Bzzzz January 2nd, 2008

It seems that most of the gar­den­ing blog­gers I’m read­ing these days have been lav­ish­ing atten­tion on their houseplants.

Well, it’s prob­a­bly about time the indoor plants get their share of atten­tion. I know that at my house, it’s no small task to keep every­one look­ing good and healthy when there is so much to do out­side in the warm weather.

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Philo­den­dron and Bam­boo by Read­ing Chair

I took a quick cen­sus of the house­plants here. All of the plants are in the most-frequented rooms so that I don’t for­get them. Those also hap­pen to be the rooms with the best light in our north-facing house.

Here are the plant numbers:

21 – fam­ily room

4 – kitchen

2 – music room

10 – office light garden

3 – my bedroom

1 – my son’s room

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Kitchen Suc­cu­lent

I’m sure there are some folks out there who can best my num­bers, but this seems a good bal­ance for me since I feel claus­tro­pho­bic with too much “stuff” crowd­ing in a room and most of my plants are of an impres­sive size.

I have been in love with house­plants since I was a teenager and dis­cov­ered Jerry Baker’s Happy, Healthy House­plants. Pub­lished way back in 1985, it was one of the first and best books on house­plants at the time. I don’t have a copy any­more, but I believe this is the book that included an illus­tra­tion of a fel­low peak­ing from behind a shower cur­tain where he is bathing with bunches of house­plants. For some rea­son this made a big impres­sion on me. To this day I reg­u­larly bathe my house­plants to remove the accu­mu­lated dust from the leaves and give them an at-home spa treatment—although I rarely get undressed to do it anymore.

One of the rea­sons I adore my house­plants is that it gets me a bit closer to my dream of liv­ing in a house that seam­lessly blends indoors and out­doors. Given that I live in Zone 7 Mary­land rather than in the British Vir­gin Islands, that isn’t an entirely fea­si­ble idea.

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Crown of Thorns

Peo­ple who love plants might appre­ci­ate a few plant stories…

Years ago when Ben­jamin was quite small our lives were overly-full with travel, jobs and just sur­viv­ing. We couldn’t seem to muster the energy for a proper Christ­mas tree so I re-purposed a good-sized Nor­folk Island Pine for the job, dec­o­rat­ing it with lights and orna­ments. Unfor­tu­nately, the tree was then top heavy, so we had to anchor it with one of Harry’s heavy run­ning shoes. Well, one morn­ing around 3 a.m. it all came a-tumbling down, spread­ing dirt and bro­ken orna­ments every­where. (Why is it things like this never hap­pen in the day­light hours?) Hap­pily, the tree sur­vived, but the dec­o­ra­tions did not.

Another plant story (sorta) comes to mind. We had a beau­ti­ful Bel­gian Mali­nois named Winifred. If you’re not sure what those are, they are the dogs you see bomb sniff­ing in air­ports. They look rather like small-ish Ger­man Shep­herds. Well, Winifred was going through a spell of intense gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tress. I had taken her to the vet­eri­nar­ian numer­ous times for exams, x-rays and blood­work. I fol­lowed all of the veterinarian’s rec­om­men­da­tions and still, she was hav­ing major dif­fi­cul­ties. I had assured the vet­eri­nar­ian that, no, Winifred did not get out­side and eat any­thing she shouldn’t have. Well, I was right about that.

One morn­ing at the height of the gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tress episode, I was out­side with Winifred on her morn­ing dis­tress call of nature. At the risk of your con­clud­ing that I have a poo fetish like my brother, I was exam­in­ing her poo and dis­cov­ered the prob­lem. It was absolutely FILLED with lit­tle peb­bles! They were the very same peb­bles that I had used in the bot­tom of a humid­ity tray for a box­wood top­i­ary! Winifred was eat­ing the plant’s rocks!

