Seeds of a Garden: a novice tries raising plants

I don’t profess to be any sort of expert when it comes to gardening or caring for houseplants. If we were to add up all the plants I have successfully cared for in my adult life before moving into this apartment, the total would be: one. A cactus, named Spike, whose care I took over for a while from a friend and then gave to another friend. I forgot to water him most of the time. He did not die.

But since moving into my apartment in July of last year, I’ve become interested in caring for plants. It brightens my home quite a bit to have little green guys on all the windowsills, and it’s an opportunity for me to learn. There’s great joy (and sometimes great frustration) in admitting that one is a beginner and trying to learn from there.

🌱

 

Today I’m learning about….. cyclamen!

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I bought little Venetia here from Trader Joe’s several weeks ago, not knowing what she was. I believe I described her as “some funky kinda orchid thing” to a friend.  At that point she had beautiful white flowers.  I set her on my nightstand, with occasional trips to the windowsill for extra sun, and watered occasionally. She did pretty well for a while! 

Cyclamen have beautiful flowers; they kind of look like they’re upside down, or like a butterfly is pretending to be a flower, or like a deconstructed post-modern tulip. They come in many colors, but mine is white.

cyclamen
Photo copyright Royal Horticultural Society 1996: RHS

 

So Venetia bloomed for maybe a month. Then the flowers started falling off, and the stems started drooping, and the leaves got wilty and then crunched. Sad!

What I know now, but didn’t know then, is that this means the plant is not dying, but instead going into dormancy. Cyclamen come from the mediterranean, where winters are mild and moist and summers are dryer. When summer comes along, it’s natural for the flowers to die, the leaves to wither, and new growth to stop.

Cyclamen flowers grow from a tuber, which is a great crossword puzzle word that you rarely get to use in real life. Like a bulb, a tuber sits underground for an extended period of time before stimulating growth. Once I learned this, I went to look at my plant (murmuring tuber, tuber, tubey-tuber under my breath) and sure enough, there’s a little mound sticking up slightly out of the soil. It almost looks like the top of a mushroom and it’s firm to the touch.

This presents an exciting challenge for the beginning gardener. If I play my cards right, I could have a perennially blooming plant. AND the cyclamen’s growth period is opposite of most of the other plants around, so as the days are getting darker and cooling off, my beautiful flowers should come back into the limelight.

Here’s what I have to do next.

Cyclamen Care After Blooming

After a cyclamen blooms, it will go into a dormant state. Going into a dormant state looks very much like the plant is dying, as the leaves will turn yellow and fall off. It isn’t dead, just sleeping. With proper cyclamen plant care, you can help it through its dormancy and it will rebloom in a few months. (Please note that hardy cyclamen planted outdoors will go through this process naturally and do not need extra care to rebloom.) When taking care of a cyclamen after blooming, allow the leaves to die and stop watering the plant once you see the signs that the leaves are dying. Place the plant in a cool, somewhat dark place. You can remove any dead foliage, if you would like. Let sit for two months.

Taking Care of a Cyclamen to Get it to Rebloom

Once a cyclamen has finished its dormant period, you can start to water it again and bring it out of storage. You may see some leaf growth, and this is okay. Make sure to completely soak the soil. You may want to set the pot in a tub of water for an hour or so, then make sure any excess water drains away. Check the cyclamen tuber and make sure that the tuber has not outgrown the pot. If the tuber seems crowded, repot the cyclamen to a larger pot. Once the leaves start to grow, resume normal cyclamen care and the plant should rebloom shortly.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Cyclamen Plant Care – Tips For Taking Care Of A Cyclamen https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/cyclamen/cyclamen-care.htm

 

I flubbed this process a little already, because when the leaves had mostly died off, I successfully revived it by adding more water rather than letting it go dormant. So I’m cutting you off, Venetia! No more water for you, you little spendthrift! You are banished to the bureau, where it will stay relatively cool and dim.

I’m not sure how successful this will be – first because I didn’t go right to dormancy but have had a second growth period (look how healthy these leaves look! As a side note, I love the heart shape of the leaves.). And secondly because my house does not stay very cool in the summer. With no central air, even in New England, we get some pretty warm days. But it will be a good experiment.

