“Hairy Balls”- A Different Kind of Milkweed

I love arranging with “Hairy Balls” for a unique centerpiece
Hairy Balls starting to form tennis ball size  pods

Visitors looking over my garden in the fall, always ask what the strange-looking plant is that is forming large hairy pods. Growing in my veggie garden, because of the amount of space the plants take, my Gymnocarpus physocarpa, or “Hairy Balls” are a conversation starter. A Milkweed family member, another common name is Balloon Plant. Native to South Africa, this plant is an invasive in tropical climates, but in my zone 6-7 area, winter cold keep it in check.

Hairy Balls in full glory

Here are some facts about this amazing plant:

  • Fast growing annual Milkweed, hardy in zones 8-10
  • Can sustain lots of munching monarch caterpillars late season
  • Nectar source for monarch butterflies
  • Long stems with pods make beautiful table centerpiece
  • Last viable Milkweed species before fall frost
  • Start seeds at least 6-8 weeks inside; easy to germinate in about a week
  • Flowers aren’t super showy, but still attractive
  • Fewer pollinators use this than native Milkweed
  • Pinch back the plant to make it bushier and with a stronger stem
  • Place in the rear of a border as it can top off at 6 feet and may require staking
  • The pods become ripe when they turn a tan color and burst open with the fuzzy seeds
  • I save some seeds for planting in early spring in my greenhouse
The single flowers are pendulous instead of a large ball of flowers in the common Milkweed

Though some people have told me that monarch caterpillars have ignored their Hairy Balls, I found at least a dozen of them on my plants at once.

You can see the white substance on the pod at the bottom which is why these plants are called Milkweed

When all of my common Milkweeds are done,  Hairy Balls Milkweed is going gangbusters into October and ending with our first hard frost. I have had these plants look good up to Halloween with active caterpillars.

The ripe balls turn tan and burst open with seeds

Starting these seeds in my greenhouse in early March is essential to Hairy Balls producing the balloon shaped pods by the end of the summer. For most of the summer, these plants grow up and branch out and then August/September hits and the pods start to appear after a flush of small dangling flowers.

The nondescript flowers start forming pods in September
Split a hairy Ball open and you will find hundreds of seeds

For my monarch populations, this Milkweed is important as it still is standing with plenty of foliage late into the summer/early fall. My other common Milkweed are totally denuded and finished when Hairy Balls hits its stride. For my post on other milkweeds, go to Got Milk….Weed? and Plant Milkweed for Monarchs. 

Common Milkweed has very different flowers and pods
Common Milkweed have long narrow pods

Plant Oddity – Pumpkin On A Stick

Use pumpkin on a stick in fall displays

Halloween is around the corner and people are starting to decorate with the many types of pumpkins available at the farmer’s market. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes of pumpkins, but I am in love with a diminutive one, which actually isn’t a real pumpkin, but an eggplant., specifically Ornamental Eggplant, (Solanum Integrifolium). For different types of real pumpkins, go to my Pumpkin Eye Candy post.

Pumpkin on a Stick seed packet at Botanical Interests

Ornamental or Food?

Falling in the eggplant family, the little pumpkins, Solanum integrifolium, are not really pumpkins, but an ornamental used in stir-fried Asian dishes. I grow this cute ornamental jack-o-lantern for jazzing up my Thanksgiving table and fall flower arrangements as it dries nicely and lasts a long time.

Native to Southeast Asia, it grows 3 to 4 feet tall with very large fuzzy leaves that grow from a purple thorny stem. It towers over other eggplants in my garden and the plant looks remarkably like Bed of Nails or Solanum quitoense, profiled in Plant Geek Alert.

Bed of Nails

Culture

Around for over 125 years which makes it an official heirloom vegetable, it has also been called Pumpkin Tree and Pumpkin Bush. Planted directly in full sun in your garden, the plant needs steady moisture and benefits from regular fertilizing as it grows large fast. Pretty soon, the insignificant blooms appear, followed by pale green nubby fruit that turn into their final pumpkin ribbed shape a few weeks later. Insects like to gnaw on the leaves as you can see but deer and rabbits leave it alone because of the wicked thorns.

