Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Quiz

Do you like our Christmas tree? We started our own family tradition when my son was small - there was no point getting another one when we already had a seven foot monster dominating our (very small) sitting room and we were going away for Christmas anyway. But now, even when we stay at home, it doesn't seem necessary - this is "our" Christmas tree.

Christmas is a time for quizzes, so here's one for you about some common Christmas plants. I'll put the answers up after the holidays, but if you can't wait, you'll find all the answers on the net (I did!).

1. For me Christmas dinner isn't Christmas dinner without brussel sprouts. It's well known that they taste better after the frost has got to them - but why?
a. The frost kills the plant, which is then preserved because frozen, but becomes tenderer as it slowly decays.
b. Sugar replaces water in the cells to protect them from the cold, and so they become sweeter.
c. The frost breaks up the ground and allows more oxygen to get to the roots.
d. Actually, this is an old wives tale - it makes no difference at all. The important thing is that they've had longer to grow.

What was the sap of the Poinsettia used for in the 14th-16th centuries ?
a. as a poison b. to flavour soups c. as a cure for fever d. as a cure for nausea

According to Pliny the Elder, holly flowers had the ability to :
a. turn water to ice b. turn iron to gold c. protect against evil spirits d. revive the dead

Fir trees were used as a symbol of Christianity from the 7th century, and by the 12th century were Christmas symbols. But what was different about the way they were used?
a. They were burnt as a ritual sacrifice b. They were eaten on Christmas Day c. They were hung upside down from the ceiling d. They were worshipped

Only one native British plant has white berries. What is it?
a-d. Oh come on, you don't need clues for this one :)

Doubt if I'll have time to post again till after Christmas, so ....

Happy Christmas to everyone!

Blogger strikes again ?

Has anyone else had problems with their comments recently? For some reason I'm not getting E-mail notification of mine any more ( I won't blame Blogger for that - I probably clicked on the wrong button and blocked the address instead of cancelling the message or something), but I'm also having trouble publishing them. In particular, the system "ate" one message from Lou Laz, so I thought I'd answer her question here.

Lou Laz wrote saying that she was going to be in Milan and wanted to buy seeds while she was here. It's not that easy. As you'll see when you arrive, Milan is all apartment blocks - almost no-one has a garden, and consequently all that the garden centres, supermarkets and street markets stock are fully grown plants, houseplants and in summer balcony plants mainly. If you go to the outskirts and to the roads leading out of town, you'll find more garden centres catering also to people with gardens, but in town the only place that I know that has a really good stock is Fratelli Ingegnoli of Viale Pasubio (they have another centre too, in Via Mecenate - depends which area you're staying in). Their website is here.

Back to the balcony ..... The mild weather has really made a difference this year. By now, I usually have everything stacked against the wall of the house and covered in fleece, but this year not only has it not been necessary, but also everything is still flowering in a way unheard of for December. All the photos here were taken during the last few days. It was the warmest November for thirty years - so warm that they weren't even able to use artificial snow on the ski slopes of the Alps until just this last week or so, let alone hope for the real thing. The four day weekend which we had last week is usually the start of the ski season, but this year there was no chance. As the whole economy of that area depends on the ski trade, it's a big problem. The temperature has dropped a bit now - we had our first frost the other day, though it's back to 7° today - but still nothing like usual.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Unidentified Flowering Objects

Every so often this summer I came across plants I liked, but couldn't put a name to. Where possible I took a photo so that I could try and identify them later. I've managed with quite a few but I'm still stuck on the four in the photos. Does anyone recognise them?

The first two were taken while I was on holiday in Caorle this August. I fell in love with both of the plants, but especially with the second one. I'm not usually a great fan of foliage plants, but I'd readily find a place on the balcony for this one. I've never seen another plant with quite the same colours, and I loved the contrast between the deep and bright pink. However, despite scouring garden centres and houseplant books, I've not been able to find either of them.

This, on the other hand, is one of the trees in the garden outside the balcony. It's deciduous, but winter is the only time it doesn't look good. Not only does it have an attractive shape and pretty leaves, but in summer (this is another August photo) puts out masses of white flowers. By late September, these have turned to clusters of bright red berries.

