Book review: House Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.

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House Plants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants

By Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (Cool Springs Press, 2017)

Throwing millennials and houseplants together seems to be a thing in the media these days; this (slightly tongue-in-cheek) article from The Washington Post is only one example of many that I’ve come across lately.  One glance at the racks in your local garden centre will tell you that indoor gardening is indeed experiencing a resurgence – for everyone’s benefit!  There are so many more plant selections available, and not just the succulents and air plants that have been trendy for the past few years.  Looking after houseplants is meditative, nourishing, and just plain enjoyable, but only if you know what you’re doing.

That’s what Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book is for: to help you succeed with your growing endeavours.  In House Plants, Steinkopf (thehouseplantguru.com) thoroughly and precisely covers every detail: soil, water, light, containers, siting, propagation, and troubleshooting pests and diseases.  Her advice is practical and easy to understand, even for those just getting into the hobby – this is a book that will definitely inspire confidence when it comes to keeping houseplants.  (The chapter on propagation particularly impressed me, with its clear directions and accompanying photography).  Indoor gardeners will appreciate that she even touches briefly on bonsai, topiary, living walls, water plants, and holiday plants, as these somewhat specialty niches become more mainstream.

Of course, it’s truly the more than 125 profiles of houseplants that attracted me most to the book…I feel like I now have a goal to try them all at some point (don’t tell my hubby!).  I love the fact that individual plants are categorized according to their difficulty of cultivation and maintenance (again, this gives me something to work towards!).  From ferns to figs to palms, orchids, and dracaena – it’s all here and each one is beautifully photographed to aid in identification.  Comprehensive, useful, and a delight to pore through, this really is the “complete guide” to houseplants!

 

(Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book House Plants by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group. All opinions are 100 percent my own.  Heck, 300 percent my own).

Garden discoveries.

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From cutworms to deer…my experience thus far as a member at the community garden near my new home leads me to understand that I have a few different challenges than I did at the “old” place!  We never had to worry about deer at the other community garden (baby jackrabbits sneaking under the fence and vandals, yes, but not deer). I am so surprised that deer would venture out so close to the commuter trains and buses and shops, but let’s just say I won’t get many beans this year.  Oh well.  Next year I will plant the beans in pots and set them on my balcony instead.  Unless the critters have wings, the plants should be safe with that set-up.

A few days ago, when I went over to the community garden to water, I discovered a trio of business cards for a well-known local gym tucked into one corner of my bed, splayed out casually on the top of the soil.  I blinked; was someone trying to tell me something? With the move and job change and all, I admit I haven’t had time to do much walking lately and my hiking trips to the mountains have completely fallen by the wayside.  A quick check of the other beds didn’t reveal any more cards so it seems I was the only target.  I’ve decided not to take it personally.  Indeed, I have to applaud the novel and creative marketing approach, despite its ultimate failure.  😉

The cards got me thinking, however.  While working in your garden, have you ever found anything unusual or interesting, something that seems a bit out of place?  I documented the weirdest (and most dangerous) thing I’ve ever found in this post, and here’s a fascinating link to a list of oddball “garden treasures” for fun and inspiration.

Book review: Good Garden Bugs.

A quick book review today!

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Good Garden Bugs:  Everything You Need to Know About Beneficial Predatory Insects – Mary M. Gardiner, Ph.D.  (2015, Quarry Books, Massachusetts)

Every gardener needs to be able to identify and understand the role of the most common insects in the garden – a difficult task, to be sure, but it can make a huge impact on the way integrated pest management is practiced.  There are a myriad of excellent insect ID books out there – both general and regional in scope – but to my knowledge, Dr. Gardiner’s is the first to specifically cover only beneficial predatory insects.  If you are trying to keep your garden as chemical-free as possible, a working knowledge of the insects described in Good Garden Bugs is essential, as they are your allies against any insect pests that might attack your plants.  We’re all familiar with the role ladybird beetles play as voracious aphid feeders – but have you thought about how useful insects such as assassin bugs, lacewings, wasps, antlions, and the parasitoid flies are?  What about arachnids such as spiders, predatory mites, and scorpions?  How about the water beetles that can help protect your pond plants?

Good Garden Bugs is easily accessible to the home gardener:  the profiles of each insect offer sufficiently appropriate (not overwhelming) details about identifying features, distribution, and behaviour/habits.  The full colour photography is outstanding and is a huge asset to anyone looking to make a positive ID of the six- or eight-legged critter found in the bean plants.