Started from seed in my greenhouse, by early spring, the plants (with stakes) grow quickly and are ready to plant in the garden as soon as we are frost free
Pumpkin on a Stick growing in my veggie garden has thorns and can get tall (3-4 ft tall)

Harvesting

In late summer, the fruit changes to a scarlet color and when frosts start to hit, the eggplants turn their final rich orange color. You can harvest up to a dozen pumpkins on one plant. When you pick a stem of pumpkins for fresh use, cut the stems and use as is. If you want to dry the pumpkins, hang the entire stalk upside down in a cool dry location, removing leaves. This treatment prevents the fruits from sagging. Fruits will shrivel and the orange color will intensify. For eating, pick the fruits when orange and use in stir-fries.

Cutting my pumpkin on a stick plants
Remove all the leaves and hang to dry
Available in the fall at trader Joe’s

Pumpkin on a stick at the wholesale florist

Growing Gourdzilla Champion Pumpkins

Seen at a local nursery
Seen at a local nursery, Valley View Farms

The Growing

Growing titanic orbs or gourds is a competitive cut throat sport. Less than 20 years ago, the heaviest (official) pumpkin weighed a mere 403 pounds. Now in 2016 the one ton mark has been surpassed. That is a lot of pumpkin, not to mention how do you move one that size?? With a fork lift and pickup truck at the very least, so this is not something that any home grower can do without a lot of help.

From Dill's Farm with permission
From Dill’s Farm with permission

But thousands of hopeful growers are hauling their giant squashes into farm and county fairs in search of that coveted blue ribbon for the heaviest pumpkin. Some of the mammoth pumpkins weigh as much as a compact car! The current world-record pumpkin weighed in at 2,323 lb and was grown by Beni Meier of Switzerland in 2014, authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) in Ludwigsburg, listed on Guinness World Records.

A blue ribbon winner from Dill's Atlantic Giant with peremission
A blue ribbon winner from Dill’s Atlantic Giant with permission

Champion pumpkin growers have their own methods and secrets that they guard closely in hopes of breaking the record books one more time. Because now big cash prizes are attached to those blue ribbons.

Imagine moving something this size!
Imagine moving something this size!

Start Right-Good Genetics

The most important step in growing a champion is getting the right seeds and these aren’t available at just any seed packet display. High pedigree hybrid seeds are necessary which are bought and sold between serious growers, and can cost from $10 to $100 or more per seed. Dill’s Atlantic Giant is the granddaddy of most giant pumpkins, which is  available from Dill’s Farm in Nova Scotia. Dills’ Farm is the home and farm of the late Howard Dill, developer of the “Dill’s Atlantic Giant”, the World’s Largest Pumpkin Variety. Three hundred to 500-pound specimens are routinely grown with this variety, but there is a lot of TLC that goes into the making of a champion.

Dills' Farm even has a Pumpkin Regatta!
Dills’ Farm even has a Pumpkin Regatta! With permission from Dill’s Farm

According to Dill’s Giant Pumpkin website,

DILL’S ATLANTIC GIANT is the grand-daddy of all giant pumpkins. The present day record, for this variety is an amazing 2009 lbs (913 kg) and it is common for the variety to produce 400- 500 pound (180-230 kg) fruit consistently. Used mainly for fall fairs and International pumpkin competitions that are becoming increasingly more popular around the world. Also perfect for huge jack o’lanterns and fall displays! Fruit colours, vary from yellow to orange and the skin is slightly rough. Days to maturity-130.”

Pumpkin in field at Dill's Farm in Nova Scotia, used with permission
Pumpkin in field at Dill’s Farm in Nova Scotia, used with permission

Obtaining the proper seeds is truly the “secret” to growing huge pumpkins and are available at specialty companies and growers such as Dill’s Farm, and on Ebay.

Squash blossom being pollinated by a bee
Pumpkin blossom being pollinated by a bee

Work, Work, and More Work to Produce a Champion

This is an endeavor that starts not in the spring, but in the fall preceding planting your pumpkin. Ground preparation with lots of organic material tilled under begins when the leaves start to turn. Full sun with a minimum of 400 square feet is essential and forget about taking a vacation while the pumpkins are growing, because the plant requires constant tending. This is not simple thing. Among the tasks confronting a serious grower is daily pruning, removing excess pumpkins, pollinating, rotating the gourd, watering, fertilizing, setting up a temporary cold frame over tender plants, soaking and filing the seeds for better germination, applying fungicides and pesticides, and the list goes on and on. Not for the typical sunny day gardener!