One more…

My son Ben­jamin is quite smart. But like many boys he doesn’t always do smart things. When he was 13 years old he acci­den­tally broke off a small part of an absolutely gor­geous cac­tus that I had sit­ting on the kitchen counter. Fas­ci­nated by the milky sub­stance ooz­ing from the plant’s wound, Ben decided to give it a lit­tle taste.

I wasn’t home at the time, but Ben appar­ently dis­cov­ered that the milky sub­stance was very very very HOT. Water wouldn’t put out the heat on his tongue. Milk wouldn’t put out the heat on his tongue. Pant­ing wouldn’t help. He suf­fered for quite a long time until the heat passed.

Really, we’re lucky the house­plant wasn’t poi­so­nous. But we still warn Ben “Don’t eat it! Just say no!” when­ever we see a cactus!

The plants you see here are a few of my favorites. I bought the Crown of Thorns for a cen­ter­piece for our wed­ding anniver­sary about four years ago. (My hus­band didn’t see the humor.) It didn’t bloom much after drop­ping its blooms the first time. But once I repot­ted the plant it has bloomed every since.

I adore the philo­den­dron and bam­boo by the red read­ing chair in my bed­room. I bought the bam­boo as a teeny tiny thing at Wal-Mart about two years ago. It’s amaz­ing how the lit­tle $2 plant has grown. And the philo­den­dron is amaz­ingly healthy climb­ing up a piece of wood for sup­port. (It’s on my list of things to do to re-pot this one as soon as I can find a nice pot.)

The suc­cu­lent is one I keep in the kitchen because I think it looks nice in con­trast with our farm­house table. The pot is one I found at the Desert Botan­i­cal Gar­den in Phoenix last year and had shipped home. When she saw it, a fam­ily friend asked “What? They don’t have vases in Maryland?”

So there you have it…some of my house­plants and plant sto­ries! They’re not much to look at right now but once my orchids are all bloom­ing at the same time again I’ll share those too.

Happy indoor gardening!

Posted In: House Plants

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Bzzzz December 31st, 2007

At our house we don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

Rather, we set annual goals and have a tra­di­tion of shar­ing all or some of them at our New Year’s din­ner. Many years we post them, or at least those we don’t mind shar­ing, on the refrig­er­a­tor as a daily reminder of what we wish to accom­plish in the com­ing months. There are some goals I don’t share with any­one, either because they are too per­sonal or because I’m sim­ply not ready to divulge some part of myself in this way.

I think it’s impor­tant to dis­tin­guish between goals and res­o­lu­tions. Res­o­lu­tions are black and white. You do it or don’t. You win or lose.

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Frankly, most peo­ple aren’t designed for res­o­lu­tions. It’s sim­ply too dif­fi­cult for most of us to sud­denly make a U-turn and start swim­ming in the oppo­site direc­tion against a well-established tide. That is, I think, why so many peo­ple who make res­o­lu­tions stum­ble around, oh, Jan­u­ary 6, and never show up at the gym again. Or they inhale a truck­load of Fritos and fig­ure they’re doomed.

Goals, on the other hand, take a longer view. Goals are things that you wish to achieve that need to be taken, per­haps, in steps—a bit at a time. If there is some­thing you wish to do that you can “just do,” such as finally clean­ing out the gar­den shed or dig­ging that new herb bor­der, that is not a goal. It’s some­thing that is on your “to do” list, but it is not a goal.

I am for­tu­nate enough to work with a group of con­sul­tants who spe­cial­ize in this type of plan­ning, so I’ve more or less inter­nal­ized the process of strate­gic plan­ning for orga­ni­za­tions and even adapted it for my own per­sonal planning.

Here’s a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of how it works:

First think about what you want to be. This takes some seri­ous think­ing and is prob­a­bly not some­thing that can be done in the heat of the moment on New Year’s Day. I reg­u­larly revisit this ques­tion on vaca­tions and dur­ing other down-times when I have the leisure of self-examination.

