My Green Patch - Gardening In The Maltese Islands

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Two Wrongs Do Make One Right In The Garden

I enjoy going out in the yard, have a look around, like a foreman watching a project unfold, and give some satisfied nods.  Lately, however, two spots have been catching my eye, and I look at them in disapproval, as if they will magically disappear or right themselves.  

The first sore spot was a large pot that I had purchased with the idea of filling with herbs.  I did plant rosemary and sage in it once, but that was a disaster.  After I threw the dead plants away, I stuck the container in a corner never to see a pinch of soil again.  It was too big for my yard, and I had no plants to plant in it.

My second sore spot was my succulent on the succulent shelf.  I have had this plant for over four years now, and it just keeps hanging on to dear life.  I have completely neglected this plant, never repotted it, hardly ever water it, and when I do the water goes straight out, the compost has become so hard it fails to absorb any water now.  I know what I should do to rescue it, but I just don't want to!  Still there it is, a monster of a plant staring at me in defiance everyday.


Yesterday I decided I had to do something about this plant.  I took a closer look at it, and I saw that all its stems and leaves had sprouted roots.  Now I know where it was getting its water from.  The stems' roots that touched the wood collected the water that came out of the pot, ingenious.  I had noticed these roots before, but now it was like a small jungle, a mini ecosystem hidden among the leaves.

succulent roots

I was curious to see what was going on in the pot, so I lifted it as gently as I could.  I was not able to hold all the stems in my arms it was so big.  I spread it out on the floor, and I could see the main stems jutting out of the pot.  I am not sure if this is the way this plant is supposed to grow, but it looked almost deformed.  All the stems took the shape of an 'S' as they hung out of the pot, and rested on the shelf.  The middle of the pot was almost completely void of any leaves, just a few stems looking haggard, and half dead.  


So what now?  As I stared at it many thoughts came to my mind.  Give it away to someone with a bigger garden?  Cut it up  in smaller plants and give them away? Throw it away?!  (Yes that thought did cross my mind I'm ashamed to say).  I pondered for quite a while, and I even asked my gardener friends on my gardening group on facebook.  Then it hit me, ideally this plant would go into the ground as someone suggested.  I don't have any ground, but I do have a rather big pot!  I was sure it would fit nicely in it, and it could be a contender for my roof garden.

Today, after more than four years, my succulent has a new home.  The soil crumbled in my hand as I gently lifted out of the pot, and carefully placed it in the new soil.  It was no easy task.  The stems were bent in such as way that I could not get them to stay.  



I gave the plant a much needed shower, and soaked it through.  I am hoping now that the roots will take to the soil.  If it does and this plant continues to grow it's going to be huge.  I might take cuttings and place them in the soil where there are empty patches. That could wreak havoc, but I am now confident this plant will endure the tightest of living quarters, and the harshest environment.  It could very well be my super plant!! :)


Sunday, June 30, 2013

How To Tell When Containers Don't Fit The Plants? The Plants Tell You!

This week my garden has taught me another lesson.  I learnt the meaning of fibrous and tuberous roots.  I learnt that fibrous roots are thin roots which are shallow and stay close to the soil surface.  Plants with fibrous roots tend to spread them wide and therefore require shallow but wider containers.  Tuberous roots on the other hand go long and narrow.  A tubular root is one long root which travels deep into the soil in search of nutrients to sustain the plant.  Plants with tubular roots therefore require a deep pot to accommodate the them.

In a normal garden the root system of plants may not really matter that much, because the plants' roots can travel every which way and there will still be enough soil, provided they are planted with sufficient space around them.  In a container garden however, the space is limited to the type of container chosen, and it is important to know a little bit about the root system of your plant before choosing the container.  I have already highlighted these issues in a previous post on how to choose the right containers, so I will not go through that again.  In this post I want to highlight the task of identifying the root system of plants and how sometimes the answers do not lie out there.

I few months ago I got an Aloe Vera from a friend.  It came to us in a tiny container, and has been growing steadily ever since. Around the beginning of May growth stopped, and I decided it was time to repot.  I know these plants can grow quite large, and it was not meant to stay in a three inch container!  Since the plant was still so young and seemed to be doing well I didn't really look up much information.  I watered it whenever the soil went dry and it seemed to like it's place in the sun.  I placed the plant in a bigger container and it started growing again in no time.

Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera After Repotting 

Two months later I noticed that the plant seemed to stop growing again.  It had not out grown it's container so I attributed this to the fact that I had moved the plant to a shadier spot in May to make room for other plants.  Slightly worried I looked up some information about the plant.  Among other things I learnt that the plant's root system was fibrous, meaning the roots were thin fiber like and spread out.  

When I repotted the plant, the roots were only tiny so I didn't think that the plant would have grown so much as to be root bound already.  This week however, I was proved wrong.  As I picked up the plant to water it I got a rather fuzzy surprise!

Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera Fuzzy Root

So what's going on here?  Is this plant not an Aloe Vera, perhaps I got it wrong.  I was certain that it was a root coming out of the pot and not some alien growth.  I did another search online and as it turns out there are mixed opinions on the plant's root system!  

I found some sites that say that the Aloe Vera has a tuberous root system, and to plant it in deep pots to accommodate the root system.  Other sites, or in this case the same site, on the other hand say that the plant has a fibrous root system.  To complicate matters further I came across another site which said that the Aloe Vera can develop a fungus called Arbuscular Mycorrhiza.  According to this site, the Aloe Vera has a fibrous root system, but the fungus goes deep into the soil, and  allows the plant to get more nutrients.  Huh?

I decided this case needs further investigation.  I removed the plant from the container, and although the plant did have some thin roots, the main root was the one that found its way out of the pot. Root or fungus, I decided to place the plant in a deeper container as that was the obvious course of action.  The length of the root is quite impressive, almost as long as the plant itself.  That could be a good rule of thumb to determine the size of the container, provided this root is going to keep growing as the plant grows.  The container is not much wider than the previous one, as the plant is still young I don't want to overwhelm it.

This goes to show that sometimes, you can get it wrong when it comes to container plants.  The best thing about nature however, is that it will always show you when there is something amiss.  You just need to read the signs, and with some common sense, and help (or added confusion) from other gardeners, take action.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Small Space Quick Design - A Minature Container Garden

small internal yard
A Small Internal Yard
The above plan is how I would like to see my yard in a few months time.  You may be look at some elements in the plan think, the scale is wrong, the door is way too big.  No, no mistake, the yard is small.  It only measures 3 meters by 1.8 meters or 10 feet by 6 feet.  The space is challenging, and so far I have only placed containers randomly wherever I could find space.  The time has come to try my hand at a little design.

I'll start with a small description of the current situation, and then I will move on with all the changes that I would like to make. The white square that is drawn against the left wall is a shaft which we cannot close off.  Basically is houses most of the pipe works for the apartments, and it needs to stay there.  That makes the space a bit awkward.

The doorway does not go all the way to the floor due to a supporting beam that runs underneath it, so the only way to enter the yard is by jumping over a small ledge. This is quite an inconvenience, however it gives me the opportunity to introduce something that I love, decking.  By installing decking halfway up the ledge, it makes crossing in and out more comfortable and divides the space in two, walking space and garden space.  The rest of the flooring is tile and can remain as is.

My current garden space is full at the moment and I don't have room to add anymore plants.  That has to change.  I have to admit that the space is too small and if I want to enjoy it, I have to make room for myself.  I intend to move some of the hardy plants upstairs on our roof, as I expand to make a roof garden.  I will only keep a few ornamental plants in one corner, my passion flower against the wall, and a succulent shelf that I have installed on top of the shaft.

Once I have cleared some space, the first item on the list is seating.  I would like to create a space where I can sit in a quiet corner, have coffee in the morning surrounded by plants.  A great way to start the day! I am thinking a small table, around 30 to 45 centimeters in diameter, just big enough to fit a matching chair.

In the corner, my feature piece, a nice stone jar also black.  I would like to keep things clean due to the limited space, so a jar will provide interest, and at the same time will not overpower the space.  I could plant something lush that can hang down and contrast with some color.

What plants can I can put in the jar? I can see something shocking pink in there, red would also make a great statement.  I saw a wonderful Russelia Equisetiformis (Firecracker) plant this week, with bright red flowers and wiry stems, if kept in check it would look great in the jar.

