Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On Bugs ...

Does Blogger have a new bug? A while back, when I was working on another of my Blogger sites I suddenly realised the back button on my toolbar wasn't working. I could click on all the links, but could never get back to the previous page. On other sites it was fine - no problems at all. I didn't really have time to think about it at that moment, so mentally filed it away under "to be investigated" and went on to other things.

And then the other day, I realised it had happened to this site too. (Go on - try it. You're trapped ...) So I started to look at other sites, and lo and behold, other Blogger sites were doing the same thing. Carol, May Dreams Gardens seemed to have got the bug - but I've just checked again and it's fine today. Yolanda Elisabet, Bliss in the Netherlands is affected too. But it's not every Blogger site. Some others seem fine.

For a while I wondered if it was my computer. But no, I tried on another and the same thing happened.

Does anyone know what's going on, and how we fix it? It's a b***** nuisance, both when you're trying to work on the site and when you're trying to read it. So if you are stuck here, my apologies. I didn't set the trap, I promise.

Whilst on the subject of bugs, if you read this blog last year you'll know I was plagued by (read obsessed by) caterpillars for much of 2007. How can they eat so much and do so much damage and avoid predators at the same time. So when I found this David Attenborough clip the other day, I couldn't help but watch. The BBC has opened a series of channels on My Space, and are inviting people to post them to their own sites. So, The Balcony Garden brings you (legally) David Attenborough and the sneakiest caterpillar in the world. The amazing thing is the complexity of the programming that must exist in the miniscule blob of protoplasm that makes up the brain of this tiny creature ...

PS - but an important one : Remember the Garden Blogger's 2008 Carnival? You're still in time to show your appreciation of one of the blogs which you enjoy by nominating it for next week's carnival. It's a great way to say thank you. Click on the link for details.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

On the naming of plants

If there's a plant which I find easy to grow, it's Epipremnum aureum, commonly known as Hunter's Robe. That's the plant in the photo.

If that last paragraph had you reaching for the comment button to tell me I got it wrong - hold on. How about Scindapsus aureus, Pothos aureus and Raphidophora aurea? Oh, and as a common name, Devil's Ivy, Taro Vine or Silver Vine. Or Golden Pothos. Or Ceylon Ivy. Or my favourite - Centipede Tongavine. Yep, all the same plant.

I don't have a problem with the common names - it's fairly obvious that each region will decide its own name for a plant and more than one may filter through to common use. But why four official botanical names?

Well, according to the Royal Horticultural Society they're not actually all official, only one is. The others are referred to as "synonyms". And the reason for the alternatives is much the same as the reason for the difference in common names - before the era of global communication, botanists working in different parts of the world would often give "official" names to plants, unaware the plant had already been classified and named by someone else. Occasionally two different people might even manage to give the same name to two different plants.

So someone has to decide which name to use. The rule used to be that whichever name was given earliest won. But that occasionally meant that a name which had become more generally used lost out. So common sense now sometimes prevails and a later, but more widely used name is given official status.

The other reason that alternative names may exist is that sometimes they've just got it wrong, classifying a species under the wrong genus, so that the name has later been changed. Forget Coleus, for instance. It's now Solenostemon.

Again, common sense will sometimes prevail and the taxonomists (the people responsible for classifying plants) will sometimes let us keep the more common name, even when a change of genus is concerned. We were saved from Freesia becoming Anomatheca, for instance. Phew!

And then there was the case of chrysanthemums. In 1989 it was decided that the genus name should be changed to --- umm, er, what was it again? Doesn't matter. It didn't catch on, and at a recent International Botanical Congress (which is where they decide these things), they gave in and changed it back again.

Now personally, it took me a couple of minutes to get my brain around Solenostemon. I typed solestemon, solestenum and a couple of other variants before I just gave up and copied it out letter by letter.
I think I may just stick with Coleus ...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Late again ...

Why am I always late for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day? Probably for the same reason that I'm always late for everything else - deadlines are not my strongpoint. But I have to admit that this month I actually forgot, and only remembered when I started seeing other people's posts.

Most of the balcony is covered up now. Low winter temperatures mean that over December, January and sometimes February, most of the plants need protection. So they get moved back close to the walls of the house, with the most delicate backing onto radiators, and covered in fleece.

