New Orleans Native Tree
By MG Calla Victoria
Mardi Gras Bead Tree
There are trees in New Orleans that bloom once each year. Sometimes it happens between January and February, or between February and March. This year the big event will take place between February and March. Now these trees are of no particular genus (plant family) oh no they can be oak trees, palm trees, crepe myrtles, pine, or almost any other tree that you can think of. The major proliferations of these mysterious trees are along the parade routes like down St. Charles Avenue, up Canal Street, along Carrollton Avenue, Orleans Avenue, Napoleon Avenue, and Magazine Street. But some are finding their way into other areas of the city. These trees, common name the Mardi Gras bead trees, botanical name (Le Bonton rulaius), start to show color as the parade season gets underway. And continue to reveal more treasures and the season persists.
Although prevalent along the parade routes in New Orleans, many of these trees are finding their way into other areas of the city. Residents, like me, who don’t live along a parade route, feel that we should not be deprived of these wonderful and rare trees. To that end residents go to the parades, and then adorn the trees in their front yard with their catches creating their own Mardi Gras trees. You can even find them on college campuses where the students bestow the honor of Mardi Gras Bead tree to a designated tree and as they get back on campus laden down with trinkets from the parades, they enjoy tossing them onto the tree. Mardi Gras bead trees are the focus of this article as it is a gardening article. However there are other phenomenon that surface along with the Mardi Gras trees. There bead fences, bead porches and bead balconies as well.
Happy Mardi Gras!
Article published in Data News Weekly's February 22-28, 2014 edition
Decking Your Garden
for the Holidays
By MG Calla Victoria
You do not have to wait for nightfall, when the holiday lights come on, to make your garden
look festive. Colorful plantings for the season will make your garden look beautiful throughout
the daytime hours. Consider planting drifts of chrysanthemums in coordinating colors.
If you are not living in a “White Christmas” zone, create the most fragrant snowdrifts around with
the white sweet alyssums.
Poinsettias will make a splash anywhere in your garden as well as bromeliads.
Bromeliad wreath Bromeliad colorful wall hanging
Also consider planting in geometric shapes with pansies for some whimsy!
Rows of pansies
The images below are from the Dubai Magic Gardens, it is always a good idea
to look at large landscaping displays that can be scaled down to fit your green space.
Have a happy holiday and remember the true reason for this season!
Bonsai-Gardening in Small Places
By MG Calla Victoria
Do you love gardening but are short on space, then by all means consider Bonsai. This ancient Japanese art form consists of miniature trees grown in containers. Bonsai, pronounced bone-sigh, is defined as plantings in a tray. Bon means a tray or low-sided pot, and Sai means a planting or plantings, hence the term Bonsai. The most common bonsai are made using evergreen trees like junipers and Chinese elm, but I prefer the flowering bonsai like bougainvillea, and wisteria to name a few. I took a bonsai class a while back and we did azalea bonsai and I love mine when it is in bloom. It looks like a little gnarly mutant tree bursting with pink blossoms. There are bonsai societies in most cities, and they do offer classes. And for the fee you learn basic bonsai, and you walk away with a bonsai plant that you created.
Wisteria Japanese Elm
Almost any tree or woody shrub can be a bonsai even fruit trees. It is important however to take into
consideration the tree’s specific needs, if it is evergreen or not, will it grow well in your specific zone, etc.
The art of bonsai consists of:
a. Selecting your plant material, and deciding how tall you want your tree at
maturity. Bonsai can be as small as 3 inches tall or up to three feet tall.
b. Training the branches and shaping your tree. This process is completed by first observing the existing branching and shape of the plant material, then removing some branches to create space, and finally training the remaining branches to form the shape you want. Heavy gauge wire is wrapped around the branches to shape and bend them into the desired form. To maintain your bonsai does entail a lot of pruning and patience. There are specific tools required in the pruning process, you can find kits online.
c. Selecting your bonsai pot or tray, the deeper the pot the larger the plant will grow. So if you want a very small tree then select a very shallow pot. If the pot/tray does not have drain holes you will have to drill some. It is also recommended that you place a drip/humidity tray under the bonsai pot to protect your furniture as the bonsai pot will have holes in it. Place gravel or rocks in the drip tray and leave a little water in it at all times, this will create a constant humid environment for the bonsai.
d. Removing part of the root system from the well rooted plant. And by removing, I mean slicing off the
bottom portion of the roots. The purpose of removing the bottom half of the root system is two-fold.
