Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Importance Of Insects

I ran across this extremely interesting article about the importance of insects, and just had to share it with you.

A few paragraphs from the article:

From a population standpoint, insects rule our planet. Scientists have gotten around to naming almost 900,000 different species of insects, but some experts suggest that there may be as many as 30 million more species that haven't yet been christened [source: Smithsonian]. These same scientists estimate that about 10 quintillion--that's 10 with 18 zeroes behind it--insects are alive on Earth at this very minute.

With numbers this staggering, it's no wonder that insects affect our lives and civilization, influencing everything from religion to agriculture to technology. Sometimes the insects' actions are what we perceive as helpful, such as the dung beetle, the sewer worker of the insect world. Sometimes the insects seem to cause harm, like the deer tick, whose bite can inflict Lyme disease. Other times, the purpose of the insect is more ambiguous. It's all part of the world's biodiversity, where the actions of one species often complement another. Each species depends on the other to ensure survival, sometimes in ways we don't yet know.

With that cooperative spirit in mind, keep reading to discover 10 important insects and just what they do to earn that ranking. You'll find out why roaches may not deserve their bad guy label and why the ancient Egyptians put a bug on the chests of their dead.

Ready for more? Here’s the link for the article:

10 Most Important Insects in the World

Are you still here? Go, already! What are you waiting for?

Astilbes In Bloom

Sometimes I see a plant in a gardening magazine or on a website, take a huge interest in it and hastily add it to my garden – only to find out weeks later, after it’s grown substantially, that I don’t like it all that much, after all.

And sometimes I see a plant in a gardening magazine or on a website, decide it’s not for me and ignore it and all its cousins at the garden center - only to find out weeks later when I spot it in someone’s garden that I love the way it looks. At that point, I ask myself “what on earth were you thinking when you decided not to add this gorgeous plant and all its cousins to your garden?” Self shrugs and says “oops”, and the next day I’m running around the gardening centers trying to track down the ignored plant and its cousins.

The latter case is what happened with Astilbes. I saw glossy pictures of them in gardening magazines, and I read the praises sung by bloggers growing them in their gardens. But I was unconvinced. Until I saw them in person. And fell in love. Next thing I knew, I was hunting them down in garden centers. I managed to add quite a few since last year, and all of them have bloomed for me.

This week’s gardening post – obviously - is photos of Astilbes in bloom. I know the names of most of them since I marked where they were planted, but there are a couple that got away from me. If you know which ones they are, please leave a comment.

Astilbe arendsii ‘Bridal Veil’

Astilbe arendsii ‘Bressingham Beauty’

Astilbe ‘Diamant’

Astilbe simplicifolia ‘Hennie Graafland’

Astilbe ‘Sister Theresa’

Astilbe (unknown)
Anyone know which one this might be?

Astilbe (unknown)

And that’s it for this week’s gardening post. Aren’t Astilbes just lovely? I’m not sure whether I’ll add any more of these lovely plants to my garden. I already have quite a few of them taking up a good chunk of space. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens as the garden continues to grow.

Words Of Wisdom

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Traditional Meat Loaf

I found this amazing meat loaf recipe in an issue of Taste of Home magazine, which I absolutely have to share with you.

Traditional Meat Loaf

6 Servings
Preparation: 15 minutes
Bake: 1 hour + standing


1 egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup milk
3 slices bread, crumbled
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup finely shredded carrot
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon prepared mustard


- In a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients. Crumble beef
over mixture and mix well. Shape into a loaf. Place in a greased
9-in. x 5-in. loaf pan.

- In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, ketchup and mustard; spread
over loaf. Bake at 350° for 60-75 minutes or until no pink remains and a meat thermometer reads 160°.

- Drain. Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

Recipe and photo are from here.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Single Photograph

“Flowers are those little colorful beacons of the sun from which
we get sunshine when dark, somber skies blanket our thoughts.”
~ Dodinsky ~

You can never go wrong with petunias.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Silliness

Let’s start off the day with a smile...