Finally, a climber I spotted when I was in Casablanca last month. It still had a lot of flowers even then, though the even greater number of seed pods showed that it was at the end of the flowering season.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Walk in the Park

I had two appointments this morning, by chance both on opposite sides of one of Milan's big central parks. The first one finished earlier than I expected, and I found myself with forty five minutes to kill. It was a glorious day - about fifteen degrees, bright sunshine and a clear blue sky, and instead of jumping on the tram as I'd planned, I decided to walk through the park.

I knew the trees were going to be stupendous even before I got inside, and I wasn't disappointed. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me, but I rushed around picking up leaves (good job I didn't have to open my briefcase when I got to my next client) for the scanner. Yes, I know I'd promised myself I wasn't going to spend any more time playing with the scanner when I should be working, but it was stronger than I was.

The yellow leaves are gingko - the tree I talked about in the last post. But I'm not sure about the others. Trees are not my strong point- I can manage the most common British ones but that's about all. The pointy one is perhaps some sort of maple? And the green and yellow ones are lime? But I give up on the red ones. They're about five inches long, and the ones that hadn't yet turned red were a bright orange colour. For some reason it didn't come out well on the scanner, so I excluded them from the pictures.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Autumn is full swing here now, although up to now temperatures have still been fairly mild - it's about 10° today, and that's more or less the lowest daytime temperature we've had. But it's been quite windy some days and the leaves are falling fast - I've been collecting them for scanner photos.

I wished I'd had my camera yesterday as I went down a road lined with gingko trees. Gingkos are used quite a lot in Milan as roadside trees and in the autumn are just a mass of yellow leaves. I was on the bus unfortunately, so couldn't steal one for the scanner. I'll have to find time to go back ...

For those of you who asked, I've still not been able to make the Chrysanthemum photo from a couple of posts ago clickable. I don't know why. These ones aren't either, so it must be something to do with them coming from the scanner and not the camera.

I'm still swamped with work and have hardly put my nose out on the balcony this week. I must find the time this weekend as there are bulbs still to be planted and things need moving into their winter positions. I suspect that when the temperature does drop it will do so with a vengeance.

The change in the birds that are around is a sure sign of winter coming. The starlings that a couple of weeks ago were massed in hundreds of thousands over the city are now long gone, and this morning I saw a robin in the garden. The one we had last year (the same, or this one's Dad?) had clearly established the horse chestnut tree outside my bedroom window as the centre of his territory. All through the winter I was woken up at 2 am by his singing. I'd wake up and lie snug in bed listening to this beautiful liquid song. I hope he comes back this year ...

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I had to spend four days in Casablanca for work last week. If you’ve never been, don’t put it on your wish list – the smog will take a day off your life for every day you spend there, and with the exception a of a few stupendous buildings it’s a phenomenally ugly town.

There are signs that they’re trying – the streets, which tend to be wide, are all lined with trees and there are various small parks and squares with trees and flowers dotted around the city. Palms abound, but I also saw lots of other types, including some ficus benjamina which made mine look like a bonsai. There was also an enormous old magnolia with a twisted and knarled trunk which must be fantastic in spring when it’s in flower.

The Casablancans don’t seem to be great balcony gardeners. It was 25° when I was there, so in summer the heat on the balconies must be phenomenal, and probably very little would survive. However, the richer, residential areas of the town are made up of villas with gardens – all surrounded by high walls and hedges. The most popular hedging plants were hibiscus, plumbago and bougainvillea – I’d never seen the last two used as hedges before, but in some cases they were up to fifteen feet. They were past their best by now, but when they are in full flower (or bract in the case of the bougainvillea) must look incredible. Except that in most cases their owners seemed keen to keep them under control and they all showed signs of having been cut into rectangular box shape. At the top the new growth was flowering madly, but down below everything had been chopped bare. It looked like those hair cuts where the person shaves their head right up to the crown and then leaves the top long.

What’s the point? If you want a flowering hedge, let it flower. Cut it back in the winter. If you want a nice rectangular shape, use privet or box or something.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Over two weeks since I posted - I've been swamped with work. The Indian summer didn't last long - a few days after I wrote the temperature suddenly dropped to ten degrees, and everything on the balcony went into shock. Not so much due to the temperature itself, as to the overnight change. Luckily we had forewarning, and I brought in the last of the more delicate plants. Around about the same time there was a really interesting post on Hanna's blog explaining exactly why some plants are more susceptible to cold than others. It had never occurred to me to think about why plants didn't like the cold before.

