Gardening Is Cheaper Than Therapy, Pt. 1

June 19, 2011

The subtitle to this is “The Cactus Friend“, inspired by the painting by Carl Spitzweg. I want to show off my spreading collection of succulents outside my front door, before presenting my indoor greens.

My interest in gardening began in late March, from two separate flashes of inspiration. The first was a scientific article explaining how keeping a plant on your desk is good for your health. The second was a picture on Twitter from a person I follow, showing off enough houseplants to turn a room into a jungle.  I wanted that, too.

The succulents were an early, easy choice. I live in Arizona; it’s too damn hot and sunny for many plants. I could keep the ferns and ivies and whatever inside, and line up the cacti on the walk. The succulents can take the heat, and the sun, and I have to water them only occasionally. Obviously, I have had better luck with these plants than the indoor ones. My thumb was not green so much as black, when I began.

The factors that led me to bring home this plant and not this one (other than price, of course; I am not made of money): color, shape, size, care level, and name. I like round shapes anyway, so some of these were automatic buys. Others had such unusual or bizarre appearances that I had to bring one home. I am an odd creature myself, and surrounding myself with a freak show of plants is just flattering. I wanted green things, because they should look like plants (and not coral heads or organs, like the brain cactus). And finally, regarding names, anything with a food reference is a strong appeal to me.

So, here they are, and some background info you may or may not find interesting:

My first purchase was a Golden Barrel Cactus. Many of my first cactus finds were at the farmers market, which were cheap and close at hand, but lacking in variety. Just the sort of addition a beginner would make. I bought another Barrel Cactus on the first trip, as well. Same size and round shape, which I like, with some color, a pleasing addition.

Next was this Thimble Cactus, and an aloe vera, both from the farmers market. Now I was adding some variety to my new garden. The last plant I brought home from the farmers market was another little round succulent, a Notocactus.

A few weeks later, the wife took me to Lowe’s, and one stroll through the garden center had me hooked. Here was variety like I hadn’t imagined. How could I have been so dull with my collection? The enormous variety of plants, the colors, the shapes, the names—it was like a boy entering a candy store for the first time. I could have spent hours just eyeballing the different specimens. I wanted to know the names; I wanted to compare the colors. Some came in tiny 1-inch pots; others were gallon-sized. Some were hanging plants, trailing vines or limbs over the rim of the pot. Now that would look nice in the kitchen. Automatically, I began to compare and contrast.

This is when my interest in the names peaked. There’s the string-of-pearls, which looks like a mound of green  jewelry. Another, called Watch Chain, looked just like its namesake. Crown of  Thorns. Hen and Chicks. Hindu Rope. Prayer Plant. Christmas Tree Cactus. Octopus  Plant. I was browsing gardening websites, and laughed out loud at the  Drunkard’s Dream—this stick-shaped plant has stems shaped like whiskey bottles. This was much more fun than long Latin classifications.

So I started bringing some home.

The Crown of Thorns has a dramatic name, and even its own legend detailing how the crown Christ wore on the cross was made of this plant (ouch!). While it was blooming, little red petals appeared at the top of the stems. It reminded me of a mafioso wearing a red flower in the lapel of his pinstripe suit—a little flair on something otherwise tough and spare.

My undying interest in food led me to bring home some oddities: the Jellybean Plant (its candy-shaped leaves turn red under bright sunlight); and a Flapjacks (I like this one for the name; the shape and color of the leaves would never remind me of pancakes otherwise).

The latest addition is a succulent called Key Lime Pie. Sure, it looks more like something out of a Caribbean reef, but the color and shape suggests slices of pie (maybe if you squint hard).

And then there’s the freak show, those lucky finds I wasn’t expecting, or even had a clue such unique plants existed.

First was a Zebra Cactus, then a String-of-Buttons (I think; the only label on the pot was “ASSORTED FOLIAGE” and I haven’t bothered to analyze Latin names), both from Fry’s. This was before I was bowled over by the selection at Lowe’s.

The best I found at Lowe’s, at least as if this writing (because you know I will get more), is the Eve’s Needle, or Eve’s Pin plant. Looking at this specimen, I was reminded of video games I played when I was younger: giant worms rising up from the ground to attack the heroes. The pink blooming flower just adds to the plant’s offbeat appeal.

For something a little less grotesque, there’s the Vera Higgins plant, also called Alpenglow (because the leaves turn red at sunrise and sunset, and the plant grows on mountainsides):

And a Blue Chalk Sticks, another example of a plant with a WYSIWYG name:

Also outside are some more familiar greens. The wife, finding the garden idea agreeable, wanted me to be practical, as well.

On a whim, she bought an upside-down tomato planter at the drugstore. The instructions said the plant will bear fruit in 90 days or so, which should be soon.

I also planted eggplant and cucumber for her, in long planters she bought at Lowe’s. The table I found at Goodwill. You didn’t think I was going to spend some big bucks on new outdoor furniture, did you?

Now that summer has  really begun, and  the daily temperature slowly climbs above 100 degrees, I’m very interested to see how these greens will fare. But that’s for another post. Next up is all the growing things I have indoors.

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