There are all types of pumpkins
There are all types of pumpkins

Splitsville, Oh No!

The pumpkin can gain 20 to 40 pounds a day during high summer. And that puts stress on the stem and the biggest calamity of all, splits! Once a fissure or rupture has occurred, the grower might as well hang it up and hope that he has another vine to fall back on. Literally, the grower devotes a whole year of his/her life to this endeavor and the day the pumpkin develops a fatal split, he has to wait until next year to start all over again.

A whale of a pumpkin seen at Valley View Farms
A whale of a pumpkin seen at Valley View Farms

It’s Expensive

You can sink a lot of money into this highly competitive sport – from foliar nutrients, specialized sprinklers, beneficial soil inoculants, miniature cold frames, and other tools to help you grow that record breaker. And once you have a mammoth sitting in your garden, then you have to harvest it and it isn’t just a matter of cutting the stem and bringing the pumpkin into the house. There is a company that markets giant pumpkin lifting rings or slings for “lifting the gold” that can run up to $400. This is not a cheap hobby. However, to buy a ready-made giant can set you back at least $500(see below). My best guess on weight for this is around 900- 1000 pounds. I wonder if they deliver?

I saw this giant pumpkin, weight unknown, at Terrain for $500
I saw this giant pumpkin, weight unknown, at Terrain for $500

Final Reward-Winning a Blue Ribbon

But if you are successful at fighting back the weeds, insects, and splits that can attack at any point, you can enter at one of the many pumpkin contests around the country and take home a prize of thousands of dollars. Considering the many problems  and uncertainties that can strike without warning (think hail storm!), I think I will settle for carving or decorating pumpkins. See my post on embellishing pumpkins at Pumpkin Treats.

Angry Pumpkin
Angry Pumpkin
I will stick to decorating pumpkins
I will stick to decorating pumpkins

 

Rotten Botany-Stinky Wonders of the Plant World

Corpse Flower in full bloom
Corpse Flower in full bloom

Blooming flowers brings to mind sweet-smelling blooms, not repulsive odors, but there are quite a few flowers that fall into the later category. Carrion flowers, also known as corpse flowers or stinking flowers, emit odors that smell like rotting flesh. The blossoms attract mostly scavenging flies and beetle as pollinators. So even the pollinators are odd and different. The flowers may even trap the insects temporarily to ensure the transfer of pollen. Attracting beetles, flies, and other pollinators is the purpose of the decaying flesh odor and without fail, the flowers are interesting and beautiful in their own unique way.

Bud of the Titan Arum
Bud of the Titan Arum

Titan Arum

The Titan Arum, Amorphophalus titanum, has a massive bell-shaped flower almost 9 feet in height, on record as the tallest flower in the world.   During bloom, the tip of the spadix which is the long structure emerging from the center, is around 98 degrees F, which helps the perfume disperse, which in turns attracts carcass-eating insects. According to Wikipedia, “Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the “stench” includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid(sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol(sweet floral scent), phenol (like Chloraseptic), and indole (like human feces)”. Quite a mix!

Titan Arum, from Wikipedia
Titan Arum, from Wikipedia

After flowering, a single shoot emerges in the place of the blossom, which is the size of a small tree, standing up to 30 feet tall and 15 feet across. The plant grows from a corm (like a bulb) which weighs up to 150 pounds and is native to the equatorial rain forests of  Sumatra. Imagine encountering this plant in the wild!

Growing for 7 to 10 years, before blooming for just 3 days, the flower will open quickly when it is ready, about 3 inches per half hour. Sought after by botanical gardens around the world because of the numbers of visitors flocking to see it, the flower is incredible in person. I had the opportunity to see it first hand at the Floral Showcase in Niagara Falls last summer and was blown away by the sheer size of the bud.

Closed bud of Arum Titan at Toronto Floral Showcase
Closed bud of Arum Titan at Toronto Floral Showcase

Stapelia

Stapelias are also known as carrion flowers and are small, spineless, cactus-like succulent plants. Usually grown as potted plants, the flowers are hairy and generate the odor of rotten flesh. The color of the flowers also mimics rotting meat, which again attracts flies and beetles-no surprise there! The flowers in some species are quite large, notably Stapelia gigantea which can reach 12 inches in diameter.

I have grown these for years as houseplants and the flies flock to the flowers when open and they really do stink with a foul odor.

