Walls and Walls of Plants

Our friend Jim Martin posted photos of his very creative plant walls on his blog, Compost in My Shoes. To see how he turned a couple of sheets of marine-grade plywood into a very sharp outdoor wall of plants, check his blog post, here. I believe Jim could turn a turnip into a work of art!

I saw some amazing plant walls at the Tropical Plant Industry Expo in Ft. Lauderdale last weekend. The variety of plants used was pretty amazing, from bromeliads to ferns and begonias. Once again I apologize for the photos. I was trying out my new Samsung Incredible smartphone. I'd opted for this instead of the iPhone, which gets great reviews for its photos. The Samsung takes consistently awful photos. Next time, I'll use my real camera.

This is obviously a trade show display, but it's an interesting way to showcase all the colors of the anthuriums the grower offers.
The wall above is made up of different varieties of bromeliads. If you're not familiar with these plants, their native habitat is high up in trees, others out on limbs or trunks. Their roots are primarily anchors to keep them attached to tree bark. They rely on rainfall that trickles into the center of the plant for their moisture. They are a tropical plant you can grow as a houseplant, and no reason they can't be grown on a moss-covered chicken wire fence or wall, as you see them above.

The manequin (doesn't everyone have an extra manequin or two in their garage??) has a mesh wrap with peat moss attached and planted with foliage and young palm seedlings.

One of the fun new products on the market is the Wally Pocket. This is one of the Wally Pocket guys standing beside their award for outstanding new product the Plant Expo awarded. The pockets (that's one he's standing beside, in blue, the one beneath it is tan) are meant to be attached to a wall or garden fence, then planted. They're made of recycled, shredded plastic soda bottles and feel like felt, or heavy wool. They breathe, allow water to escape, but are virtually indestructible. You can grow everything from tomatoes to herbs, salad greens to bush squash. I'll be trialing some in our garden here this year. If you are interested in these, here's more information.
The Wally Pockets come in a variety of colors and sizes. They make it easy to have a wall garden.
Another new product showcased at the Tropical Plant Show were these very interesting lighted plant containers from Illuminated Pots. The container is plain translucent white, a low watt flourescent bulb and fixture is underneath, and each planter comes with a 4 color disks that go over the bulb. This would make an impressive way to light up your summer patio.

My drive back from Florida these past 2 days went well. I stopped at almost every thrift shop and junk store along the way. It wasn't warm in Florida - I think I mentioned it got down to just above freezing in south central Florida one night. People were wearing hefty coats on the beaches. But yesterday, driving back from Little Rock to home, it was 72 degrees F. all the way and I had the windows rolled down. Now why couldn't Florida have been that nice? But we are predicted to have zero here in the Ozarks by Thursday and snow and sleet on the way. One nice day of spring will have to do for now. Happy gardening!


Segue, More Ice

The word, segue, comes from Italian, and literally means, follow. So this seems a good transition, a good segue, to follow ice sculptures in the previous post, with more ice.
I'm in central Florida (where it's 20 degrees tonight, which makes neither the locals nor us tourists very happy). I visited the Tropical Plant Industry Exposition in Ft. Lauderdale, along with a Garden Writers of America Regional meeting, held at the Expo. The tropical plant Expo is a large trade show with all kinds of wholesale plant people from across Florida and lots from the East and West Coasts, as well. It's where people come to see what's new to the industry this year, and where wholesalers get new accounts for their plants. The ice sculpture, above, was part of a booth promoting the Just Add Ice Orchids, which you may have noticed in stores already. Their sales gimmick is to point out that orchids are tough plants and easy to grow. So easy, in fact, that all you have to do is add 3 or 4 ice cubes on the top of the pot once a week!
Two large, healthy orchids, frozen in solid ice, as part of the display. No, they won't survive when thawed out.

They had frozen a couple of large orchids in ice as part of their display, which I thought was going a bit overboard, but it was eye catching. Our long time acquaintance, P. Allen Smith was there to promote the orchids and sign some books. I think he's the official spokesperson for the Just Add Ice series. Chris Bytes was one of our speakers at the Garden Writers' Regional, speaking on using videos for business promotion.
P. Allen Smith with Chris Bytes, Editor of GrowerTalks Magazine and Ball Red Book. I did some writing for Chris a few years back in the Red Book.