I was particularly interested in the short discussion of the feeding habits of the insects, as the way that they eat (piercing, sucking, etc.) is important to consider when examining their effectiveness as predators.  Excellent macro photos illustrate the various mouthparts.  There are also good tips on designing an “enemy-friendly” landscape, including a useful list of attractive plants (focussing on natives and those with extrafloral nectaries).

The readability and the stellar photography in Good Garden Bugs make this a must-have resource in any gardener’s library.  Next time you go out in the garden and you see an insect you can’t identify, consult Good Garden Bugs.  You might just be getting a helping hand in the garden!

(My copy of Good Garden Bugs arrived compliments from the publisher, Quarry Books.  This review is 100 percent my honest opinion.  Maybe even 110 percent).    🙂

Planting Garlic: Pre-treatments and crop rotation.

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Do you grow garlic?  A co-worker and I were discussing our plans to plant it this year and we got on the subject of soaking the cloves before putting them in the ground:  yay or nay, and in what media?  Soaking garlic is supposed to deter fungal infections and insect infestations, and presumably because the cloves are healthier, the subsequent plants will be as well (which translates as better yield and quality).  Soaking garlic is standard procedure for many growers – is it something you do?

It seems there isn’t a consensus about what to soak it in, however – or even how many steps you should take to accomplish the task.  My co-worker just puts the cloves in rubbing alcohol for three or four minutes and then sows as usual, but I’ve read that some gardeners use a pre-treatment of either an overnight soak in plain H²O or a combination of liquid seaweed, baking soda and water, followed by the alcohol rinse.   Alternatively, you can leave out the rubbing alcohol (or vodka or hydrogen peroxide or ?) and just go with the seaweed mix.  Commercial growers appear to have their own brews, including guidelines for the optimum temperature of the soaking media.  What is your go-to concoction?

Or…you can do what I did last year and not soak your garlic at all.  I didn’t have any problems, but would that have been a risk you would have taken?  How seriously do you consider the source of your seed stock in determining if you soak the cloves or not?

And then we started talking about rotating allium crops…she doesn’t, I do.

Garlic growers, what are your thoughts?

Red Lily Beetle.

Although I don’t make a habit of revisiting old posts, this one bears repeating.  The red (or scarlet) lily beetle has taken over Alberta, it seems – and I know infestations have been occurring all over the world (in some places, for quite a number of years).  This is my post from last year about the dastardly red beast:

Red Lily Beetle (Flowery Prose)

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This gorgeous Asiatic lily isn’t from my garden, although I wish it was – I took this photograph at the Calgary Zoo a couple of summers ago. 

I want to update and say that the red lily beetle is a bit more non-selective in its food choices than I had previously understood – they will attack lilies (some reports state that not all species are as vulnerable as others), fritillaria, lily of the valley, Solomon’s seal, nicotiana and even POTATOES.  Yikes!  There are some new chemical controls out on the market now – but it seems that diligent handpicking still may be the best answer.  Neem oil and diatomaceous earth are also options, with varying results.

Have you been faced with an infestation of red lily beetles in your garden?  (I sure hope not!).  If you have, what seems to work best to keep them under control?

Flowery Prose gets a makeover.

In part because our spectacular sunny reprieve from winter is coming to an end (up to 10 centimetres of snow is predicted for tomorrow, which reminds me that I needed to buy new winter boots a few days ago…sigh) AND because I’ve been pondering it for some time, I’m announcing some additions to Flowery Prose.

As many of you know, I’m what I term a “microgardener” – I live in a tiny one bedroom apartment (with no balcony or deck) and although I have soil to dig in – I look after the perennial gardens on the property where I live, and I rent a community garden plot every year – I have space limitations like you wouldn’t believe.  Plus, there’s the not-to-be-overlooked-even-if-we-wanted-to fact that it is winter here in Alberta about six or seven months out of the year (if we’re lucky).  In truth, it’s not always possible (or desirable) to post about my gardens’ goings-on, which is why you’ll see me touring other gardens or writing about the plants I see on my hikes or delving into some tidbit of plant lore I find while I’m doing research.

I’m still going to do all of that.  My blog is first and foremost about plants and gardening…I aim to keep the “flowery” in Flowery Prose.