Stinky Stapelia is a succulent
Stinky Stapelia is a succulent

Dutchman’s Pipe

Dutchman's Pipe
Dutchman’s Pipe

If you are looking for a striking vining plant, try a Dutchman’s Pipe or Pelican Flower (Aristolochia macrophylla) or Pipe Vine. The plant is a woody vine that produces flowers shaped like curved pipes and large heart-shaped leaves hardy to zones 8 to 10. Again, the flowers attract pollinating flies with their foul odor and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Usually growing 10 to 15 feet long, you need a trellis or other support. The large heart-shaped leaves alternate along a woody stem. Tinged a plum color with speckles, the flowers appear in late spring and early summer.

The flower uses an ingenious way for pollinators, usually flies, to enter and prevents the flies from exiting until the pollen actually has been released within the base of the flower. See this great video by Janet Draper, Smithsonian horticulturist explaining the mechanism.

Once used as an aid to childbirth because of its resemblance to a human fetus the appearance has led to another of the vine’s names, birthwort. Aristolochia  is a potent carcinogen and kidney toxin, so the plant is very toxic. But because of this property, the pipe vine is a host plant for many butterfly species, including the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, thus making themselves unpalatable to most predators.

135
Dutchman’s Pipe growing in greenhouse

Gourdzilla!! Growing Champion Pumpkins

Seen at a local nursery
Seen at a local nursery

The Growing

Growing titanic orbs or gourds is a competitive cut throat sport. As recently as 16 years ago, the heaviest (official) pumpkin weighed a mere 403 pounds. Now in 2015 the one ton mark has been surpassed. That is a lot of pumpkin, not to mention how do you move one that size?? With a fork lift and pickup truck at the very least, so this is not something that any home grower can do. Champion pumpkin growers have their own methods and secrets that they guard closely in hopes of breaking the record books one more time.

Imagine moving something this size!
Imagine moving something this size!

Start Right-Good Genetics

The most important step in growing a champion is getting the right seeds and these aren’t available at any nursery. Refining the genetic makeup for years, dedicated and obsessed growers have developed more superior strains than are available at the local nursery on their seed packet displays. Atlantic Giant is a variety that is available from Botanical Interests but if you search the web you can find all kinds.

Atlantic Giant Pumpkin is a huge variety that most people start with
Atlantic Giant Pumpkin is a huge variety that most people start with

According to Dill’s Giant Pumpkin website,

DILL’S ATLANTIC GIANT is the grand-daddy of all giant pumpkins. The present day record, for this variety is an amazing 2009 lbs (913 kg) and it is common for the variety to produce 400- 500 pound (180-230 kg) fruit consistently. Used mainly for fall fairs and International pumpkin competitions that are becoming increasingly more popular around the world. Also perfect for huge jack o’lanterns and fall displays! Fruit colours, vary from yellow to orange and the skin is slightly rough. Days to maturity-130.”

 

Obtaining the proper seeds is truly the “secret” to growing huge pumpkins and are available at specialty companies and growers, and on Ebay.

Squash blossom being pollinated by a bee
Squash blossom being pollinated by a bee

Work, Work, and More Work to Produce a Champion

Ground preparation with lots of organic material tilled under begins in the fall. Full sun with a minimum of 400 square feet is required and forget about taking a vacation while the pumpkins are growing, because the plant requires constant tending. Among the tasks confronting a serious grower is daily pruning, removing excess pumpkins, pollinating, rotating the gourd, watering, fertilizing, setting up a temporary cold frame over tender plants, soaking and filing the seeds for better germination, applying fungicides and pesticides, and the list goes on and on. Not for the typical sunny day gardener!

Pumpkin blossoms are large

Splitsville, Oh No!

The pumpkin can gain 20 to 40 pounds a day during high summer. And that puts stress on the stem and the biggest calamity of all, splits! Once a fissure or rupture has occurred, the grower might as well hang it up and hope that he has another vine to fall back on. Literally, the grower devotes a whole year of his/her life to this endeavor and one day if the pumpkin develops a fatal split, he has to wait until next year to start all over again.

