19 October 2009

7 (planty) things

In my short blogging career, I've never been tagged for (nor responded to) any memes. You know, the "7 random things about me" type of thing... I actually kind of like the idea of a set piece that everyone responds to. It's an interesting foil. Of course, blogging is already inherently personal, but I find I learn a couple of special, new tidbits about someone by reading their curated list of "stuff."

So, I'm dipping my toe in.

Gayla, over at You Grow Girl, wrote her "7 things" about her 7 favorite (non-edible) plants. And then "tagged" all her readers. I love Gayla's site, so how could I not? And, it turns out, a little self-reflection through plants was interesting, to read (hers) and to write (mine). Turns out, at this point in my gardening career, I get my hands dirty for two main reasons: 1) when it's edible, I do it for the huge, unending challenge... and, of course, the good eats; 2) for inedibles, aside from some recent favorites, it seems I garden to commune with the past, with people that I miss deeply. For me, it's healing.

So, here are my 7 Planty Things...


(L-R) agave lophantha 'Quadricolor', agave colorata, agave geminaflora 'Rasta Man'

A recent favorite. Seriously, how cool are agaves? There are the big, HUGE types that are six or more feet around, which live for a very long time... then, as a final gasp, send up a massive 40' flower spike... and then die. Wow. They make an impression: the first time I saw our last house, the main thing I noticed out front was a gigantic agave with a towering flower spike. I think it was one of the reasons I wanted to live there. Beautiful.

Of course, there are many, many types of agaves. Not all huge and not all full-sun. My three agave amigos, pictured above, are all shade-tolerating and will be fine in small pots. Just right for our front porch.


I actually don't have any of this family in my home yet, but each time I see a Bromeliad, I am floored by their variety ...and audacity. Case in point, the above specimen (I forgot the note the name. Anyone?), which I saw at Flora Grubb. Kristen and I both circled it, oooed and ahhhhed, amazed at the glowing red and yellow flower spike. Wow. Maybe I don't have one because I'm not sure I'm worthy.

Anthuriums (a plant with little penises! Ha!)

I'm not sure why I chose this plant, but I've come to love it. I bought it on a whim one day at IKEA of all places, a few apartments ago, when I lived alone. My place was new, and I decided I needed a plant. I plunked it in my cart, along with serving dishes and bargain champagne glasses. I wasn't really gardening at the time (no space). I did my best with this guy, but I don't think the light was right. Something was off and it wasn't flowering. Time passed. I figured this was the way of my penis-y plant: not very penis-y, that is, ahem.

Then, in the Summer of 2006, my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I relocated for a month or so down in San Diego to help him in his last days. Upon my eventual return home, drained and heartbroken, the first thing that met my gaze was the little Anthurium-that-could, sporting three or four beautiful, glossy red blooms, with more on the way. I was shocked... and grateful. It was such a needed bit of beauty. These days, two homes later, Mr Penis lives on our breakfast table, bathed in southern light. Happy boy.


I guess there's a teensy bit of fancy-hat, genteel gardener in me. Mostly, these days, I develop serious crushes on succulents, and all other low-water, low-maintenance, graphic, modern-looking beauties. But. I also love roses. I love their fragrance, the cool, tender feel of their blossoms, that bees love them, too. One of my favorite parts of Golden Gate Park is the Rose Garden... I took Jacky on a picnic there and he sniffed the flowers with me. Heaven.

I think my love for roses is originally grounded in memories of my parents. They were avid suburban rose growers. My Dad even grafted branches of one onto another, yielding bushes which bear (to this day) blooms of a few different colors. I never joined in on the gardening back then, but I have abstract, fuzzy memories of my parents toiling in the front, side and back yards all day in the hot Southern California sun, doing God knows what (from my perspective then). Transplanting, mulching, pruning, soaking, grafting. These were the mysterious garden-y words they used, which I only understand now.

After both of my parents were gone, I decided I wanted--needed--to start gardening to maintain a connection to them. I bought three bareroot roses... soaked them in the bathtub, carefully splayed their twiggy root crowns out in pots, watered them dutifully and waged war against little green slugs and aphids. Despite all the work, the roses have turned out to be my gateway plants. By the following year, the entire back deck of our last house was covered in plants, mostly edible.


Of course, marigolds are genius companion plants, assisting and protecting food crops. And, they're a perfect goldenrod color. Like a monk's robe.

But the real reason I like this plant is more personal. This is the first plant that I ever grew. My mom gave me some seeds, soil and an empty egg carton. They germinated and we placed the baby plants in the sunny front yard. How cool is that? My plants weren't relegated to the "kid patch" somewhere else -- they were placed right up front. I love the idea of kids gardening... my kid, if he's interested... maybe he'll also get his fingers dirty with some tiny marigold seeds.


This one's pretty simple, and also tied to memories. Bougainvillea is everywhere in San Diego, and it suggests to me the best thing about Southern California... arid, Mediterranean weather... open, Mexican-style patios... trickling fountains, white stucco and blue skies. I love my life in Northern California, but you can't get the SoCal outta me.


And, finally for Planty Thing #7... Scent is really something important to me. I'm seduced by it, especially in the garden. Lavender, sadly, has become a little over-exposed in recent years... before green tea was the "flavor" of choice for all consumer products (hand soap? hair dye? weight loss pills?), remember when lavender was the go-to flavor/scent/theme? Poor ancient, hardworking lavender. No matter, though... I will always love lavender. The look of the bushes, and the masses of happy bees they attract to my garden.

And so...
Eventhough I have something like .00001% as many readers as Gayla does, I'll follow her lead (because what's a meme if it's not passed along)... How about you? What are your 7 Planty (or other) Things? List them in the comments or post about them somewhere and let me know. I really want to know! :]

All photos are mine, except for marigolds (rist2796 via Flickr) and bougainvillea (Rebeca Mello via Flickr)


  1. Great post Blake!

    Love the lavender. Do you know if this particular lavender (in the photo) takes a few years to bloom? While I know you are in the correct zone (or think you are) for this specific lavender the ones I started by seed did well on the foliage front but did not bloom. I've brought these in for the winter to see if they bloom next summer...assuming they survive the winter indoors.

    I'm so sorry to hear about your parents passing. It must have been a horrible time for you. My parents are aging quickly and just beginning the illnesses that come with age. I am actually going to cook for them this weekend so they have decent meals available while recuperating.

    I'm afraid my blog is getting dusty as there have been many family situations and the end of summer projects have taken their toll. Ah, to not have to worry about snow coming. It's tough to keep all the balls in the air at times. Perhaps I'll attempt this 7 things...perhaps I'll resume with a less daunting attempt!

    Take care,

  2. Hi Liane! Nice to have you back for another visit :) Thanks for the kind words about my parents... I hope yours are feeling better after some lovingly-cooked food.

    About that lavender, I actually bought that plant start at a nursery, already in bloom, so I can't say I have experience with lavender seeds. However, I happened to see seeds for this Spanish type of lavender on Renee's Seeds, and it says that the first year blooms are light, and get more profuse in the second year. Maybe there's hope!

    Speaking of Renee's Seeds, I saw that you were recognized for your photography -- nice! :) Hope you keep blogging!


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