The temperature has now gone up a bit to around about 12° daytime temperatures and everything has got over the initial shock and settled down. My chrysanthemums are now in full bloom, and I used one of the big white ones to take the scanner photo below. The idea is not original - it comes from an artist called Katinka Mason. My personal favourite is her White Calla Lily. But when I tried, I was amazed how easy it was. You just lay the flower on the scanner and leave the top open while you scan. I use them for desktop wallpaper as you can use the black space for your icons.

I managed to grab a bit more sun last week though as I had to go to Casablanca for work. More about that in the next post ...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Indian Summer

I said last week that the temperature had dropped and called the post The Beginning of Winter. This week we've had record temperatures for the time of year. It's been up to about 25°C some days, and this morning I was back out on the balcony in a T-shirt. A few things gave up when the temperature fell last week, and I spent most of the morning clearing them out, but everything that didn't is continuing to flower happily. And as you can see from the photo, the bees are continuing to visit. At the back of the house there's a medlar tree which is now in flower, and this morning it was covered in swarms of bees and the odd butterfly. Most of the butterflies seem to have succumbed to the cold though - I haven't seen any of the little brown ones which were so common up to a few weeks ago.

All very nice, but as I gardened this morning I was wondering what havoc it was liable to play with the environment in general. Turned on the TV to watch the BBC World news over lunch, and found a feature on how climate change in the world as a whole is threatening to turn large areas of Africa to desert. And checking on their schedule for the rest of the day, there's a programme this evening on the melting of the Arctic permafrost and the catastrophe that it's liable to cause because of greenhouse gases being released. A depressing end for an otherwise lovely, sunny Sunday morning...

The medlar tree flowers between November and February

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Beginning of Winter

I suppose you know that winter is coming when you suddenly can't think of anything to blog about. I can't believe how long it is since the last post. I seem to have been working on the balcony as much as ever, but it's all clearing up work and settling things down for the winter. The excitement of the summer now seems long gone.

The weather has changed this week and it's got noticeably colder - down to about 8° at night. So I've started to bring in the plants that won't survive outside when the cold really hits. I could probably have hung on a bit longer, but the heating is now starting to come on, and I wanted to get them in before the difference in inside/outside temperature got too great. The tree is back in its winter position in the sitting room and I've taken several houseplants into the office. My flat is fairly dark with no window-sills - while my office has a big window with a large wide sill, and plants do very well there.

I had to prune the tree back, despite really wanting to wait till spring. But it was way too big for the room. So I've cut it back to a manageable 7ft in height and about half what it was in width, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It generally goes into shock when it first comes in, and sheds quite a lot of leaves, but then calms down. I'm hoping I've not created too much extra trauma.

At the moment the only things which are really flowering are the Cyclamen, though as you can see from the photos a couple of marigold bushes and a few other things are hanging on in there heroically amongst the dying remains. I don't think they'll last much longer though. Even the Zinnia have finally given up. The Chrysanthemums (or whatever we're supposed to call them now) are full of buds but won't be ready to flower for another two or three weeks.

As I've cleared out the summer stuff, I've also been planting the biennials (bellis, forget-me-nots, wallflowers, stock, hollyhocks and a few others) into their flowering positions for next spring. None of my pansy seeds germinated this year - I don't know why because I've never had problems before - so sooner or later I shall have to go out and buy some. A pity, because I love the weird and wonderful colour combinations that you get after they've cross-pollinated for a couple of years.

Monday, October 09, 2006

What they said about gardening ...

I came across the following quote the other day, which seemed apt given that lots of people are planning to take part in Carol’s idea of a book club. Perhaps it could be the club motto?

If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need. Cicero

It also got me searching for other gardening quotes – and I found loads. There were too many to include them all, but here are some of the best :

One of the healthiest ways to gamble is with a spade and a packet of garden seeds. Dan Bennett

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a gardener is to think you’re in charge. Janet Gillespie

The gardening season officially begins on Jan 1st, and ends on Dec 31st. Marie Huston

It is only when you start to garden – probably after fifty – that you realise something important happens every day. Geoffrey B Charlesworth

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves. Mohandas K Gandhi

You know you are a gardener, if you find compost a fascinating subject. Author unknown

Always try to grow something in your garden out of the ordinary, something your neighbours never attempted. For you can receive no greater flattery than to have a gardener of equal intelligence stand before your plant and ask, “What’s that?” Richardson Wright

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. Iris Murdoch

Why do people give each other flowers? To celebrate various important occasions, they're killing living creatures? Why restrict it to plants? "Sweetheart, let's make up. Have this deceased squirrel." The Washington Post

If dandelions were hard to grow, they would be most welcome on any lawn. Andrew Mason

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant's point of view. H. Fred Ale

Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration. Lou Erickson

What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it. Charles Dudley Warner

Weather means more when you have a garden. There's nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans. Marcelene Cox

God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done. Author Unknown

And perhaps my favourite of all ...