But some just won't give up. What's that showing through the fleece? The salmon pink pelargoniums of course, now blooming uninterruptedly for two and a half years. And as you can see from the buds, they have no intention of being beaten - January temperatures or no January temperatures. And their enthusiasm seems to be catching. My red pelargoniums have been keeping pace with them all winter, and they too are full of buds.

Other blooms - the pansies which I planted last autumn have been blooming all winter, and the "freeby" cyclamens I got a week ago seem to be recovering from their overwatering and are looking far more perky. So I think they'll make it. And the antirrhinums are still with us too.

Not bad for January.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Flowers for Andee

Like me, I'm sure many of you were readers of Andee's Gardener in Chacala blog, and possibly also of her other blog My Life in Chacala. When I think of Andee's posts the first thing that comes to mind is an explosion of colour, photos with bright vibrant reds and oranges, and posts full of a curiousity about and love of people, places, plants and just life in general.

So it was a shock yesterday to discover that Andee has died. I don't know the hows and whys, and they hardly matter, but Sparks contacted me after he'd seen a comment I'd left on Gardener in Chacala telling Andee she'd been nominated for the next carnival. Later, I received another message from Ginger with the same news.

How sad. I'm sad for her, for her family and for us, who will no longer have the joy of reading her posts.

You'll find other tributes to Andee on Thorntree Lonely Planet and on La Gringa's blog. Most of us didn't know her as well as La Gringa, but I think we can still show how much we appreciated her by sending flowers. If you enjoyed her blog and are sad at her passing, join me in republishing one of the flower photos you like best in her memory. I think she would appreciate it.

Andee's last post, on January 5th, included a photo that has stayed in my memory - a palm tree in the light of the full moon. Next time I see a full moon Andee, I shall think of you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

In Praise of Human Nature

I've said before that people in Milan are, in general, not very aware of the quality - or lack of it - of the plants they buy. You see people happily loading their supermarket trolleys with plants that are half dead from lack of water, or which have more yellow leaves underneath than green ones on top. In garden centres, where the quality is better, they'll go for the plants with the most flowers already in full bloom or right at the front of the display. Ideal clients, obviously, for anyone looking to rip off their customers.

So it made me extremely happy yesterday to find someone that refused the opportunity. We were invited to lunch with some friends who we'd not seen for a while, and I'd decided to get each of them a pot plant as a late Christmas present. So yesterday morning, just before we were due to leave, I went round to our local garden centre - only to find it closed. Being Sunday, absolutely no other shops in the neighbourhood were open, and so I found myself stuck without a present.

Then I remembered a flower kiosk some way away, which usually had container plants as well as cut flowers. Although I must have passed it several times a month for the last fifteen years, I'd never actually bought anything there, but I thought it was worth going to see if it was open. It was, but the only plants they had were two pots of cyclamen, very clearly the worse for wear. I said to the man " I really wanted a couple of plants like those ..." intending to go on to say "but unless you've got anything of a bit better quality, I'll have cut flowers." However, I didn't get the chance. He interrupted me immediately saying, "No, I won't sell you those. They've been overwatered and they're not worth the money." I looked at him somewhat amazed, said that I'd realised, complimented him on his honesty, and then chose the cut flowers which I wanted. At which point he said that if I thought I could nurse the cyclamen back to health he'd give them to me, as he had no intention of selling them. Wow - they weren't that far gone. So I staggered home with two pots of cyclamen, two bouquets of flowers and with my faith in human nature restored. Not that he's lost out of course - he's just won himself a new regular customer.

PS. Talking of being nice to people - if there is someone whose blog you regularly read and enjoy, show your appreciation by nominating one of their posts for the next Garden Bloggers' Carnival. It's a great way to say thank you. Nominations are starting to come in, but there's room for plenty more. Follow the link for more information.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Crassula Ovata

I posted last year about my Crassula Ovata, although at the time I didn't know what it was called. I asked if anyone could identify it for me, and Muppet very kindly did, though by an alternative name Crassula Argentea. I then checked on the net and found that it was supposed to flower at Christmas. Would mine? It hadn't last year, and the net was full of people saying that theirs never had. I found out they would only flower if they had natural conditions of reduced daylight hours - well, mine had been inside all last winter, under artificial lighting. Maybe that was the answer. I decided to risk the cold and leave it outside, though sheltered this year. And the result is in the top photo. Not a whisper of a flower.