Ask your­self: What is it that I want to be known for, to be and have achieved in, say, the next 10 to 20 years? That may seem a bit of a far-fetched way to begin think­ing about annual goals, but it’s not really. With­out this long-term vision of what you want to be, you won’t be able to develop a plan to get there. It’s rather like going on a road trip with­out a des­ti­na­tion in mind. You end up doing a lot of things, but they may or may not be the right things. You might get to where you want to go—or you might not. A shock­ing num­ber of peo­ple don’t have a plan. But those who do achieve impres­sive things.

Here’s an exam­ple of how you might frame that type of state­ment about what you want to be:

I want to live a life that is peace­ful, socially respon­si­ble and beau­ti­ful and to leave behind a legacy for those val­ues when I am gone.”

Sounds great, right? But boy, that’s a tall order. How­ever will I do that?

Here’s the next step: Think about the things you must accom­plish within the next few months to get you closer to liv­ing this state­ment. What you come up with, then, are the goals. Many times it’s help­ful to put the goals into a frame­work of an out­come that describes an end-state.

For our exam­ple, some goals to get there might be:

–I min­i­mize my car­bon foot­print on the planet. –I sur­round myself with pos­i­tive, joy­ful peo­ple who share my inter­ests. –I have a home that seam­lessly blends indoors and out­doors in a gar­den that wel­comes friends and family.

    Get­ting the idea here? These are goals.

    The next step is to set objec­tives for each of these goals. Objec­tives get you closer to the action steps, but also indi­cate mile­stones or mea­sures that indi­cate what you need to do. Objec­tives are observ­able and often are measurable.

    Let’s take the goal of min­i­miz­ing my car­bon foot­print on the planet.

    Some observ­able and mea­sur­able objec­tives for this might be:

    –I reduce the num­ber of kilo­watts of elec­tric­ity used in our house­hold by 25%. –I rely less on con­sum­ing foods from far-away places by grow­ing and pre­serv­ing a third of our family’s veg­etable needs. –I reduce our household’s water needs by 20%.

      After you’ve iden­ti­fied these objec­tives, you can set the strate­gies that most of us are famil­iar with. These look like most people’s “to do” lists or resolutions.

      Some strate­gies for the objec­tives to reduce elec­tri­cal con­sump­tion above might be:

      –Replace incan­des­cent elec­tric bulbs with new energy-efficient bulbs. –Turn the water heater ther­mo­stat down five degrees. –Hang laun­dry out­side to dry when weather per­mits. –Turn the com­puter and other major appli­ances off at night. –Turn the heat ther­mo­stat down 3 or 4 degrees at night.

        Once you begin think­ing about how you want to live long-term the day-to-day activ­i­ties really do add up. Over time, it’s amaz­ing what you can accom­plish if you have a plan for how to get there.

        It’s like that old metaphor about how to eat an elephant—one bit at a time.

        One other note about plan­ning: Goals don’t con­ve­niently get achieved in 365 days. Some goals can take a life­time to achieve. And the beauty of the New Year is that it’s the per­fect annual reminder to revisit your goals, revise you goals, cross off goals that no longer seem rel­e­vant or impor­tant and add new ones.

        I hope this wasn’t all too aca­d­e­mic and that you can start think­ing about your own long-term goals with what­ever plan­ning sys­tem makes sense to you. There is more than one way to tackle the idea. For exam­ple, I notice that Carol at May Dream Gar­dens also out­lined a cool approach with the PLANT acronym.

        What­ever you do, I hope you don’t do what some­one I know and love said: “I don’t make res­o­lu­tions so I don’t dis­ap­point myself.” Sheesh. I’ll have to work on that fellow.

        Will I be pub­lish­ing my annual goals? Nosiree. But I will tell you that I’ve been very very good about my renewed work­out plan. The very stress-filled fall I had had a pos­i­tive side. It reminded me that I can’t take my health for granted–and that the older I get the harder I’ll have to work at it. It really is a part-time job.

        For every­one who has vis­ited (and read this far), I wish you a peace­ful and happy New Year!

        Posted In: Lifestyle

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