Weird Plant Wednesday – II

Okay, so it’s actually Thursday morning. We’re doing a "staycation" this week and my farm work to-do list dwarfs my usual work week. Not exactly relaxing.  One of the daily duties is dragging the hose around trying to keep some favorite plants alive. We’re in a drought, though not near of the awful and epic proportions of some parts of the country.  When our Floriculture Forum was held at the Dallas Arboretum this spring, horticulturist Jimmy Turner welcomed us to "Gardening Hell."  Huh? Everything was lovely, verdant, and smothered in tulips.  But that was February. Bless all your gardening hearts out there (and everywhere else that is so damned dry).

I do get to drag the hose right past one of my favorite garden additions of the last few years. Bulbine frutescens is a South African native that thrives in dry, dry, dry.  USDA Zone 9 or thereabouts on the ol’ hardiness scale. We’ve planted it in our tiny scree garden, where several succulents get to spend the warm season stretching their roots before getting scooped back into a pot to overwinter in a chilly greenhouse.  (And pardon if Bulbine is as common as mud in your part of the world/continent, it’s just not that well known in the eastern part of the U.S.)

Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’.  Looks a bit like my hair this morning.  Yes, it would benefit from some deadheading (the plant, that is).

Bulbine foliage looks a lot like the "grassy" species of aloe, and the juice from the leaves is supposed to have some of the same properties when applied to burns and scrapes. It has a fairly neat habit,  but within the mound of foliage forms lots of rhizomatous clumps. These are perfect for dividing and sharing (despite the genus name, no bulbs are involved).  It flowers non-stop, even throughout most of the winter in the 50 F greenhouse. Our plant is the orange cultivar ‘Hallmark’. The straight species has yellow flowers and can reseed a bit; but I’ve never seen a seedling.

Lovely flowers. No extra water needed – yay!

Podcast #2 – Garden Concoctions

I’m getting my feet under me with podcasting – it’s becoming more fun and less scary.  The theme for this one is “Garden Concoctions,” so the Plants in the News and Myth Busting segments are along those lines.

My interview this week is with Maurice Skagen, owner and designer of Soos Creek Botanical Gardens.  This 23 acre plant collection has been carefully cultivated over the last 30 years and just recently opened to the public.

A volunteer visits with Maurice

Soos Creek draws visitors of all ages

The pond

The long borders

Clematis canopy over trees

Demonstration vegetable garden

Please let me know what you think of the podcast; you can email me directly or post a comment on the blog. Suggestions for future podcasts are most welcome!

Out of the lead frying pan and into the phosphate fire

A recent NYT post reports that adding fish meal to lead-contaminated soils will cause the lead to bind to phosphate found in fish bones.  As the article explains, this chemical reaction results in the formation of pyromorphite, “a crystalline mineral that will not harm anyone even if consumed.”

Given my concerns about excessive phosphate loading in urban soils, I contacted Dr. Rich Koenig, an urban soil scientist and chair of WSU’s Crop and Soil Science department.  I wondered, at least, if the article should have directed people to have a soil test done first to determine how much phosphate was already in the soil before adding more.

Dr. Koenig was likewise concerned that the application rate of fish meal was probably far higher than what plants would require, thus increasing the risk of phosphorus leaching and runoff. He also referred my question to Dr. Jim Harsh, a soil chemist in his department familiar with the process described in the article.

And as Dr. Harsh pointed out, it’s important to make lead less susceptible to uptake by people and other animals exposed to contaminated soils.  However, he’s unconvinced that phosphate is the best choice; in fact, research by Dr. Sally Brown (cited in the NYT article) and others (including Dr. Harsh) have found that compost containing iron is also able to bind and immobilize lead.  The advantage of high iron compost is that iron will not leach into nearby waterways, nor cause the same kinds of plant toxicity problems, as phosphate can.

Thanks to both Dr. Koenig and Dr. Harsh for their quick and informative responses on this topic.