all the latest news about emotional container gardening
Madame O'Kerrins did not have much intercourse with the inhabitants of Gacé. There was one old lady who visited the Château fairly frequently. Her name was Madame Bonnet and she lived in a large, ugly house near the church. In her garden there grew the largest begonias I had ever seen. Madame Bonnet told me that their size and their beauty were due to their being manured by the corpses of cats. In the bedding out season she used to offer a small reward to anyone who brought her a dead cat and when a sufficient number had been collected they were used as a foundation for the begonia beds. It seemed to me a rather macabre idea and I thought that at night the garden must be haunted by the ghosts of cats miaowing and caterwauling. These flowers were in a way symbolical of Madame Bonnet herself.
I'm not likely to take Madame Bonnet's gardening methods as instructive, but on an intuitive level it makes perfect sense to me that all gardens reflect something of the character of their gardener. My container garden just now is wallowing in indolence. My Alpine strawberry plants stopped producing fruit not long after my last update, and with them a great deal of heart went out of my gardening. (It should be fairly obvious that when I characterized myself as "a highly emotional gardener but not a sentimental one," I was making a perverse little joke. Look up "sentimental" in the wonderful iPad dictionary and there's probably a link to this blog, along with an embarrassingly accurate illustrated cross-section of my innards, sliced into translucent ribbons by sentiment.) My pepper plants have been exiled but continue to torment me with their incomprehensible refusal to set fruit — more about this below — and my pineapple sage dropped dead for no apparent reason, after ailing for just a few confusing days. Unless it was an act of performance art, in which case its death was an effective commentary on the dark moods that have discomposed much of my summer. It may indeed have been; in conducting my postmortem I discovered, somewhat disturbingly, "[o]ne superstition was that the plant would thrive or wither according to its owner’s fortune." I prefer to think a nutriment deficiency was to blame, but doom seems to have no shame in being heavy-handed when it comes to call.
My Sorrento lemon tree seedlings, at least, are thriving. All of them, which is a lot! I re-potted them with an abundance of caution and expected to lose at least a few, but not one has died, drooped, or taken on a sickly color. Perhaps they've been buoyed by their early fame — my photos of them in their infancy will appear in a video about citrus produced by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, like these.
I have six pots of baby Sorrento lemon trees at present, scattered all over my apartment, of which the one below is representative. When I re-potted them I was reluctant to try separating the embryonic seedlings from the apomictic ones — I explained a bit about those here — and now that they need re-potting again, I find myself once again skittish about interfering with the mysterious relationships they have amongst themselves. I'm going to keep them together, since they appear to be getting along nicely, while presuming that at some point in their adolescence a dominant tree will take over each pot. If you're in the NYC area and would like to adopt a pot, email me; I wouldn't mind giving one or two away to a good home (i.e., to someone who doesn't look like a plant-murderer). They currently live on south-facing windowsills and don't seem to require any special care beyond the good light they're getting. I'm going to give them bigger pots this weekend, and probably some citrus fertilizer. They've done fine without it so far, but after seeing how my pepper plants responded to feeding I don't feel good about starving the others.
I guarantee if you keep it warm and misted daily in summer and dry as a bone from autumn through to late spring, you will be rewarded with a spectacular flower and then a sweet, sparkling fruit. If you do a good job, you will get a fruit as big as a baby; if you do a bad job, you'll only have enough for a pineapple chunk or two. But that's gardening for you . . .
My apartment gets ridiculously dry in the winter months and I have high hopes that my pineapple will be the size of a very chubby baby. I've been bad about misting it, but writing these updates tends to get my gardening back on track, and in the meantime it doesn't appear to have suffered from my laziness. The instructions I linked to above say it's normal for the original leaves from the crown to die off, and the new growth in the center of my plant looks healthy. I started with an organic pineapple, by the way, and I think you should too. Conventionally-grown pineapples are drenched in creepy pesticides.