A whale of a pumpkin seen at Valley View Farms
A whale of a pumpkin seen at Valley View Farms

It’s Expensive

You can sink a lot of money into this highly competitive endeavor – from foliar nutrients, specialized sprinklers, beneficial soil inoculants, miniature cold frames, and other tools to help you grow that record breaker. And once you have a mammoth sitting in your garden, then you have to harvest it and it isn’t just a matter of cutting the stem and bringing the pumpkin into the house. There is a company that markets giant pumpkin lifting rings or slings for “lifting the gold” that can run up to $400. This is not a cheap hobby. But on the other hand, to buy a ready made giant can set you back at least $500(see below). My best guess on weight for this is around 900- 1000 pounds. I wonder if they deliver?

I saw this giant pumpkin, weight unknown, at Terrain for $500
I saw this giant pumpkin, weight unknown, at Terrain for $500

Final Reward-Winning a Blue Ribbon

But if you are successful at fighting back the weeds, insects, and splits that can attack at any point, you can enter at one of the many pumpkin contests around the country and take home a prize of thousands of dollars. Considering the many problems  and uncertainties that can strike without warning (think hail storm!), I think I will settle for carving or decorating pumpkins. See my post on embellishing pumpkins this at Pumpkin Treats.

I will stick to decorating pumpkins
I will stick to decorating pumpkins

 

Gnomes on the Loose

IMG_6384
The gnome on the left is a fishing gnome and the gnome on the right was supposed to be carrying an egg

 

One of my most popular posts on The Garden Diaries was Gnome Home, and has gotten more hits than any other post except for Decorating the White House, so I know that they are popular!  When I started decorating the Baltimore Symphony Show House this spring, I was delighted to find two old gnomes still kicking around in the basement of this house that was built in the 1920’s. Bringing them out in the light of the day, I set them up next to the fairy garden which I created on a mossy hill. The larger gnome above has an inscription “Made In Germany” so I knew that I had some authentic gnomes, made in Germany where they originated.

Fairy garden in a mossy setting
Fairy garden in a mossy setting

Gnome Origins

fishing gnome

Garden gnomes go way back to 1870’s Germany where they were first sculpted out of clay by Phillip Griebel, a sculptor of terra-cotta animals, in the town of Graefenroda. Gnome legends were very popular in Germany and Griebel made Gnome statues that spread throughout Europe. They are still being made there today by Phillip Griebel’s descendants and knowing that, I just am dying to go there. I would love to see their birthplace! You can tour their production facilities and see their informative museum. To see pictures, go to http://gardengnomeshome.com/gnome-directory/gartenzwerg-museum.

Philip Griebel produced gnomes based on local myths about the gnomes’ willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby.

Mickey Mouse gnomes?
Mickey Mouse gnomes?

 Just to check on the authenticity of the basement gnomes, I emailed Reinhard Griebel in Grafenroda, Germany and sent a picture of the found gnomes. He confirmed that they were in fact made in Germany and the little guy was still in production.

Fairy garden at the show house was the perfect spot to place the old gnomes
Fairy garden at the show house was the perfect spot to place the old gnomes

Controversial Gnomes

Garden Gnomes are not without their controversy, and were banned from the high-class Chelsea Flower Show until just 2013. Accused of garden snobbery, Chelsea lifted their ban, caving to pressure, and started to allow these popular garden sculptures. Serious gardeners don’t seem to appreciate these cute creatures, so I guess that makes me an amateur gardener!

German gnome, by Wikipedia
German gnome, by Wikipedia

Also, gnomes are the subject of pranks, called gnoming, which is the return of gnomes to the “wild”. Many gnomes have been “liberated” or “kidnapped”, sent on trips around the world, and have become quite famous.  The best known example was a kidnapped gnome taken from a garden in California, and it ended up being photographed with Paris Hilton  in People magazine. These antics just add to the “tongue in cheek” appreciation of gnomes for me. I enjoy that people can have fun with gardening and gardening tchotchkes. There are many clubs and organizations dedicated to the prank of gnoming.

Protest Gnome from wikipedia
Protest Gnome from wikipedia

The best-known of these is the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. Their website is hilarious and says that, “For too long we have let our neighbors usurp the rights of these gentle woodland creatures“. They entreat people to report any gnome in captivity! Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaEh8EABR-s to watch a moving video.

Polish Gnomes

The hot spot of gnomes is Poland. More gnomes are made in Poland and China than anywhere else on the planet, even in Germany. In the Wieliczka Salt Mine, called the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland, gnomes were carved underground out of salt.

Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza
Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza

Popular in Polish folklore, in Wroclaw Poland, gnome statues dot the city everywhere and have become a major tourist attraction. A legion of little people cast out of metals, are ubiquitous – in doorways, alleyways, and street corners, but easy to miss because of their size. You can actually do a tour of these gnomes which number over 250, and they have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, more so than the magnificent cathedral.

Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland from Wikipedia
Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland from Wikipedia

gnome

For directions on making your own Gnome Home, go to Home Sweet Gnome

Tutorial on making a gnome home
Tutorial on making a gnome home
Broken pot garden by Cathy Strate at http://www.fleamarketgardening.org/2013/07/16/fairy-garden-magic/
Broken pot garden by Cathy Strate at http://www.fleamarketgardening.org/2013/07/16/fairy-garden-magic/

Below is another of my broken pot gardens in a much wider pot to give you a totally different look.

Broken pot garden for a gnome
Broken pot garden for a gnome

Happy Gnoming!!

Saddlebacks are Back!

Saddleback, picture taken by Gretchen Schmidl
Saddleback, picture taken by Gretchen Schmidl

Watch out for the invasion of the body snatchers! – no really it is just saddleback caterpillars, Sibine stimulea.  I have noticed them in my yard this year and I would rather be stung by a bee than stung by this nasty caterpillar. They look like ugly bizarre clowns or a Scotty dog in a green t-shirt!

Saddleback Caterpillar
Saddleback Caterpillar (Photo credit: cotinis)

Also known as “pack-saddles”, these two inch long caterpillars are very distinctive looking, and are the larvae stage of a brown moth native to eastern North America. They appear at the end of the summer gobbling up as much greenery as possible prior to pupating into a dull brown moth.

Non-descriptive brown moth
Non-descriptive brown moth
Saddleback Caterpillar
Saddleback Caterpillar (Photo credit: noramunro)

Saddlebacks feed on a large variety of plant material and usually are found on the underside of foliage and thus are easy to miss when you are pruning or weeding underneath greenery. My particular caterpillars were feeding on the underside of a weeping beech and I was crawling underneath the tree to prune it.  I felt an intense burning sensation and flinched back, but they had already stung me. The caterpillars have fleshy horns on either end bearing urticating hairs(irritating bristles) that secrete venom.  These are hollow quill-like hairs that have poisonous sacs at the base of them which can excrete a poisonous punch.The venom causes a very painful swelling and can cause nausea and a rash that can last for days.

Sting of a saddleback
Sting of a saddleback

 

The best remedy for the stinging and swelling is the application of ice.  Also, if you use some sticky tape to remove the barbs immediately, you can reduce the amount of poison that is excreted. If you are very allergic to stings, it is best to use an epi pen for a bad reaction. I always see these caterpillars in groups of 2 or 3, so you are likely to be stung by several at once. It just gives me shivers to think about it!

Acharia stimulea Clemens, 1960 Common Name: sa...
Acharia stimulea Clemens, 1960 Common Name: saddleback caterpillar Photographer: Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service, United States Descriptor: Larva(e) Description: urticating hairs Image taken in: United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Gnoming!-Home for a Gnome

Home for a gnome out of a broken clay pot
Home for a gnome out of a broken clay pot

Broken clay pot gnome gardens are one of my favorites to create and people love seeing those little gnomes getting the perfect home. One of my most popular posts on The Garden Diaries was Gnome Home over a year ago, and has gotten more hits than any other post except for Decorating the White House, so I know that they are popular!  This time, I thought I would delve deeper into the origin and history of gnomes and I came up with a few surprises.

Gnome Origins

Garden gnomes go way back to 1870’s Germany where they were first sculpted out of clay by Phillip Griebel, a sculptor of terra-cotta animals, in the town of Graefenroda. Gnome legends were very popular in Germany and Griebel made Gnome statues that spread throughout Europe. They are still being made there today by Phillip Griebel’s descendants and knowing that, I just added a stop on my planned Germany trip. I would love to see their birthplace! You can tour their production facilities and see their informative museum. To see pictures, go to http://gardengnomeshome.com/gnome-directory/gartenzwerg-museum.

Controversial Gnomes

Garden Gnomes are not without their controversy, and were banned from the high-class Chelsea Flower Show until just 2013. Accused of garden snobbery, Chelsea lifted their ban, caving to pressure, and started to allow these popular garden sculptures. Serious gardeners don’t seem to appreciate these cute creatures, so I guess that makes me an amateur gardener!