Things to do and say to a telephone solicitor to get him to hang up and leave you alone...

"So, what are you wearing?"

"I'm sorry, but this phone is for personal calls only. The boss won't let us use it for business."

Respond to their questions with fax/modem noises.

"Have you heard about that study showing that it can cause impotence to sit all day with a telephone receiver next to your head?"

Pretend to be very interested in their product and then quite calmly and earnestly inquire, "Yes, but can it make a six minute casserole?"

"I am truly sorry but the moon is in the seventh house of Pluto and my astrologer would just die if he knew I was talking to a salesman during this solar phase."

Marketing Screw Ups

1. Coors put its slogan, "Turn it loose," into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer from diarrhea."

2. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."

3. Clairol introduced the "Mist Stick", a curling iron, into German only to find out that "mist" is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the "manure stick."

4. When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the U.S., with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside, since most people can't read.

5. Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.

6. An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" (el Papa), the shirts read "I saw the potato" (la papa).

7. Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave", in Chinese.

8. Frank Perdue's chicken slogan, "it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was translated into Spanish as "it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate."

9. The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Ke-kou-ke-la", meaning "Bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax", depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent "ko-kou-ko-le", translating into "happiness in the mouth."

10. When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, "it won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you". Instead, the company thought that the word "embarazar" (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."

Friday, August 26, 2011

6 Plants That Give Me A Run For My Money

No matter what you call your own personal list of challenging houseplants (“Plants That Hate Me”, “Difficult Houseplants”, “Houseplants I’ll Never Grow Again”, “What In The World Was I thinking When I Bought This?”, “Plants That Drive Me To Drink”), one thing’s for sure: it differs from one indoor gardener to the next. For example, I would never include a Pothos on any of my lists that include temperamental houseplants because I find it exceptionally easy to grow. But ask another houseplant lover and they’ll tell you that they can’t grow it to save their life. On the other hand, I’ve always had a turbulent relationship with the extremely popular Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) that most growers consider an easy-to-grow, fail-proof, highly-recommended-for-beginners, difficult-to-kill, even-a-child-can-grow-it plant.

What this means is that with so many contradictory opinions emerging from varying personal experiences, almost any plant can land on an indoor gardener’s “difficult houseplants” list - even the (almost) indestructible Aspidistra elatior (Cast-Iron Plant), the immortal Sansevieria trifasciata (Snake Plant) and many of the Aglaonemas, all of which are generally considered to be some of the most difficult to kill. But it’s all relative. Easy to grow for me may not be easy to grow for you.

Alright, so what’s your point?

I guess my point is that you should take all of these lists with a grain of salt, including my own. Yes, environmental factors play a key role in the long term health of houseplants (you cannot succeed with a Calathea if you don’t provide high levels of humidity, amongst other things). And yes, commitment and effort contribute to your success with plants. And there’s no doubt that the more delicate plants deteriorate faster than others when their needs are not met promptly and precisely. And I’ll even go as far as agreeing that sometimes no matter how much you pamper, plead, scold or threaten, some plants just refuse to cooperate. But no, the lists are not set in stone. Under the right circumstances even the most so-called demanding houseplants can thrive.

Now let’s get to the purpose of this article.

Below is a list of plants that I find difficult to grow indoors, mainly because it is hard, and at times impossible, to provide the specific care they need (enough light, sufficient humidity, the right temperature). I have grown all of them at one time or another, some of them more than once, most of them fairly recently, so the list is not based on popular opinion but rather on my own personal experience with them. And even though many of them have a reputation, in general, of being somewhat challenging, it’s still my personal view.


1) Alocasia x Amazonica (African Mask, Elephant Ear)

This temperamental beauty is one of the most beautiful foliage plants I have ever seen. And one of the most exasperating ones. Over the years, I have fallen victim to its lovely tropical appearance one too many times, and ended up lugging home yet another soon after one of them has failed under my care. Despite the fact that I’ve yet to conquer them, I’m not ready to give up on them. Although that’s debatable these days.