In related long-range container gardening news, my avocado tree got re-potted and looks happier than ever, though a bit droopy on the morning I photographed it. A good watering enlivens it. I started it from seed approximately three years ago, from a particularly delicious Haas avocado. Very clever of it to have decided to get bushier rather than taller after having reached the top of the window, don't you think? I don't happen to have any photos of it when it was younger, but it used to be just a single, spindly trunk. The smaller, second trunk appeared this spring, I think, and after I gave it a badly-needed new pot the whole plant became fluffier with new horizontal growth.
PLANTS MAKE FLOWERS BUT NO FRUIT? Most hot peppers and some sweet peppers require insect pollination to form fruit. If the proper insect is absent, or if the local insects are not attracted to your pepper flowers, you may see the plants flower, drop off and never set fruit. This is especially true for the blue-flowered Capsicum pubescens, the Manzanos or Rocotos, or hot peppers grown in a greenhouse.
Pollen is produced on the stamens by the anthers, and usually ripens between noon and 3 PM every day.
To hand pollinate, take a moistened water-color paint brush, and pick up some pollen on your brush and transfer it to the other flower centers. You can get close to 100% fruit set with hand pollination.
- Pepper growing tips from Redwood City Seed Co.
I'd read about hand pollination before, but there was never any mention of moistening the brush. A dazzling eye-opener for the novice gardener who was doing it all wrong! I diligently diddled their flowers every day. After about a week of this, during which time the plants were indoors on my windowsill rather than languishing on the fire escape, where none of the sexy insects passing by would give them the time of day, the ungrateful little bastards not only didn't fruit, they stopped flowering too.
I considered adding some companion plants to their pots before giving them to my friend. When I planted the borage on my fire escape I inadvertently learned a bit about this because borage is said to be good for everything it grows near. I looked at a list of companion plants but it was of little use; it indicates that tomatoes are good for peppers because their height helps to keep the humidity level high, but NYC this summer has already been plenty humid. And do you know what plants peppers help? Themselves, and marjoram. Themselves! For fuck's sake. It was then that I really started to wonder whether my particular pepper plants don't simply have a neurotic need for a certain kind of attention. Their reluctance to set fruit or even produce flowers despite appearing healthy and being well-cared for made me wonder if they weren't the plant equivalents of One Of Those Guys. You know, one of those guys who has mostly women friends and as a result seems cool with being equals? Then you get to know him better and a pattern emerges whereby it becomes apparent that they're all flattering him or making him feel important in some grossly retrograde manner reminiscent of a Victorian novel? I'd started to feel that that's what my plants wanted, endless bullshit flattery. "Oh you poor dears, let me get my little brush, just like I did yesterday, and the day before that!" Etc. It wasn't something I felt willing or even able to do, and that is why they're no longer living on my windowsill.
maybe a nascent pepper forming in the center-right?
My borage plants did everything they were supposed to do but have nonetheless been a disappointment to me. The leaves have a fishy taste! I think it's got to be coming from the modest amount of fertilizer I buried in their planter before sowing the seeds. Fish meal is a common ingredient in organic fertilizers (and possibly even in the organic soil I used?), and fishiness apparently ruins the delicate, cucumber-y taste of borage. I had so many plans for my borage leaves: muddling them in drinks, pickling them with golden beets, flavoring an ice cream studded with bits of diced, candied cucumber. Hmph. I probably ought to at least use them to wrap some salmon while it's curing, rather than letting them grow monstrous out there on the fire escape. I've got lovage in the same planter but it's not really ready to use yet, and I've held off on tasting it for fear it's fishy too. I'm hopeful that when mature it will have sufficiently strong flavor to knock out the fishiness. Lovage is a heavyweight and this seems reasonable to me.
Notwithstanding all the problems I've run into, I have a lot of hope about carrying on with my emotional gardening next summer. I'm planning to take a community garden plot to increase my Alpine strawberry holdings, and there are some encouraging signs that I'm not the only emotional gardener in the neighborhood. Far from it — there's a guy on West 105th St. who is sticking it to his landlord with a very impressive "mother garden," and at our nearest garden center there are people dancing the tango.
Previous posts about my container gardening are here, here and here.