Also, gnomes are the subject of pranks, called gnoming, which is the return of gnomes to the “wild”. Many gnomes have been “liberated” or “kidnapped”, sent on trips around the world, and have become quite famous.  The best known example was a kidnapped gnome taken from a garden in California, and it ended up being photographed with Paris Hilton  in People magazine. These antics just add to the “tongue in cheek” appreciation of gnomes for me. I enjoy that people can have fun with gardening and gardening tchotchkes. There are many clubs and organizations dedicated to the prank of gnoming.

The best-known of these is the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. Their website is hilarious and says that, “For too long we have let our neighbors usurp the rights of these gentle woodland creatures“. They entreat people to report any gnome in captivity! Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaEh8EABR-s to watch a moving video.

Polish Gnomes

The hot spot of gnomes is Poland. More gnomes are made in Poland and China than anywhere else on the planet, even in Germany. In the Wieliczka Salt Mine, called the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland, gnomes were carved underground out of salt.

Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza
Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza

Popular in Polish folklore, in Wroclaw Poland, gnome statues dot the city everywhere and have become a major tourist attraction. A legion of little people cast out of metals, are ubiquitous – in doorways, alleyways, and street corners, but easy to miss because of their size. You can actually do a tour of these gnomes which number over 250, and they have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, more so than the magnificent cathedral.

Continue reading “Happy Gnoming!-Home for a Gnome”

Plant Geek Alert

Dutchman's Pipe Vine
Dutchman’s Pipe Vine

 5 Bizarre Plant Favorites

Little Shop of Horrors plant
Little Shop of Horrors plant

You know the saying “a face only a mother would love”? Keep that in mind when you gaze on some of these unusual and sometimes scary plants. As a confirmed ‘plant geek’, I love to discover the more interesting plant varieties out there, kind of like A Little Shop of Horrors! Here are some of my favorites:

Aristolochia gigantica, also called Giant Dutchman’s Pipe or Giant Pelican Flower

This Dutchman's Pipe is blooming inside of a greenhouse in October
This Dutchman’s Pipe is blooming inside of a greenhouse in October

This is an easy to grow vine and very vigorous. While officially hardy to zone 10 and warmer, it will take a few frosts. technically,  it is safe to 27f. You could grow it in a large pot outside in the summer and bring it into a light window for the winter after cutting it back a bit. In the warm months it will reward you with a constant supply of the huge, unusual blooms with great colors.

Another type which looks like Darth Vader!
Another type which looks like Darth Vader!
''Aristolochia californica (Dutchman's pipe)
”Aristolochia californica (Dutchman’s pipe) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) You can see how it got it’s name!

Each flower has one day in which it smells like a lemon! While it isn’t overpowering, with so many flowers in blooms at once, it is always noticed when walking by. Down south it may be safely grown outdoors in the ground where it will bloom much longer.

IMG_4314
Bed of Nails spikes are very sharp!

Solanum quitoense, Bed of Nails

Bed of Nails is a fuzzy-leaved tropical relative that brandishes wicked purple spikes along its stems and leaf veins. Easy to grow, it is very effective in plant combinations with purple accents. It takes up a lot of room and by the end of the summer, you might end up with just that in the container, as it will take over. I have had my plant set fruit, which are orange and fuzzy and I understand that they make a tropical drink from it. Collect seeds from the fruit for a new plant the next season(one is enough for me), as it can get 4 feet around in one season. The bloom is not spectacular and you would only grow it for its beautiful and dangerous foliage.

Bed of Nails
Bed of Nails

Stapelia pulchellas, or Starfish Plant

Stapelia
Stapelia

According to Wikipedia, “The genus Stapelia consists of around 40 species of low-growing, spineless, stem succulent plants, predominantly from South Africa. The flowers of certain species, most notably Stapelia gigantea, can reach 41 cm (16 inches) in diameter when fully open. Most Stapelia flowers are visibly hairy and generate the odour of rotten flesh; a notable exception is the sweetly-scented Stapelia flavopurpurea. Such odours serve to attract various specialist pollinators including, in the case of carrion-scented blooms, blow flies of the dipteran family Calliphoridae. They frequently lay eggs around the coronae of Stapelia flowers, convinced by the plants’ deception”.

A potted specimen
A potted specimen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whew! That just said that the odd-looking flowers resemble rotting meat and smell like rotten meat!