So imagine my surprise when I got to Germany for Christmas and found two large specimens in full flower growing in the entrance hall to my sister-in-law's apartment. What, I wondered, was the secret? So when I got back I set about some more research and came up with the site of The Liverpool Branch of the British Cactus and Succulent Society. It's not definitive, just an enthusiast (Jim Mercer) writing about his own experience. But I like it for that.

According to Mr Mercer, various conditions have to be fulfilled if the plants are to flower. Apart from the light conditions mentioned before, he suggests that the plants must be about four years old and a foot tall. Mine is just about that, perhaps a bit less. If that's all though, next year there should definitely be flowers.

He also warns against pruning too late in the year as the flowers form at the end of branches. I didn't prune at all this year, so it's not that, but I shall have to sooner or later. Otherwise they can reach 7ft tall! He suggests June as being the optimum time.

Then there's feeding and watering. C. ovata are dormant in summer, but Mr Mercer advises watering and feeding (reduced strength) weekly. Oddly he doesn't talk about feeding in winter when they're active, but in any case I didn't feed at all this summer. Next summer I'll try it.

I suspect the real reason I'm not getting flowers though, is temperature. Mercer recommends greenhouse conditions in winter, with a night-time minimum of 5°C. And in fact, those in my sister-in-law's apartment block must have just about the same conditions. No way I can do that inside the flat, so next year maybe I should try mine in our hallway too. I can see that I'm going to have to spend 2008 being extremely nice to the neighbours ...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Snow on the antirrhinums

We have had snow this week. Not a lot, and it sooned turned back to rain, but for a few hours the world turned white.

It wasn't unexpected. The first two weeks of January are usually the coldest of the year here, although tradition has it that it should be the last three days of the month which have the bitterest weather. They even have a name - i giorni della merla, or the days of the blackbird. The legend goes that the blackbird was once white, and feared the cold of January so much that one year he decided to lay in a stock of food and spend the whole month holed up in the shelter of an empty tree. At the time, January had only twenty eight days, and on the twenty eighth, after a month of unusually mild temperatures, he decided it was safe to come out. Big mistake. January, angry at the way the bird had tried to trick him, asked February for a loan of three days, and for those days unleashed the worst weather he could find - snow, wind, freezing temperatures and so on. The bird, scared out of his wits, took shelter in an old, unused chimney and waited it out. But when he finally came out, his feathers, coated with soot from the chimney, had become black. And so they have been ever since.

But if the snow wasn't unexpected, the antirrhinums were. Antirrhinums in January ??? And though covered with fleece, the marigolds which I blogged about last month are still going strong. Funny things, plants.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Comments and Carnivals

When we held the carnival last year, several people said they'd like another one - including a few who never got round to participating last time. One of the suggestions was that we hold it in the "real" carnival week, which I've just realised is really early this year - the first week in February. So we need to get on with it.

It would be boring to repeat the same format though - let's have a carnival with a difference. This time, instead of nominating one of your own posts, nominate a post from someone else's blog. Find a post you've really enjoyed - preferably not a very recent one - and send me the link. I'll publish the link itself (after checking with the other person that it's OK), together with a link to the blog of the nominator. You can send it, like last time, using the Comments box, but as Blogger has locked out a lot of people, I'll also give you an E-mail address. I'm not going to write it in E-mail format to avoid being picked up by spammers, so put the following all together into a continuous address, no capital letters and no spaces (but the hyphen stays), and substitute at for the usual symbol : Susan Swift at Business-Talk . IT

I may be wrong, but Blogger also seems to be playing havoc with my comments again, and I'm once more receiving E-mail notification of comments that never appear on my dashboard and comments appearing on the dashboard which never arrive via E-mail. No problem for those, but I'm worried that some aren't making it at all. So, if you've left a comment recently and I've not published it - I'm sorry, I never got it. Has anyone else noticed the same problem?

I came back from my Christmas holidays in Germany yesterday, ahead of the rest of my family as I have to work. And managed to leave the lead to connect the camera to the computer behind. So I can't download any new photos, sorry. You'll have to make do with clipart till next week ...
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