In order to succeed with this lovely plant, certain requirements (nonnegotiable demands) must be met. High humidity is absolutely essential; I cannot stress this enough. In dry air, brown leaf tips will develop, leaf loss will occur and spider mite infestations, which this plant is highly prone to, will become a chronic problem. Soil must be kept evenly moist during the spring and summer, and allowed to dry slightly during the colder months; never allow it to dry out completely. A shady location is tolerable but a brightly-lit spot out of the path of direct sunlight is best. Average household room temperatures are fine; make sure you keep the plant warm. If an Alocasia Amazonica becomes chilled, it will drop all its leaves and go dormant; this may also occur when the medium dries out completely.

There is no doubt that this charming houseplant is sensitive and will only grow happily when its needs are met. If you can’t provide proper care, and are not willing to make an extra effort, don’t bother taking an Alocasia Amazonica home; it will disappoint you.

• Excellent candidate for hydroculture.

2) Dionaea Muscipula (Venus Flytrap)

Although I’d always been curious and somewhat fascinated by carnivorous plants, I’d never taken much of an interest in actually growing one at home. A Dionaea Muscipula (known by its well-known common name Venus Flytrap) found its way into my life because my husband wanted one. And only because he was eager to see one in action. (Every man has a little boy inside of him, no matter his age)

Humidity, a lot of humidity is required; a terrarium is often used to keep levels high. During the active growing period, keep the (nutrient-poor) potting medium evenly moist; never allow it to dry out completely. Do not fertilize. Venus Flytrap is sensitive to chemicals found in tap water; it’s preferable to use distilled or rain water.

The plant can be grown in full sunlight from early spring to late fall, but protection should be provided against the hot, midday sun of the summer months. Adequate lighting, as much as 12 hours a day, 4 of which should be direct, is best to keep this plant healthy; supplemental lighting may be necessary. There is a dormancy period from November to March; move the plant to a cooler location (45 to 50 degrees) during this time.

It sounds simple enough but Dionaea Muscipula can prove to be extremely difficult to grow indoors, which was exactly the case with my husband’s (the ending was tragic). But even if it did end up in the trashcan eventually, it was a very interesting experience. We got the opportunity to watch this plant snap its ‘jaw’ shut on a fly in less than a second. It was amazing.

* Not yet tested in hydroculture.

3) Stromanthe Sanguinea ‘Tricolor’

Undoubtedly one of the most stunning jewels of the tropical world, this member of the Maranta family is as temperamental as it is beautiful. But how can anyone resist the eye-catching, multicoloured foliage of this dazzler? I’ve gone through a few over the years and they’ve all spent the majority of their time in my home curling their leaves because the humidity is never high enough. Before you know it, the leaf tips and margins turn brown, and the plants begin looking very unattractive. I end up tossing the plants out and swear I’ll never get another. It’s a lie. I always end up bringing a new one home again. And again.

This Maranta member obviously needs high levels of humidity to keep it happy. If you can’t provide that, don’t get one; it will deteriorate rapidly and become unsightly. Use a porous medium and keep it moist at all times; never allow it to dry out completely. Average room temperatures between 16°C (60°F) and 27°C (80°F) are ideal; avoid cold drafts. This Stromanthe fares well in medium light but brighter light intensifies the dramatic variegation. Avoid direct exposure to sunlight, which will damage the leaves and cause them to fade.

There was a time when this plant was so uncommon it wasn’t even listed in books about houseplants. Today you find it everywhere. And although it’s making its ways into many homes, unless its needs are met accordingly – the most important being high humidity – it will end up in the trash, sooner rather than later.

* Excellent candidate for hydroculture.

4) Ctenanthe Lubbersiana

This Ctenanthe is another eye-catching genus of the Maranta family and can be just as difficult to grow as many of its cousins. Despite the fact that it’s challenging to grow indoors, the attractively-patterned foliage makes it difficult for me to leave this plant behind at the greenhouse. So I often don’t.