Stapelia are good container plants and can grow well under full sun and light to moderate watering. They should be planted in well-drained compost as the stems are prone to rotting if kept moist for long. Stapelias are succulents so they like to be kept on the dry side.

Stapelia gigantia
Stapelia gigantia
English: Stapelia gigantea Español: Stapelia g...
English: Stapelia gigantea Español: Stapelia gigantea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my Stapelia was in full bloom, the flies clustered around it! It was pretty amazing!

VooDoo  Lilyphoto, flikr user b-nik
VooDoo Lily
photo, flikr user b-nik

VooDoo Lily- Another Smelly but Bizarre Plant

This is a really bizarre selection that hails from the moist forests of India. Plant the bulb in the early spring and in summer, a beautifully mottled thick leaf stalk emerges and opens into a big hand shaped leaf to 2 or 3 feet wide. Then a chocolate phallic shaped flower protrudes from a pinkish sheathing cone, with the entire flower getting up to 18 inches or so. The “treat” is the organic scent of decaying meat which effectively attracts fly
pollinators. The smell doesn’t stay around for long though, and the leaves and
stems are quite ornamental. All goes dormant by the end of the summer or early
fall. Plant this one in shade and good soil. It is easily propagated by snapping off the baby bulblets that grow like warts in the leaf and leaflet axils.

Mandrakes

Mandrakes are the plants that were featured in Harry Potter. His crew had to learn how to handle them very carefully and grow them to maturity. The small plants would emit a scream that could put them out for a few hours and the mature plant could kill a human.  The root of the plant looks just like a gnarly human figure.

The root looks like an angry human!
The root looks like an angry human!
Mandrake plants at Harry Potter World - the root is supposed to look like a human and the scream of the root when pulled was supposed to kill a human!
Mandrake plants at Harry Potter World, the root is supposed to look like a human and the scream of the root when pulled was supposed to kill you!

In reality, the mandrake root contains hallucinogenic compounds that are extremely poisonous and the root is bifurcated and can resemble a human!

Mandrake root
Mandrake root

Mandrake or Mandragora belongs to the Nightshade family and has long been linked to superstition and witchcraft. It contains many toxic compounds and is rated by the US Food and Drug Administration as UNSAFE!

Related articles

Saddlebacks are Back!

Saddleback, picture taken by Gretchen Schmidl
Saddleback, picture taken by Gretchen Schmidl

Watch out for the invasion of the body snatchers! – no really it is just saddleback caterpillars, Sibine stimulea.  I have noticed them in my yard this year and I would rather be stung by a bee than stung by this nasty caterpillar. They look like ugly bizarre clowns or a Scotty dog in a green t-shirt!

Saddleback Caterpillar
Saddleback Caterpillar (Photo credit: cotinis)

Also known as “pack-saddles”, these caterpillars are very distinctive looking, and are the larvae stage of a brown moth native to eastern North America. They appear at the end of the summer gobbling up as much greenery as possible prior to pupating into a moth.

Non-descriptive brown moth
Non-descriptive brown moth
Saddleback Caterpillar
Saddleback Caterpillar (Photo credit: noramunro)

Saddlebacks feed on a large variety of plant material and usually are found on the underside of foliage and thus are easy to miss when  you are pruning or weeding underneath greenery. My particular caterpillars were feeding on the underside of a weeping beech and I was crawling underneath the tree to prune it.  I felt an intense burning sensation and flinched back, but they had already stung me. The caterpillars have fleshy horns on either end bearing urticating hairs(irritating bristles) that secrete venom.  These are hollow quill-like hairs that have poisonous sacs at the base of them which can excrete a poisonous punch.The venom causes a very painful swelling and can cause nausea and a rash that can last for days.

Looks cute, doesn’t it? Photo by Gretchen Schmidl

The best remedy for the stinging and swelling is the application of ice.  Also, if you use some sticky tape to remove the barbs immediately, you can reduce the amount of poison that is excreted. If you are very allergic to stings, it is best to use an epi pen for a bad reaction. I always see these caterpillars in groups of 2 or 3, so you are likely to be stung by several at once. It just gives me shivers to think about it!

Acharia stimulea Clemens, 1960 Common Name: sa...
Acharia stimulea Clemens, 1960 Common Name: saddleback caterpillar Photographer: Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service, United States Descriptor: Larva(e) Description: urticating hairs Image taken in: United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)