Sad Plants

30 Jun


Time never ceases to march forward, even when we stop looking at it. I went away for my sister’s wedding, and left the garden in the care of a trusted friend. I wrote up a simple list of water guidelines, and hoped for the best. Without my watching eye, perhaps because they sensed my absence, and although with promises of my friend of care, many of my plants looked haggard upon my return. What happened? They looked watered, they hadn’t dried up. They just looked sad. I’ve heard it before, many people have said at one point or another, “my plant looks sad”. Are we just anthropomorphizing?

There are studies that show that plants have senses. Just last week there was an interview with Daniel Chamovitz, author of What a Plant Knows in Scientific American. See here.  

There is even an entry in Wikipedia about Plant Perception, although under the paranormal wiki.

Much like meat-eaters, I suspect denying this science is due to self-serving ideas. How can you peacefully eat a pork chop when you know how much suffering a pig goes through to end up in your plate. As a vegan, I ponder these questions too “If my cabbage convulses as it is boiled, what right have I to eat it?”

I have to remind myself that the reason behind my veganism is to cause the least harm (harm-reduction): to animals, the planets, and my health. If it were not for plants, what would I eat? What then is our ethical obligation to plants? Am I being as callous as meat-eaters? Or as utilitarian as Peter Singer?

Surely my plants missed me. And I them! Throughout my time in Arkansas, I visited private gardens, for the first time having the common lore of gardeners. Inevitably the remarks turned to this same theme “Oh, look at these tomatoes, they sure look happy!” All the while, my own garden invaded my thoughts, and I even called my friend to make sure my plants were doing ok.SadFlower

“None have died. I’ve been following your list of instructions to the detail.” He promised. They did not die, but they sure missed me.

Oh, my sweet plants, I am here and back with you, to carry you in your life. I realize that I left you for a week, but I am back. And so glad that I am.


Lazy Sunday

17 Jun

Borage flower

There’s nothing lazy about this Sunday in the garden, but it is a lazy Sunday for the blog. I’m in the process of staking my tomatoes, a post will be coming up about that this week. I’m taking an iced coffee break because it’s scorching hot right now.

I’ve opted to just post some pictures:

Happy Sunday, Happy Father’s Day, Happy Gardening!

Eggplant to be

Spinach Harvest

Garlic scapes

Garlic flowering


Easy on Fridays: Spice it Up!

15 Jun


Mock chicken (Gardein) spiced with a lavender sprig, dill leaves, and chives and garnished with some micro-greens. All spices and garnish fresh from the garden. Bon appetit!

**Easy on Fridays is a recurrent event where I post a simple picture from the garden… because really, who wants to do any work after 5pm on Friday?**

On the Origin of this Human as Gardener Species

14 Jun

Hydrangea Macrophylla

As the summer takes on full steam and the garden thrives, I find myself consumed by plants. Every waking minute I am either thinking about plants, reading about plants, or noticing other’s plants wherever I go. It’s a healthy obsession, and a few days ago my thoughts wandered to the origins of my gardening.

It seems like several lifetimes ago when the people I lived with and I decided to fix up the backyard that came with the apartment we rented. During the cleanout process we stumbled upon some wooden sticks protruding from the ground. Only a handful of yellowed to brown leaves remained on the sticks.

A voice that was mine but that I did not recognize said “let’s save it”. The people I lived with insisted it was dead. “Don’t bother.” I stuck to my guns and we did not remove the unsightly sticks.

It was not the best time in my life, in fact, it was the worst, but something happened while I lavished the plant with my attention and affection. It whispered thoughts of resilience, hope, transformation, growth. Thoughts that lingered in my unconscious.

Fun fact: the color of the flowers are influenced by the type of soil they grow in. Blue when grown in acidic soil, pink when in alkaline soil.

Some years later I now look back to that plant, who grew from bare burnt stems to beautiful blue blooms with adoration. I too have bloomed since then, have transformed, have discovered my own resilience, my own growth.

Earlier this week I walked in Lowes to buy some wire (for tomato cages, weekend project!) I came upon the same plant in the distressed section. Although I never shop for plants in big box stores (I grow organic) I couldn’t help it. Here she was again, in need. She who helped me grow, who introduced me to gardening, who taught me to believe in myself, here she was again beckoning for help.

And here she is in my garden. The brown leaves pruned, the overgrown bare stems cut back, after some serious watering, and much love, she now stands tall and beautiful, singing the same songs of hope, resilience, and faith. Today they aren’t thoughts for burying. Today I sing with her, as we share the same lyrics.

Hello, old friend, teacher, inspiration…

Mulch Your Center

13 Jun

Pine branches to be used for mulch

In the hope of increasing my water conservation efforts, and because I am not around all day long to watch for signs of evaporating water from the garden, last weekend I layed down a layer of mulch.

I considered various kinds of mulch, straw, pine needles, dried leaves, rocks, plastic sheets. In the end, because I want everything to be of use and to give back to the garden, I opted for pine needles. This year the plot is mostly comprised of tomatoes, peppers, chilis, and eggplants. Everything else in the ground is a friend to these stars, like the borage, the basil, the catnip, and the marigolds. Pine needles seemed the best option for my acidic-soil loving plants.