First of all it will dwarf the growth of the tree, and secondly your new bonsai has to fit into one of those cutesy shallow bonsai dishes/trays. If you have a plant in a 6-inch deep pot, and you purchased a 2-inch deep bonsai tray; you will need to cut four inches from the bottom of the root system for the plant to fit the bonsai tray.
e. Potting your bonsai in a very well drained potting mix because you do not want your plant to drown
by taking up too much water.
Typically bonsai should be kept outdoors. Remember that although miniature, they are still trees therefore equipped to live outside. Bonsai require 5 hours of direct or indirect sunlight daily. Lowlight plants and shrubs will be lowlight bonsai. My bonsai stays outside year around and faces the west, so it gets tons of sun.
The Japanese art of Bonsai is fascinating to say the least. I think what is most amazing to me is, as a gardener, we are always trying to preserve the roots of a plant, but in bonsai they just whack off most of the roots and the plant is just fine. Also, as gardeners, we always want to make sure that we are planting deep enough, especially where trees are concerned. However, in the art of bonsai, two to three inches of soil is more than enough to sustain a tree. Nature is phenomenal and plants ability to conform and survive leaves me in awe!
By MG Calla Victoria
Let’s talk north, south, east, and west with your garden. It is imperative to know which direction your garden beds are facing with respects for new plant purchases. Perhaps you see a plant that you like, and you want to plant it in a certain spot in your garden. You have to make sure that the care needs of that plant material matches up with what is going on in the spot you wish to plant it. Perhaps the care tag for the plant material in question says part-sun to shade, while the area that you had in mind in your garden faces south, which is definitely full sun exposure, the plant will burn up because its needs are not being met. So first and foremost you should plot out our garden with a compass, unless you have a sundial or have definite sun conditions to pull from. This is not a big deal for northerners who use directions like north, south, east, and west all of the time. But coming for the south, particularly New Orleans, where we say backatown (towards the Lake/north), frontatown (towards the river/south), uptown (above Canal Street/west), and downtown (below Canal Street/east). And for streets that run perpendicular to Canal Street we ask, “Do you live on the lakeside (north) of the street or the river (south) side of the street?” So moving to a northern climate I was confused when someone would say turn east on Outer Drive or go West on Michigan. My response was always, “Can you just say turn left or right?” But because of living up north I learned the universal directions yall!
We all know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so in the morning when the sun rises, wherever the sun is shining brightest is facing East. And if you face east, then your right shoulder will be facing south, your left shoulder facing north, and west would be behind you.
North-Gives the least amount of natural sunlight, therefore plant your shade-loving plant materials in that area. A great indicator of north facing areas is the appearance of moss, which will only grow in shady damp places. My south facing flower bed faces my neighbor’s (who lives on the right side of my home) north-facing flower bed. In my bed I have roses and other wonderful blooming shrubs that love the sun, while my neighbor can only grow hostas, and moss just seems to appear. Shade-loving plants cannot protect themselves from the ultra-violate rays of the sun. (Shade)
Full Shade-Look for this on north facing walls or under trees with low branches and dense leaves. No sun can reach the ground.
Partial Shade-Look for this in areas that get direct morning sun usually on the east side of the garden.
Light Shade/dappled shade-Under trees with sparse foliage.
Part Sun-Mostly sunny most of the day.
Full Sun-These areas of the garden receive direct sunlight for at least 6 hours per day.
Those are the major light concerns that you should be concerned with in your garden. However there are other variables in the equation to be considered. You may have a huge tree sitting in the full-sun southern exposure of your garden. It will cause shade in an otherwise sunny location, so you can consider under-planting around that tree with shade-loving plant materials.
After plotting out your garden based on sun exposure, it is always necessary to re-evaluate the situation every six months. Some areas that were full sun where you planted a tree seedling will definitely change as the tree gets larger, now what was full-sun is now at the very least a part-sun situation because of the branching of the tree. Other variables can cause shade in an otherwise sunny spot in your garden as well. Say you build a greenhouse or shed, that structure will obstruct the sun and cast shade in your garden. Perhaps your neighbor puts in a large shade tree, or an extension onto their home, each scenario will change the light situation in your garden.