Russelia Equisetiformis
Russelia Equisetiformis

For the wall opposite the passion flower I would like to install a herb garden.  A vertical planter, ideally made of wood, that can hold a wide variety of plants.  I was originally thinking about a homemade pallet, but I was a bit worried about the wood treatment that could get into the plants.  It would be safer to look for one at the store. The wall gets about four hours of direct sunlight each day and lots of bright light, which should be enough for my herbs.

Here are some items which I think would fit perfectly in the above set up.  

The table below from Furniture Designhouse  is only 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter just enough to fit one person.  It does not come with a matching chair, however, it's foldable.  Since the space is so small, a foldable table is great, because it can be put away when doing some gardening, and then  put up when it is time to relax. Now to find a foldable chair to match.

The jar below from Amadeo Design is made of stone resin, which makes it ideal for outside and is light enough to carry around.  At 40 inches (1 meter) high it is big enough to fill the corner. I can just see that Russelia.

Roman Oil Jar, 27 by 27 by 40-Inch

This vertical planter by Gronomics is great because it is quite compact, and comes with its own irrigation system, just plugin in a hose and you can forget about the plants.  It is also made out of unfinished cedar wood which is safe.   At 32 inches (80 cm) wide, it fits nicely on the wall right next to the Roman Oil Jar.

Vertical Garden Planter, 32-Inch by 45-Inch by 9-Inch

So there it is, my minature garden.  By keeping things simple, and not being afraid to consider big items for a small space I think I can manage to turn my yard from a cluttered space into a lovely container garden.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Challenges Of Blogging About a Passion Flower

This week I meant to write a long post about the passion flower vine I added to my garden a few weeks ago.  I wanted to write about the incredible flowers that are blooming every day now, about its fast growth doubling in size in just three weeks, and about the fact that the vine is slowly but surely trying to get into my house.  I meant to write all this, but I didn't.

Passion Flower

When blogging about my garden, it is very easy to write posts that have been written and re-written all over the net.  I have a few container plants that are quite common, and the simplest thing to do would be to write about how to take care of them, how the changes in weather is affecting them, how they are growing and so on.  I have done this in other posts for other plants, and I was planning to do just that with the passion flower, this is a log of my plants after all.  

Passion Flower

As I was doing my research on the plant, I realized, why do I have to repeat what's out there, what value is my blog post going to add to the reader? The challenge then became, how to write something interesting about the passion flower that the readers can enjoy, without repeating what others have written many times before.  

In my search to find interesting posts, one of two things normally happens.  An idea may come to me, which I then try to support with good pictures.  Alternatively, the garden will show me something interesting, where I take the pictures first, and then I try to explain it in a blog post.  It is not always clear which comes first, but I do find myself in situations where I have pictures, but no post, or the other way around.

Coming back to the subject, I have taken quite a few pictures of my passion flower now, but the post still eludes me.  What can I write about a passion flower that no one has written about before.  How can I look at this from a different angle?  Nothing comes to me, I find myself uninspired. It's such a wonderful plant, however, that I still take pictures to mark its progress, and this brings me to another point.  Are the pictures any good? Not really.

Summer has come all of a sudden, two days ago, without warning.  My garden has turned into a dust bowl, full of soil blowing in from the surrounding fields.  With no rain to wash them down, my plants look like they have been abandoned for years gathering dust, even though it has only been a few days.  Not the ideal environment to take pictures. I could spend a few hours hosing them down, trying to get the soil off the leaves, letting them dry, and take a few pictures for my blog post, but it's too much work in this summer heat.  

passion flower

So here I find myself with no post, and dusty pictures.  I am waiting for the vine to crawl in some unexpected manner, or to do something so outrageous as to warrant a blog post.  In the meantime, I check on it everyday, train it, teach it how to crawl in the right direction, talk to it, and marvel at its beautiful flowers.  I still take pictures, perhaps they can catch something I missed.  Until that day comes, however, my post about the passion flower is going to have to wait.


Friday, June 14, 2013

The Cactus Trio

This week I have acquired three more cactus plants for my container garden, thanks to my generous aunt.  Not much to say about them at this time, but stay tuned for my much needed cactus display!

cactus, brophyllum
Fuzzy Cactus - aka Brophyllum

cactus, portulacaria afra
Green Cactus - aka Portulacaria Afra

Spindly Cactus

Happy weekend everyone, hope you have a good one now that summer is on the way.  For those of you in the southern hemisphere, hope the weather treats you kindly :)