If one of these irresistible plants ends up following you home, it’s important that you cater to its needs or it will decline fairly quickly. Provide plenty of humidity; the leaf tips and margins will brown and turn crispy in dry air. Place the plant where it will receive partial shade; keep it away form direct sunlight. Average room temperatures between 16°C (60°F) and 27°C (80°F) are ideal, and cold drafts must be avoided. Grow your Ctenanthe in an airy, fast draining potting mix, water moderately, keep the medium moist at all times and never let it dry out completely. When the winter season arrives and plant growth slows down, allow the compost to dry out a little more.

This lovely plant needs high humidity, a warm location, protection from the direct rays of the sun and protection against cold drafts. If you can provide all these things, especially high humidity, you may be able to succeed with one of these temperamental beauties. If you can’t, don’t even bother trying. You’ll end up quite disappointed.

* Excellent candidate for hydroculture.

5) Rhododendron Simsii – (Azalea, Indoor Azalea, Florist’s Azalea)

I debated adding this beauty to my list of challenging plants because under the right circumstances an Azalea can be remarkably easy to grow. But because they’re one of the most popular flowering plants, and sold by the gazillions year round to unsuspecting consumers that are unaware that this plant has specific needs that have to be met (if it’s going to continue looking as good as it did in the greenhouse), I felt it was my duty to share that vital information.

This plant likes it cool; too much heat, which is usually the case in an average home, is very problematic. In warm, heated rooms flower buds will fail to develop or they will drop prematurely if they do. And if that heat is combined with dry air, spider mites will move in and devour your stressed-out plant. Ideally, temperatures should not exceed 18°C (65°F) during the day and night temperatures should linger between 7°C (45°F) – 12°C (55°F), although a constant 18°C (65°F) should do fine. If there is no way to provide an Azalea with the coolness it craves, it will decline.

Keep the soil moist at all times; never allow this plant to dry out completely. Under-watering leads to premature dropping of buds, flowers and even leaves. Place the plant in a location that provides bright, indirect light; a shady location combined with cool temperatures is required to encourage and extend the flowering period. Provide plenty of humidity; plants grown in areas where the air is very dry do not perform well and are highly prone to pest infestations.

Azaleas are usually treated as temporary plants and discarded after the blooming period has come and gone. The primary reason is that many people believe that it’s a temporary plant. But for those that know it isn’t, the inability (or failure) to provide the four important requirements - plenty of water, high humidity, bright light and cool temperatures – has them kicking their Azalea to the curb eventually.

* Not yet tested in hydroculture.

6) Musa Acuminata 'Dwarf Cavendish' – Banana Plant

The first time I spotted these plants at the local greenhouse, I had to have one. With beautiful elliptical, medium green leaves and an interesting overall look, this compact banana plant adds a tropical look to the indoors that makes it irresistible. But as fun as it is to grow, is as difficult as it is to grow. If the environment it’s growing in is not ideal, the Musa Acuminata ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ will become very unpleasant-looking.

High humidity is essential. Do not grow this plant in dry air; aside from the fact that its health will be compromised, spider mites will infest it. Warmth is just as important as humidity. A location where it’s between 27°C (80°F) – 29°C (85°F) is the preference, but average temperatures are fine. If the plant gets chilled, its leaves will develop ugly black tips and patches. Water abundantly from April to September and keep the compost moist at all times; reduce watering in fall and winter, but do not allow the plant to dry out completely. Very bright light with a few hours of direct sun every day is ideal, provided it’s not too strong.

Musa Acuminata ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ likes a warm, damp environment and is much more suited to greenhouse cultivation. But if you’re eager to try and succeed with one in your home, like I am, it’s important that you understand its needs and apply them accordingly. You will fail miserably with this plant if you don’t.

* Excellent candidate for hydroculture.