Fall Planting 2013
By MG Calla Victoria
When should you start planting your cool weather crops? Start planting cool weather crops when it becomes consistantly cool in your planting zone. In many northen states that time is mid to late August. While in zone 9B and above that could be late October to November. Just because you see cool weather veggies at your local nursery, it does not mean that it is time to plant them for a successful crop in your zone.
Now when the temperature has dipped, it is the time to plan your fall planting of veggies and ornamentals. The first step as always, with any and all planting, is to prepare the soil. Remove weeds, old roots etc., and till the soil. Sprinkle a light dusting of lime and till it into the soil. Lime (calcium carbonate) is the most common soil preparation. It supplies calcium to the soil, and makes soils less acidic. If you plan on growing any plant material that prefers acidic soils like azaleas , don't apply lime in those areas. After amending the soil with the lime allow the lime to do its job for one week, then start planting. I always suggest mixing in ornamentals in with your cool weather crops because some veggies are not that aesthetic, and you will have color in your garden before the veggies start to bloom.
Of course pansies and mums are great cool weather performers in the garden. Pansies look great nestled in with the veggies, and their petals are edible and lovely sprinkled over a salad. Aside from the old standbys, there are some new petunia varieties like Supertunia Phantom Black that bloom from November through May.
Supertunia Phantom Black
Many herbs including parsley (flat Italian or curled), sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, lavender, cilantro, and mint are cool weather crops. Plant them near your back door for quick access, and within a few weeks you will be rewarded with the freshest flavors for autumn meals. Broccoli is one of my favorite cool weather plants, its healthy for you and makes the most amazing foliage. Arugula is a type of tangy lettuce, but it also makes hundreds of amazing fragrant blooms it you let it go to seed. All kinds of lettuce are cool weather crops, and red lettuce is tasty as well as colorful in the garden. But the most colorful of all cool weather crops is swiss chard. Its vibrant red-orange foliage and bright stems are a show-stopper. Cabbage is very easy to grow and looks great with their big heads popping up next to some colorful blooms. Other cool weather vegetables are kales, onions, and some carrot varieties. I must say that there is nothing more gratifying than picking fresh veggies from your own garden and making a meal. So add a little kitchen to your garden, and a little garden to your kitchen!
Fall is also the best time to plant woody shrubs and trees so that their roots can mature and become strong while the rest of the plant is dormant.
Essence of Plants
By MG Calla Victoria
When you are splashing on your favorite perfume or cologne do you ever stop to think that the scent you are enjoying came from plants? Everything from soaps, aromatherapy products, perfumes, colognes, detergents, most of the teas you drink, and flavoring for many of the foods we eat come from plants; and their essences or essential oils are what gives your shampoos, lotions, cosmetics and face creams their fragrance. All perfumes consist of three notes, the top/head note, middle/heart notes, and base notes; and all of the notes come from the plant world in the form of oil. Oil is essential in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent or essence, of a plant for use in numerous applications. The more concentrated the scent the more expensive the product. Pure perfumes are distributed in small quantities and are very expensive because they carry the pure essential oils of plant materials. Colognes are cheaper because the essential oils have been watered down so you get more products for less cash. So, of course when you get down to items like mouthwash and food flavoring the price becomes nominal. The essence of flowers and leaves are extracted by various methods including distillation and pressing to harvest the oils. Tea Tree oil comes from the tea tree, (Melaleuca alternifolia), ylang ylang comes from the ylang ylang bush (Cananga odorata).
Flower from the Ylang Ylang bush otherwise
known as the Chanel #5 flower.