I've made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I'm convinced of the opposite. Bertrand Russell

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Day in the (Gardening) Life ...

7.30 : I wake up and the house is still quiet. Saturday. I slide out of bed, go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, and open the shutters. The outside thermometer says 18°C, so it’s just warm enough still to sit out on the balcony and have breakfast. Make the most of it – it won’t last long now that October has arrived. The balcony’s looking a mess – a general clear-up is necessary.
10.00 : Things are starting to improve. I’ve got rid of a few annuals which were looking tatty, and re-organised the containers so that the plants which are still blooming are near the windows. I don’t think the zinnias are ever going to stop. They’ve been going for over three months now, and are still showing buds.
10.30 : Have spent the last half hour dead-heading and seed collecting. The mirabilis jalapa is still flowering, but is now covered with seeds. I’ve already collected enough to start a nursery, but I can always give them away. Every so often I drop one and it falls off the balcony onto the path below where the little kids play. They’re poisonous, so I go down and spend ten minutes hunting for them just in case.
11.00 : Get out my gardening books and magazines to find out what I need to be doing this month. Planting out the biennials and generally preparing for winter it seems. I’m out of soil and am going to need some for the re-potting I want to do later. Time for a quick walk to the garden centre. I’m lucky – garden centres in Milan are few and far between but ours is only two minutes away. Otherwise it’s a trip out of town, or wait and see what they’ve got at the weekly street market. Resist heroically the temptation to buy more plants.
11.40 : Two bleary teenage eyes peer round the door onto the balcony inquiring if we’re having lunch soon or if it’s worth having breakfast. Seeing me up to my elbows in soil, he opts for cornflakes.
2.30 : Time for the weekend shopping. As we go in, a stand of plants catches my eye - cyclamen at ridiculously reduced prices. Look a bit closer and see why – they’re half dead. But there are three at the back that look all right. What the hell. I’ve got some coming on, but I’m not convinced they’ll bloom this winter. And mine are all red or white – these are violet. Add them to the trolley.
4.00 : Back home. Decide to sit down and blog for a while. While I’m doing it, my son wanders into the study to tell me about a video on organic produce called
Grocery Store Wars which he saw at school. Says it’s funny. We watch it together and it is.
6.00 : It’s been a few days since I watered and today has been sunny, so I go out to do it. Remember that I’ve run out of liquid fertiliser. It can wait. Nearly time to stop, anyway. Just time to pot the cyclamen before dinner …

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Winter Book Club

You may already have seen that Carol of May Dreams Garden (see the link in the sidebar) has proposed organising a book club for the winter months. The idea is that people should suggest books they’ve enjoyed which other people could read and then comment on.

I immediately sat down to write a list – and found I couldn’t. For obvious reasons, Carol’s two criteria are that the books should be still in print and written in English – and most of mine aren’t. If I say that one of the books I refer to most was written in 1969 by Percy Thrower , you’ll get the general idea (no, I wasn’t gardening then – I inherited it. But that’s for another post). The wonderful thing about gardening books is that they don't go out of date - the new ones may describe new varieties and have new ideas, but the old ideas are still the basic ones. The only thing about Percy that drives me mad is that he clearly believes he's writing for a male audience. A woman is simply the nuisance in the house who demands that certain plants are grown to provide cut flowers. But I'll forgive him. (And don't you love the shirt and tie for cutting the lawn?)

Back to the book club. As I couldn't recommend anything off my shelves, I decided to write a wish list instead, and spent half an hour surfing Guardian Unlimited’s gardening book section. I ended up with a list far too long to post, but I’ve whittled it down and you’ll find it below. I have no idea if these books are really good or not, but they look interesting and I wouldn’t say no to finding them under the tree on Christmas morning (just in case my husband happens to be reading this) :

Michael Pollan - The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World, Bloomsbury Publishing
Christoper Lloyd and Graham Rice - Garden Flowers from Seed, Penguin (UK) Timber Press (USA)
Alan TitchmarshAlan Titchmarsh, the Gardener's Year, BBC Books (or anything else by Alan Titchmarsh, come to that).
Charles Chesshire- Japanese Gardening, Aquamarine
Steven B Carroll - Ecology for Gardeners, Timber Press - this is available for limited preview on Google.