Despite giving me a run for my money, I really like most of the plants listed above. With the exception of the Venus Flytrap (which I have no sincere interest in) and the Rhododendron Simsii (that I can’t provide with cool temperatures), I intend to keep growing the others, even if it means having to start with a new specimen whenever one of them fails. This includes the Alocasia, which is barely registering on my ‘interest radar’ these days. Sometimes I just don’t learn.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tune Time - Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

I’ve been an Elton John fan for as far back as I can remember, and this is one of my favourite songs from him; a mournful balled about unrequited love. Released in 1976, both as a single and as part of the Blue Moves album, it was Elton John’s second single on Rocket Records, reaching number 11 in the UK and number 6 in the US. In addition, the song went to number one on the Easy Listening chart.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More Blooms Around The Garden

I was planning to do a different type of garden post today; perhaps one that would show before and after shots of certain flower beds, and how they’ve evolved since we moved into this house two years ago. But it’s been really busy, and I just haven’t had time to put it all together. I will create posts like that eventually; perhaps when the school season starts, or when the weather starts to get cold and there’s no more outdoor gardening; that would be a good time for that.

Today, though, it looks like you’re stuck looking at more boring photos of flowers. Not that you’re really stuck. I mean you can just click away. Right? Right. But if you do stick around, I promise that the photos below will at least be colourful.

Let’s get right to it...

I know, I know. I’ve shown photos of Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ in previous posts – again and again. And you’re probably tired of hearing about this plant. But it’s just so beautiful. So easy to grow. Always full of bees and butterflies. How can I not keep mentioning it? I can’t help myself. Here are a couple more photos of this awesome perennial.

Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Sentimental Blue’ is blooming again, which is not surprising since it’s supposed to bloom on and off throughout the season.

I’ve shown photos of this cousin to the Hollyhock in a previous post, but it’s worth a second display. Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’ blooms all summer long, and the lavender-purple flowers are lovely. The plant is a short-lived perennial or biennial, often flowering itself to death in the first year, but it comes back the next year from self-sown seedlings.

My ‘Blue Girl’ rose bush didn’t do as well this year as it did when I planted it last spring. I don’t know if the weather had anything to do with it, or if the leaves being eaten by visiting rabbits did. Probably the latter. In any case, it did manage to put out some pretty flowers.

One of the joys of autumn arriving is all the late blooming perennials that start to put on a show – like the gorgeous Anemone hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’.

Eupatorium ‘Phantom’, or Dwarf Joe-Pye Weed, is a magnet to butterflies. It blooms in late summer and early fall.

Heuchera sanguinea 'Ruby Bells' bloomed a long time ago; I just didn’t get around to posting a photo of it until now.

Apparently, Asclepias tuberosa, which blooms in mid and late summer, is the primary source of food for both the adult and juvenile Monarch butterfly. I have noticed Monarch butterflies hanging around there, so I guess it’s true.

Hibiscus moscheutos 'Luna Red' takes its time getting started, but once it does, expect huge, solid-red, saucer-shaped flowers from mid summer until frost. A very impressive plant in the garden.

Helenium 'Rotgold' (Red & Gold) blooms from mid summer to early fall, and produces flowers in many autumn shades - from yellow to gold, orange, red and bronze.

Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ is a bold perennial with large, jagged-edged green leaves and bright yellow flowers that bloom in summer. It can grow quite tall, so the back of a border is a good place for it to be.

Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’ spreads moderately to form a small patch. The variegated leaves remain attractive all season long, so the starry yellow flowers that contrast beautifully with the foliage are an added bonus.

I picked up Ceratostigma plumbaginoides impulsively because I had a spot to fill in front of a border, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. But I am quite pleased with it so far; the foliage is compact and tidy, and the flowers are an attractive blue. From what I’ve been able to gather, as the summer turns to fall, the whole plant will begin to turn shades of bright scarlet and finally maroon red. Can’t wait.

Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’ is one of my favourite perennials in the garden with its handsome variegated foliage and golden-yellow daisies that begin to appear in mid summer, lasting for many weeks.

And that’s it for today. I’ll be back again next week with another gardening post. Enjoy your day, everyone.