The show has always been palms, blooming plants, planters, soil, bamboo... all those plants you think of as tropical. And they were here, also, but what surprised even the long time booth folks, was how fast orchids have become popular. In fact, the 2 unintentional themes of this year's show, was plant walls and orchids. (More about plant walls later).
There were orchids in all sizes and price ranges
The trade show had 22 rows across the auditorium, with about 12 or 15 booths on each side of the 22 aisles; that's a lot of plant displays! But everyone was talking about how the orchids had taken over this year. And the one everyone wanted was a new blue one. (For comparison, the orchids above retail for about $12; the fancy blue ones were going for $40).
But even this one wasn't the bluest of the blues.
This one, below, won one of the prizes for best in show this year.

The nursery producing these orchids (below) also won an award for best in show. Their orchids (sorry, I'm not up on my orchid varieties - remember, I grow plants I can eat, were spectacular waterfall orchids.
You can't tell it from this photo, but this is a 12 ft high wall of orchids!
My apologies for the poor photo quality. I am trying out my new smartphone's photo capabilities; I'm disappointed in the quality. However, hopefully you can see what amazingly long stems of flowers these orchids have, many of them 2 ft long or more!
The anthurium runway. The grower is from Germany and he had some spectacular plants.
There was an anthurium grower at the show, showing off new color introductions in anthuriums. Lots of the booths try to put on a big splash to draw attention and sell their plants. Bringing P. Allen Smith, for example. This grower hired models and had a runway, lights and music, putting on a show with the girls showcasing bouquets of the anthuriums.
Sorry one more time, for the poor photo quality.

And the second big theme at the show (and apparently at other plant shows this year) is plant walls. Here are a couple of previews of more to come.
I'll stay in Florida for a few more days, hopefully finding somewhere that is warmer than the weather in Bradenton is tonight. Hope it's warm where you are, too.


Titanic Ice Carving Contest

There's not much going on in the garden in January but clean up so I headed off to Branson to check out the 5th annual Ice Carving Contest at the Titanic. If we all took up ice carving, then incredible ice sculptures could perk up everyone's gardens. It's one of those things that is most likely a lot harder than it looks.
Evidently this is the 5th year for this event, but not at the Titanic because the big boat hasn't been in Branson that long.
It's ironic, a ship that lies at the bottom of the ocean, and which was brought down by an iceberg, has been turned into a tourist attraction, and hosts the professional ice carving contest.
All of the contestants started with a big block of ice and a chainsaw. They had in their mind what the block would become and had a limited amount of time to make create what was in their mind. This fellow's creation is below, a winged creature, created in 30 minutes.

To make the sculpture taller, part of the wing was carved then added. Dry ice, water, even propane torches are used to "glue" the ice parts together. Here are some of the entries. I'd be proud to have any of these in my garden, wouldn't you?

What beauty. Look at the details of the various parts.

Hard to see from the photo but it's a cat reaching for a bird.

Look at the intricate detail on the top of this sculpture!
This was probably my favorite simply because it is an amazing use of negative space. However, this contest was held in 52 degrees and after being on display for about an hour, she began to have a problem.

The breasts fell off! I thought the sculpture was ruined.
But with the magic of dry ice and water, the sculptor glued the breasts back in place, good as new!
The carvers, all men it seems, came from all over the United States for the contest. This fellow said he'd come from western Ohio and had never carved in 52 degree weather before.  I should have asked him what the sculpture was but I think that would have been an insult. It's sculpture, it doesn't have to "be" anything.
I thought the dragon was fun. Here in the photo without people around, it looks small. It wasn't. It was 3 or 4 ft. tall and probably weighed 200 pounds or more.
It was a bigger event than I had imagined. Traffic was backed up for several blocks, there were a few hundred people in the parking lot watching the contests throughout the day.
After all the carving contests they asked for volunteers of kids from the audience, choosing about 6. I thought it highly cruel but the kids seemed to have fun. The contest was the kid who could put the t-shirt on first, won a prize. The trick? All of the t-shirts were wet then frozen in a plastic bag. The kids had to figure out how to get the t-shirt out of the bag, how to get it apart, then how to get it on. Actually it was fun to see how creative the kids were. They all banged their frozen t-shirts on the pavement to get them apart. The winner, the girl facing the camera, dunked hers into a bucket of water to thaw it out, then put it on.

So there you have it, how to have sculpture in your garden. All you need is a chainsaw, a 400 pound block of ice and some imagination. Or imagine one of these with herbs frozen inside, floating in a giant punch bowl at your next party! My next posting will be from a warmer climate, where ice doesn't go.