Quite a lot of people have already submitted lists, and all the titles look interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing which ones are chosen. When are we going to start, Carol?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Reusing and Recycling

Our local library has just closed for three months, for building renovation work, so I took advantage of the fact that we were able to take out more books than usual for a longer period and got several large reference books – the sort that you want to dip into a bit at a time, rather than read straight through. One of the books I took out was by Christian Pessey. The original was in French, but an English translation of the Italian title would be Flowers and Plants for Windows, Balconies and Terraces. Reading it got me thinking about recycling.

In Milan, household waste has to be separated – paper, glass, plastic and aluminium all go into separate containers from “wet” waste, and are recycled. Which would seem great for the environment. But even recycling has its critics – the amount of energy used in transporting and reprocessing the waste creates pollution, as may the chemicals involved in the reprocessing itself. For the pros and cons, click
here and here.

Another site, and I’m afraid I’ve lost the link, suggested that a balanced approach was to follow the Five Rs : Reduce the amount of plastic etc used; Reuse things wherever possible; Recycle things which really have to be thrown away; Reject items using excessive and unnecessary packaging; and React – let manufacturers and shop-owners etc know how you feel.

Plessey’s book was interesting from the re-use point of view. Although he didn’t explicitly mention environmental issues, he suggested various ways that plastic packaging could be used in gardening rather than buying new stuff. Some of his ideas were not new – for example, using yoghurt pots for seedlings instead of buying more plastic pots (though even there it had never occurred to me to use a match or red hot needle to make the drainage holes – I tried it out with a candle flame and it was much easier than my usual clumsy attempts with a skewer). But others, though simple, I’d never thought of – for example cutting off plastic bottle bottoms to make mini-cloches to fit over pots with cuttings or seedlings.

But my favourite idea was that of using the shells of boiled eggs (with a hole pierced in the bottom for drainage) instead of small plastic or peat pots. (For reasons for avoiding peat click here ). They have the same advantage as peat pots in that the whole “container” can be transferred to the final planting position, without disturbing the roots of the young plant, and the roots will simply grow through the shell, acquiring nutrients on the way. I presume this means a lot of calcium, so it’s probably to be avoided for lime-hating plants, but it would be great for things like zinnias which love lime.

I’m afraid I’ve gone a bit overboard on this one though and will have to calm down. I suspect my family are likely to revolt if they see another egg within the next fortnight…

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Beta Bloggers

You shouldn’t notice any difference, but I’ve just changed the blog over onto Blogger Beta. I did it because, not here but for my other blog, I need the possibility of filing posts under categories – and after spending three frustrating hours yesterday faffing around with html trying to add the facility to the old site, I decided it was easier to change. Advantages and disadvantages? Well I did get the categories (Blogger calls it Labels) facility that I wanted, though it’s not as good as I hoped. I really wanted a drop down menu which led you to individual posts, while in blogger Beta if you click on the category it simply opens a page with all the posts under that category on it. Better than nothing, but you still have to scroll all the way down with no idea of exactly what you’ll find. A drag if there are a lot of posts.

Publishing is quicker – in fact it’s automatic and you don’t have to wait at all, and uploading photos is supposed to be easier, although I can't say I've noticed much difference. But I’ve lost the template which I had on the last site and have had to change to another, and I don’t find it nearly so easy to play around with html to get the exact effects I want. It might be me – let’s face it, two months ago I’d never even read a blog - and perhaps I just haven’t figured out what to do yet. But I get the feeling that in trying to create a system that does everything for you, they’ve also created one which is much more difficult to personalise. We will see …

On the balcony, the first signs of autumn are definitely appearing. But while a lot of things are starting to fade, others are waking up after the long hot summer, like these little cyclamens. The trees are still green, but my neighbour’s Virginia Creeper is starting to turn and the flowers on the trees outside my window have been replaced by berries. It’s also dark now by 7.30 –the worst sign that winter is on the way.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On Roses

Try as I might (and I have, I have) I can’t grow roses. It’s always the same – after a couple of weeks the lower leaves start to dry, stalk by stalk, and fall off until the whole plant is bare and dies. Is it a virus? Am I over-watering? Is the balcony just too hot and humid for them? I don’t know, but until I find out I’ve given up.