But I’m going to add some topics to the mix.  As a freelance writer, I’ve covered everything from vinegar to minor hockey, and while things won’t be quite that eclectic around here, I’m eager to explore a bit more in the way of local history, nature, cooking and baking, and photography.  I’ve already done a bit of that here in the past…only now I won’t necessarily add a plant or gardening connection.

Except for gardening titles, my book reviews (or whatever you want to call what it is that I do over there) will still be found on my blog The Door is Ajar.  I will still put up new content on my “Alberta snapshots” blog There is a Light, but for any of you who are subscribers to both Flowery Prose and There is a Light, there may be occasional overlaps.  (Flowery Prose will always get the new posts before TIAL).

My Facebook feed for Flowery Prose will remain the same:  all plant stuff, all the time.  (I love to scoop up links from online sources and share them).  My Twitter feed contains links to gardening information, as well as notifications about my writing projects and blogs and anything else I find interesting.

I really, REALLY hope you will enjoy the slightly more diverse content I’m planning…I truly appreciate the fact that I have such wonderful readers.  I always love to hear from you!

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!  I’m off to buy some boots….

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(Frontenac rose – Devonian Botanical Garden, Devon, AB – July 2013.  Oh, I miss summer already!)

Robin’s pincushion.

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At first glance, I thought it was some sort of strange fluffy pod, presumably left here by cute furry space aliens.

Of course, I have a very vivid imagination.

To my great disappointment, it’s a mossy rose gall.  And the funniest thing about it is that I didn’t even know a rose was growing there.  I’ve literally* walked by this particular spot on my way to work nearly every day for five years…surely you’d think I’d notice the five-and-a-half foot tall rose bush.  In my defense, it’s jammed in with a whole bunch of other grasses and shrubs, seeds randomly blown in years ago and taken hold in the midst of a dense planting of junipers that the landscapers put in nearly three decades earlier.  No one has ever pruned or removed any of the odd plantings because you can’t access them – the junipers have made an impenetrable thicket around them.   I certainly didn’t notice that the rose had bloomed this summer, but it’s chockfull of hips right now, flashes of brilliant red that catch my eye every time now that I know they’re there.   There’s a lesson here about being more observant, I can tell….

Anyway, because my knowledge is a little fuzzy (groan!) about mossy rose galls, I did some reading.  If there are any rosarians out there who can offer some more insight, please chime in – I’d love to hear from you!  Mossy rose galls are caused by a tiny wasp called Diplolepis rosae (or Diplolepis spinosa), which lay their eggs in the leaf buds of the rose in the spring.  The plant reacts to the invasion by producing a gall, which grows all summer and eventually ends up as winter protection for the wasp larvae (clever wasps, using their host like that).  The following year, up to 40 adult wasps can emerge from a single gall.  I found contradictory reports on how the galls affect the health of the rose – some say the rose is not harmed at all, while others say that the galls draw nutrients away from the rose and that if there are enough galls, the rose will die.  The only way to get rid of the galls is to prune them off in autumn, and this article points out that they can be placed in cut flower arrangements for extra interest.  (With the larvae still inside?  I’m not terribly keen on that.  Granted, the writer did make a mention that the larvae are often parasitized by other insects…but isn’t that just swapping one bug for another?  I’m not sure I want that particular kind of decoration in the house).   Mossy rose galls are most often found on wild roses (such as Rosa acicularis, which I believe is the specimen I found), and frequently rugosas.  The wasps that create them don’t go after plants other than roses.

The most interesting part of all of this is that another name for mossy rose gall is “Robin’s pincushion.”  Isn’t that an absolutely lovely term to describe a winter housing complex for tiny slimy wasp-babies?

*You may have read that the word “literally” has been officially granted an additional definition, which contradicts the old one but supposedly has validity because of the rampant abuse – I mean, informal usage – of the true meaning over the years.   I’d like to say that I’m literally giddy about how the English language is evolving, but I know I’ve literally misused the word a million times over the years.   😉

Have your roses ever literally (I can’t help myself) been plagued with mossy rose galls or crown galls?

UPDATE (as of September 19, 2013) – There is a great article on Wikipedia about mossy rose galls – it’s well worth checking it out to find out more information about the wasps that cause them.  There are also some very interesting medicinal uses (a cure for baldness, anyone?) and historical tidbits listed…plus, some excellent photos.  Please link here.