On Saturday morning, armed with determination, I strutted to the back of the backyard to cut down some branches off the pine tree. I sat down comfortably and proceeded to strip the branches of their pine needles. Yes, I thought this was a brilliant idea.

The Garden Assistant helping to strip pine needles from the branches

An hour later, and the temperatures rising well into the 90s, I had enough pine needles to cover maybe one plant. Great, I thought, only fifteen plants to go. The heat was becoming unbearable. Desperation was increasingly building inside of me. “The plants! The plants! They will die of thirst! Hurry with those pine needles! You won’t have enough time! Why did you procrastinate so much!” These thoughts were sounding louder and louder. “Enough” I said, as I noticed the yelling in my ears. “Look around. What else can you use?” and just like that, I was guided to the farthest corner of the yard. There, hidden behind some broken branches I discovered a mound of grass clippings pushed against the fence. Perfect!

I grabbed the biggest bucket I could find, and carefully sorted through the clippings to make sure there were no weeds hidden among them. So, I now have dried grass clippings as mulch. Eventhough it was a desperate deviation from the plan, I still love it and so do my plants.

Back section of garden plot after mulch was laid down.

It always takes me aback how impressive is the decrease in water needs once there is mulch in the ground. It reduces the evaporation of water from the ground, protects the soil from erosion, prevents weeds from sprouting, and if using organic mulch it also feeds the soil as the material decomposes.

Mulch around my growing Anaheim Chili plant.

The experience reinforced in me the need to adapt to the flow of life, instead of succumbing to desperation and anxiety, calm yourself. Find your center and you will find an answer. Pine needles were my original goal, but the glass clippings work well and were certainly a lot less work than breaking up pine needles from a branch. When we allow our intuition to guide us, we end up with the right answer at the right time, and in this case, one step closer to sustainability in the garden.

Toddler at Work

10 Jun

The Garden Assistant when he was six months old after a sowing. (2011)

Toddlers are naturally curious. The world and everything in it is fairly new to them. Now that they have mobility and a developing hand eye foot coordination, it’s only natural that they want to touch, grab, taste, figure out how things work, and just investigate the world that surrounds them. Unfortunately for a mama gardener, that also means touching, hitting, digging and swatting at plants, often the plants that we put so much effort into growing. So, how to keep a toddler from destroying the garden? Enlist their help!

Working with his soil

I set aside a bag of soil for him to play with, along with his own pots, a pail and a shovel. This keeps him entertained while I repot or transplant plants. I sometimes ask him to help put the real soil in the real pots I am about to use. With supervision, I also let him water some of the plants with his own watercan. The trick is to pay as much attention to him as the plants.

Watering the Eucalyptus

On occasion, if my attention favors the plants, he has acted out by hitting a plant. He has particular contempt for my Eucalyptus plant for some reason. In that instance, after the terror bells go off in my head over the poor plant, I call him over and in my sweetest calmest voice go over the spiel for tantrums (I realize you’re angry, can you tell me what you would like? etc) and once his needs are met, I explain to him that it’s an owie for the plant. This usually has him blow kisses to it with his apologetic eyes. I’ve gone so far as to explain photosynthesis to him and the importance of loving and caring for plants and trees for the survival of our species. I know this goes over his head now, but I hope that as we continue the dialogue well into his childhood, some of it sticks.

“Helping” make holes in a tin can

I hope to impart my love of gardening to him. I hope someday he shares my feelings about gardening. That it’s not just a fun hobby, or a way to eat yummy tomatoes, or a way for the individual to feel connected to the earth and the cosmos, but that it’s also a way to participate, albeit in a small way, in the creating of oxygen for the planet, and to become part of the resistance to the Monsanto giants who relish in making a profit while poisoning our food. For now, it’s all about sharing a moment together. In our busy lives, my Garden Assistant and I relish slowing down and gardening together.

So, if you have a toddler on your hands, have them help in the garden! They’ll love to feel useful, and included, you’ll be able to form beautiful memories together, and you’ll have less mangled plants when you’re not looking!

Easy on Fridays

8 Jun

Spearmint on Margarita!

Garnishing a margarita with Spearmint from the garden! Cheers!

**Easy on Fridays will be a recurrent event where I post a simple picture from the garden… because really, who wants to do any work after 5pm on Friday?**


Good Black Gold

7 Jun

Compost bin- third layer- old potting soil


The ideology of sustainability in gardens and farming has been part of my lexicon for a very long time. Given that the earth has traditionally provided its own resources, and given that reliance on foreign resources is relatively recent, it just makes sense to have the earth work within itself. It wasn’t until I became a gardener that I transferred that ideology into practical concrete actions.

Part of that recycle, upcycle living means composting, and I was ashamed that I wasn’t practicing what I viewed as essential. Well, no more.

Last weekend, I created my first compost bin. A week later, and I am already craving to create another.

A free vet supplies bin. Go to vet clinics, they will be more than willing to get rid of some of these!

