf. What with all the moving in and starting college, by the time I thought to check it for water, it was one crispy critter. Resuscitation was impossible.

College Dorms (of doom) Part II.
The following year brought another dorm room with a friendlier roommate, Meredith. We had been keeping two pet rats (another topic for another day). We decided to give them away. Suddenly the dorm room was just too quiet. Perhaps a fish tank? Once at the pet store a leopard gecko caught Meredith's eye (this is not however the gecko's story). To go with the gecko we eventually grew crickets and of course grass for the crickets to eat. The grass grew quite well. As did the crickets.

Eventually both were liberated to the wild.

The Apartment.
My final year in college I lived in an apartment. At last! Real windows and a covered porch. Perfect! I could have indoor and outdoor plants. The room overlooked the porch so I could, even with my busy schedule, monitor the plants and make sure they had sufficient water.

It worked pretty well, right up until Meredith and I got a cat. As it turns out, cats (Or perhaps only our cat. My feline experience is not broad enough to generalize.) like to eat green things. It took me a little while to catch on to what was happening. At first I thought my indoor plants must have some sort of strange insect infestation (I was taking entomology classes, and worked in an entomology lab, so insects were on my mind . . .). When the cat started throwing-up the pieces of the plants, the 'ah!' light went on.

I had selected most of my plants from things that were to be discarded from the lab I worked in. Many of them would not survive a North Carolina winter. I had upon selecting them thought I could simply bring them inside for the winter. But now, doing so would be a death sentence as surely as leaving them outside.

I figured out that my dresser was tall enough that, provided I didn't put anything shorter next to it, the cat couldn't jump the distance to the top. So the plants were able to come in for the winter. But on top of the dresser they were well out of my field of vision. So I didn't really get to enjoy them. Also they were pretty far from any real sources of light. Eventually I managed to get a light for them and they made it through the winter, but it was a close thing.

Most of the plants I took care of that year, were pretty useless types of plants. Primarily decorative plants meant for more tropical climates. I wanted to keep practicing at taking care of green things and their main appeal had been that they were free. After college, I ended up giving most of them away. There was one plant though that I have kept. It makes me smile every time I see it. It is a purple Oxalis

The Duplex.

Now I live in a rented duplex in Florida. I have a cat still and my roommate (not Meredith this time, Jesse) has two as well, so indoor plants are again out of the question.

The Mosquitoes here are gigantic. I learned this while planting some hibiscus around the duplex. . The Mosquitoes were so large I could actually feel them landing. I make Mosquitoes salivate.  

I was determined. I managed to get quite a few hibiscus planted before being pumulted on all sides by vast hordes of blood sucking fiends. I was forced to retreat indoors, to a shower to get them all off.

At least the hibiscus got planted though right? Right. A week later they were all eaten by snails.

I managed to save one lone hibiscus. It is doing quite well. I never have to water it. Which is good. Since it is unlikely I would survive the endeavor. The Mosquitoes regularly patrol the neighborhood, waiting for their favorite blood supply to make an appearance.

I attempted to keep potted herbs just outside the sliding back door. The rather strong winds given off by the tropical storms that regularly head this way, knocked over the pots and in the few weeks of distraction that followed, the plants dried out before I thought to check on them.

How could I keep plants inside without having them be savagely ripped apart by my roommates kittens? The kittens are rather energetic and have no problem leaping to the top of the dresser I had used previously for overwintering. I kept thinking that I could some how modify a fish tank into a terrarium. It would need to be tall, so the plants would have room to grow. And rather thin, so it would fit on my window sill. And I wanted to come up with a way to modify it so it would open in the back so I could easily do maintenance on the plants. And of course some sort of cat proof lid. I was pretty sure I could make all of this happen. I thought to my self though, 'But wait Liz. Why reinvent the wheel? What if some other enterprising spirit has already done this and has detailed plans online that could prevent you from wasting money on incorrect materials and useless tools?'

Fifteen minutes of googling later, and I had a much cheaper, less crazy solution. Basically you use some sort of glass jar, filled with different soil layers and then put a lid on it. A little self contained environment that doesn't need to be watered more than once a month. I already had some huge mason jars (thanks mom!), that would work perfectly. I ran out to the garden supply and bought six different herbs and soil. I was also suppose to get activated charcoal and pebbles but in my excitement forgot! So I get home and cast about for a pebble substitute. Aha! Marbles! :) I had time to pot up one of my plants. The next day I went to the pet store for activated charcoal and pebbles. A few hours of labor later and I have six jars of potted herbs. Lovely.

In a few months time I will update on the success of this endeavor and post some pictures.

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