However, as a hangover from the days when I was trying, I still receive the
Barni Roses catalogue to show me what I’m missing. They carry roses from a variety of growers, but the majority of their stuff is their own. If you’re a rose freak, check out their new rose Etrusca, which is the most stupendous apricot colour. It’s one of a collection called Le Toscane, which also contains my all-time favourite Bella di Todi, (the photo on the site doesn’t do it justice). The different collections are listed on the left hand side of the site - if you like old-fashioned roses, look too at Le Farfalle.

I also love their trailing roses and if I ever have a garden again, it’s going to have to have a bank with a low stone wall so that I can grow them.

Meanwhile, back on the balcony the mirabilis jalapa is finally doing itself justice. Don’t know why they call it the four o’clock plant – seven o’clock is more like it for mine. I suppose plants are like people – some of us just take longer than others to get out of bed ….

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Wind and Rain

I’ve been busy with work for the past couple of weeks, which hasn’t left time for doing more than the minimum (ie watering) on the balcony. So I knew that this weekend had to be dedicated to clearing up a bit. Climbers needed tying up, the plants still in flower needed dead heading, there were seed pods needing collecting, and so on. There was a bit of dead stuff too, but on the other hand quite a lot of plants were still looking good, particularly the plumbago and petunias which had all breathed a sigh of relief when the summer heat disappeared and had come back into full flower. As had the pelargoniums (photo above). The alyssum (photo below) was blooming well again too, for the second time this year, while the marigolds had never stopped.

And then on Friday, autumn hit with a vengeance, with 12 hours of strong winds, storms and torrential rain. So strong that even the balconies got drenched, which only happens very rarely.

The rain wreaked havoc with the plants which were trailing over the balustrade, while the wind blew over a lot of stuff inside the balcony and snapped off stems on some of the taller plants. By Saturday they were looking decidedly sad and soggy, and the general clear-up had changed into a major rescue operation. The only positive point was that the tree was looking considerably cleaner than it had the day before …

Today the sun came back out and everything cheered up fast, but I think that it probably marks the beginning of the end for most of the annuals. So it’s time to start thinking about winter flowers. There are buds on the asters, chrysanthemums and cyclamen, and the only primrose which made it through the heat of the summer is throwing out leaves again. And I’ve just found a too-good-to-miss offer in a gardening magazine for bulbs.

So, I can't say I'm looking forward to winter, but maybe there will be compensations ...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

IntraGalactic Plant Exchange

The plant in the photo is my wild asparagus. I found it growing in one of the containers a few years ago, and at first didn’t know what it was. So I stuck it in a pot to see what happened.

At first – absolutely nothing. For the first couple of years, the original four or five three-inch spikes just sat there looking boring and taking up space, so that last year I was on the point of throwing it out. And then it suddenly exploded and grew at a rate of knots. It’s still not the most interesting of plants, but I love the bright green of the leaves, and it’s very useful for providing foliage in vases of cut flowers.

Where did it come from? It must have just drifted in on the wind. Plants do seem to be fairly good at finding themselves new homes. Watching Star Trek : Deep Space Nine the other night I was amazed to see that Bromeliads are well established on the planet Bajor, at least 50 light years from Earth. In fact, one of the characters Vedek Bareil explained that he had studied to be a gardener, and that Bromeliads were his passion. Now how did they get there? I can take teletransportation and holodecks without blinking, but the idea that identical vegetation evolved on two such distant planets is stretching it too far. Seeds thrown into space after an asteroid impact and left to boldly go where no plant has gone before ? Unlikely. 50 light years is a long way without Warp Drive …

No, as any self-respecting Vulcan would tell you, such solutions are just illogical. I suspect that it’s the result of an Interplanetary Seed Sharing scheme, or something of the sort. If you were visiting Vulcan, Bajor or somewhere, wouldn’t you want to bring a few samples back? So next time someone knocks on your door and asks if they could take some seeds from your Schizanthus or cuttings from your Chrysanthemums, just look for the tell-tale signs. Pointy ears, odd ridges on the nose or forehead, attractive blotchy patterning around the hairline – you could be taking part in Intra-Galactic Plant Exchange.
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