Compost 101

I've always thought compost to be a pretty ordinary subject, maybe because I grew up with composting. Possibly other Baby Boomers did, also, I'm not sure, but back when Organic Gardening was a new magazine, my mother was an enthusiastic subscriber. She liked the idea of taking otherwise wasted household vegetable scraps, potato peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells and anything else that wouldn't attract dogs or 'possoms, and turning them into rich, black soil for her houseplants.

Mom's method back then was to dig two holes in the raspberry patch, each about 2 ft. deep and as wide across. One was for new compost, the other was months old and nearly ready to use. Every day or two she'd take the kitchen waste and put it in the "new" hole and toss in a trowel full of soil and mix it around. Over the years she made a lot of soil using that simple method. (She learned, from this process, that almost anything organic would compost, except for maraschino cherries; they're made by soaking cherries in a solution of sodium metabisulfate, calcium chloride, citric acid, and back then, the addition of Red Dye numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4, all banned now for health reasons. After two years buried in the compost pile, the cherries were as red and firm as the day she had put them there).

But what is old is new and composting is fashionable again. The move toward recycling, coupled with the popularity of growing ones own food in the garden, has sparked lots of enthusiasm for the lowly compost pile.

Felder's truck garden.

Here's what Felder Rushing, radio host and author of several garden books said recently (you may recall I posted photos of Felder's pickup truck last August, and his pickup truck garden which he grows on his trips across America and I was on his show last year):

"Composting isn't difficult. Here are the rules: pile up stuff. Let it rot."

It's really that simple although there are things you can do to facilitate the composting process working faster. For example, it's good to add "green" material to your compost, things like grass clippings after you mow. It's also helpful if you turn the compost over from time to time.
As you can see in this illustration by our friend, George Hudson, having two bins is helpful. As the compost piles up, the newest organic matter is always on top, so this guy would do well to start moving the top of his pile "next door" to the other bin. If he simply left it in a big pile like this, it would eventually rot away into compost, but it would take much, much longer. Giving the pile a turn every few weeks or months, helps speed up the process. Keeping the green material in rotation helps the decomposing matter "heat up" and that means everything breaks down faster. A good compost pile can turn leaves, grass clippings and vegetable scraps into rich, black soil in about 6 months. And the heating process that happens when fresh organic matter breaks down, will actually get hot enough to kill weed seeds. The more green matter you put in, the faster and better the compost pile works.

And yes, you can add leaves in the fall to your compost pile, provided you mix in some barnyard manure, or grass clippings or other green matter. Just a pile of leaves will pack down, stay dry and may not compost for a year or more without help. Oak and sycamore leaves are harder to compost than maple, ash, dogwood, etc. And if you're adding wood chips, the compost pile will require more green material.

Here are some successful compost methods I've seen lately. The first one is simply a long bin in the back yard of a very upscale house in Dallas. This is an easy method because the homeowner simply moves some already composted material over to the new pile every time he adds more leaves, grass clippings or kitchen waste.
Finished compost is on the left. To the left you can see a pile of kitchen scraps and broken up shrub clippings from the garden.

And look at the one, below, at the Stonewall School garden project in Dallas. They combine wood chips with theirs and probably use a small garden tractor to turn the soil over, mixing finished compost with lawnmower grass clippings to break down the wood chips.

 And the one, below, is in the garden of the famous and amazing Herbfarm Restaurant in Woodinville, WA. Theirs looks efficient for making compost fast.
Notice this method uses 3 bins: new material, working compost and the finished product.
The late Madalene Hill had this built in her gardens at Festival Hill a few years ago to demonstrate what materials will compost and what won't. It's a good measure of what to use and what not to put in your compost bin.

 In case you can't read the tombstones: Leaves compost in 1-3 months, paper takes 3-5 months; paper milk cartons (shredded) 5 months; cigarette butts 10-20 years. Plastic bags take 50-80 years; aluminum foil 80-100 years and styrofoam never decomposes (neither do plastic water bottles).

So there are several choices for composting. The advantages are many: saving space in landfills, saving the cost of having someone haul away kitchen scraps and leaves; recycling materials that turn in to useful soil for your garden. And it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

Like Felder says, Pile up some stuff and let it rot. That's the basic idea of composting.

Thanks to our very talented friend, George Hudson, for the use of his always humorous illustrations.

Compost happens, just pile up stuff and let it rot.