I found this vet supplies bin for free which locks itself so that no critters can open it. I whipped out the hand drill (god, how I love power tools!) and using the biggest bit, drilled holes on all sides.

I filled the first part with brown organic materials, mainly dried leaves left over from the fall.

For the second layer, I added some organic fertilizer and some store bought mushroom compost I had been using on the garden soil. This acts as an activator, I read.

The third layer is old potting soil that needs nutrients.

The last layer is all veggie waste, scraps from the kitchen, and coffee grounds. Refer to this list for knowing what to put in there and what not to.

I mixed the layers well and poured some water, enough to make it moist but not wet.

Now, time for the sun to do its job!

I read quite a few articles on composting and opted to do what feels most natural to me, which ends up borrowing from several of those sources. I’ll include those links at the bottom.

In a mere few days I have seen the colors change in the bin, and I am itching to create a new one to keep filling with kitchen waste. We eat a LOT of veggies and fruits a day, we need to compost the peels!

I’m excited about growing black gold for the garden, and being one step closer to sustainability. Water conservation, well, that’s another story… one step at a time…

Here are some of those sources I consulted:

Grow Ink

6 Jun

My latest tattoo: Growing.

Tattoos have always been a fascination for me. Although I don’t have many (in tattoo people standards), the ones I do have tell my story. My tattoos tell the story of moments in time, of the different selves I have embodied, of the varied beliefs I have acquired and then shed, of the ones I still keep. Our beliefs, our thoughts, our selves, and our lives are transient, either they grow with us, becoming firmer, rooting themselves to the core and blooming into more complex ideas, thoughts, selves, or they slowly wither with the passing of the season. Neither of those dualisms is more correct than the other. It’s our growing process. We must on occasion shed some of our outdated modes of thinking in order to give space to the new, and we must also keep some core fundamentals that give us a sense of a deeper purpose, a deeper self. Tattoos seem to me like the yoga phrase “As above, so below”.

I look back at my sensitive, fluttery 18 year old self who wanted nothing more than being free and let to wander, and who identified herself with a butterfly, so much so that she tattooed one on her. And, I look back at my fiery, determined self in her mid to late twenties who had achieved some sort of career success for herself, who felt that everything in life was a battle, but who kept her anger at the injustices in her life bottled, and chose no other symbol than a volcano to tattoo on her back. Every tattoo in my body is a chapter of my life. Some chapters remained inkless, but the ones that made it into skin create a rough sketch of who I have been, who I have wanted to be, and who I am today.

It was not with little thought then, that I approached getting this new tattoo on my arm. Man putting seeds in the ground, caring for the seeds so that it might become a tree, (which are also the lungs of the earth, creating oxygen out of carbon monoxide) under the Egyptian hieroglyph for the sun.

This new ink in my arm has become a personal testament to growing, both the plants in my garden, as well as myself as a person, a mother, a spiritual self. With some nurturing from ourselves, we can all become towering symbols for growth. We can all be flourishing lungs of the lives we have created and continue to create.

For a lighthearted read on various plant tattoos, go to this. I enjoyed looking through the various designs.

When you’re away…

5 Jun

Unknown. Flowers at Denver Botanic Garden.

Over the last week, I had an out of town visitor, leaving me with little time for the garden. As part of a “tour” of Colorado, we visited the Denver Botanic Gardens. It was my first time there, and although it’s not as impressive as some on the East coast (although I since have heard that the Chatfield Botanic Garden is without a doubt more impressive), it was still pretty awesome. What could be better than being surrounded by plants, plants, and more plants? (Most did not have labels, much to my frustration)

Roof of Ting at Denver Botanic Garden.

I loved the Ting. Both this one in particular as well as the concept. A ting is a Chinese covered resting place in a garden. It’s a place to rest from the walk, take shelter from rain (as we had to do), and I would add, a place to reflect and express gratitude for the grandiosity of nature.

View from inside the ting

The week has passed and I am back to my routine, my garden, my meditation. While I was away, my plants wept at my absence. Early blight set on (or was it powdery mildew?). I found them sad, with yellow spots on their leaves, and barely grown. I sprinkled cornmeal around their base. Cornmeal is miraculous. Within two days new leaves had sprouted, and they grew about an inch. The tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and cucumbers all had it, and then didn’t. Cornmeal is a staple in my garden from now on.

Ildi tomato leaves. Was it blight or powdery mildew? Either way, cornmeal did the trick!

My tobacco plant was infested with June beetle bugs. They have devoured the beautiful leaves. I opted for a garlic spray this time. I chopped a garlic head, added boiling water and a tiny bit of vegetable oil, and let it sit for a few minutes, strained it, and poured it into a spray bottle. I sprayed the leaves, the bottom, the top, even a bit on the soil and around the pot. It worked! The leaves are still pretty chewed up, and the bugs came back two days after spraying, so I have to continuously spray them.

I love how there’s always a challenge in gardening. Boring, it definitely is not. There’s always a mysterious bug, or fungi to take care of. It keeps one on one’s toes. My garden might not look like the Denver Botanic Garden, but it’s mine, all organic, and as sustainable as I can make it with my resources. I nourish it, but in the end, it also nourishes me.

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