The vanilla flavor comes from the vanilla bean which grows on the vanilla orchid vine (Vanilla planifolia). Frankincense comes from the frankincense tree (Boswellia sacra), and myrrh comes from the myrrh tree (Commiphora myrrha). And the citronella candles and oils that we burn to repel mosquitos come from the citronella plant (Pelargonium graveolens Citrosa), also called the mosquito plant. Many plant essences are used for medicinal purposes. Echinacea which is recommended during cold season comes from the Echinacea flower. The Eucalyptus leaf is used for infections, fever, to help loosen coughs, and is one of the main ingredients in Vicks Vapor Rub. And if you are not downwith the pink stuff, Ginger Ale has always been a mainstay for upset stomachs. Vernors Ginger Ale, made in Detroit and America’s first soft drink, and Canada Dry Ginger Ale are of course made from the root of the ginger plant. So the next time that you are enjoying a shower or bath with fragrant body wash, pampering yourself with an aromatherapy massage, enjoying the fresh scent come from plug-ins in your home, chilling out in a room filled with intoxicating incense, brushing your teeth, using mouthwash, luxuriating in your favorite perfume, splashing on aftershave, or drinking a fruity drink; think of plants because their essences are all around us.
This article was printed in Data News Weekly's Essence Music Festival Special Edition dated
July 6, 2013. ladatanews.com
Glorious Palm Trees
By MG Calla Victoria
No other single plant evokes the since of tropical islands and paradise more than a palm tree. Unlike other trees that branch out from the sides, all palm
trees have what are called terminal buds at the very top of their textured trunks and the palm fronds (branches) radiate from there. So what you see is a tall majestic ornate trunk and atop the trunk is a burst of greenery resembling a crown, hence the reason that palm trees are associated with royalty and Palm Trees (Palmaceae) have been termed the princes of the vegetable kingdom.
In ancient times palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple. The fronds of Palm trees were laid before Christ during His triumphant entrance to the holy city of Jerusalem, and waved before Him. Beautiful palm trees have also inspired Dubai (one of the world's wealthiest cities) to make man-made islands in the shapes of palm trees just off the coast of the city.
One of the Palm Islands in Dubai
Palms are evergreen, mostly tropical plants in the family Palmae (also known as
Arecaceae). There are over 230 genera (classifications) and 2500 species of palms and
most are tree-like, with single trunks and either fan shaped (palmate) or feather shaped
(pinnate) compound leaves. For identification purposes palm trees can be divided into
two those major groups: Those that have palmate or fan-shaped leaves; and those that
have pinnate, or feather-shaped leaves. The palmate-leaved species are characterized
by a leaf structure in which all leaf segments arise from a single point, similar to the
structure of a human hand. One of my favorite palms in the palmate group is the
Bismarck Palm (Bismarckia nobilis). If you are looking for drama in the landscape, look
no further tan this specimen. Its massive fan-shaped fronds are sliver and numerous, the
Bismarck is definitely a show-stopper.
Pinnate leaves are characterized by leaves along each side of a central axis, similar
in design to that of a feather. Some palm trees are fruit-bearing like the Phoenix
dactylifera, or the true date palm that gives us delicious dried fruit, and the coconut
palm(also, cocoanut), Cocos nucifera. The term coconut can refer to the entire
coconut palm, while the seed or the fruit, which, botanically, is a drupe not a nut.
One of my favorite palms in the pannate grouping is the Canary Island Date Palm
(Phoenixcanariensis) which is also known as the Pineapple Palm because of the unique
pineapple shape of its thick, single, upright trunk topped with a crown of 8 to 15-foot-
long stiff fronds with extremely sharp spines on the tips. As with most palms, this tree
can get very tall; fortunately it is very slow-growing and will take a considerable amount
of time to reach its 50 to 60-foot-height. I can attest to the slow-growing nature of the
Pineapple Palm as when I planted one in myfront yard back in 2007, it just sat there for
about a year and a half not doing a darn thing! It just sat there in the middle of the lawn
just about two feet high and about one foot wide just happy. It really did not start doing
anything until the Spring of 2009, and now it is massive.
The root system of palm trees is slender and does not expand, therefore they will not
damage concrete walkways and house foundations as some other trees do. However the
the roots can extend out laterally as far as the leaf-span of the fronds in search of water, so
know that although palm trees are easy to plant, they can be a nightmare to remove. Also
when buying palm trees remember that you are buying an infant plant, so make sure that
you know how tall the tree will get at maturity because many palms can soar up to 60 feet
Palm trees make a great statement both indoors and outdoors. Think of palm trees to
add height, color, texture, and drama to your landscape.
This article was published in Data News Weekly's June 21-27, 2013 edition.
Check out my "Gardening Tip of the Week."