On a less practical note, I’m touched by the idea of a plant that sleeps all summer and reawakens in the winter. When stillness and heavy cold set in, my mediterranean Venetia will be abloom. All the world around me scorns winter, it seems, and wants heat and sun. I’m the opposite – heat makes me grumpy and summer days are too long to fill with creativity and productive thought. But I’ve always found myself re-energized when autumn arrives, filled with new purpose and excitement for chilly days and snow. I am putting every effort into embracing summer, but I’m pleased that when the cooler days come, and I start feeling that fall sparkle, it’ll be time to flood Venetia’s soil with water and say “wake up!” so we can both get ready to bloom.

Most of the information in this article came from the article cited above, as well as these videos: Caring for Cyclamen and Cyclamen Care Basics Step by Step. 

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Sunday Poetry: walking in a field

I am continuing my series of Sunday poetry posts this summer. Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

Sunday Poetry: June 9

My poetry so often starts with what I’m doing, what I can see, what I’m hearing. I almost always think of first lines first, and then the rest of the poem happens from there. It’s brilliant that other poets also start with what is being in the moment, what is doing right now.

Here is an excerpt from Oliver Baez Bendorf:

Here I Am Walking in a Field

again, I think, while walking

in a field. Field thick with
snow, field of milk.

You can read the full poem by buying the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of  American Poetry Review.

 

It shows that what we do has value, even if it’s a little thing. I might write about waiting for my coffee to brew, or sitting at an outdoor cafe, or sweeping my floor, or a spiderweb on my balcony. Poetry, more than any other form of writing, has the capacity to be in the present (and to keep us there).

a little snow poem

in honor of the first snow – November 15th 2018 

 

a little snow poem

 

now it has snowed
and I am peeking out
for when the squirrels with their
tender, agile feet
hop lovingly into drifts
then freeze and snapshot their eyes
at any sound, their paws to their chins,
as though any disturbance to this
quiet must mean wolves.

importance of breathing

part of an essay in progress about how we view our lives….I’m thinking about how air is so easy to see through and move through that we are always looking ahead toward our goals. But water– water is immersive experience, and if we tried to swim through life, maybe we could be more present in the moments around us. 

i.

the importance of breathing is that it’s molecular.

Our bodies are porous and admit toxins of all colors, but breathing is what we choose to bring in. Like water, we imbibe air to sustain and purify our every inch. Think about a square inch of your body: how much blood, how much oxygen, how much nitrogen, how much water? We are but fragile things. Delicate ratios.

In air, breathing is plentiful, easy, mindless. In water, it becomes a primary concern. Like in winter, but louder, we see our breath, we hold it like a petal we are slowly crushing, we struggle upward for it.

In water, breathing is an intensely sought break from intensity. It is a moment of self-care more intimate than any other. It is the only life we can find.

 

ii.

the importance of breathing

is that it fills and fullfills, sustains, tames: we take deep breaths to calm ourselves. It lets us pause the moment and imbibe time. Yet we breathe while every other moment is ocurring, so it’s not a forced, separated break. We can allow time to move in a way we choose (for once) by breathing low and long, devoting attention to what the body usually does without us asking. A breath is a set of parentheses around time, ours to employ at will and as needed.

 

iii.

the importance of breathing is that it’s instinctual. I can hear the wail of a newly loosed infant, emergent from the womb in which it swam, complacent, warm, stunned by silence. Suddenly it ruptures into air. Breath is everywhere, cold, to be grabbed, sucked in eagerly.

And once we stop breathing, we’re gone. First to last breath. Desperate clutching at life to gentle loosening of hands. Last breaths like melodies, like white flags, like sinking deeper into water and no longer looking at the surface. When we stop breathing, we curl into ourselves, fetal and petaled into bloomy curls. Then we sink.

RIWP: Day One

This is a good kind of tired.

Today was my first day of the Rhode Island Writing Project’s Open Air Institute, and (as we say in New England) it was wicked hot. The theme this year is farming, and we started off our day thinking about growth and how it can bring both renewal and destruction. Cases in point: the industrial wasteland of an empty lot that will soon be transformed into a new center for local food distribution. And on the other side of history, the legacy in Rhode Island of imperialism, colonialism, industrialism… the building of agricultural empires that grew millionaires on the backs of laborers.

We visited two ‘urban’ farms– one nestled in the middle of the South side of Providence, one sprawled across 22 acres in Cranston, just a hop down from where I teach. In each, I noticed the mix between organic growth and messiness vs. human attempts to reign in plants with fences and relegating life to rows. The work is done with a respect for the land, and with a deep expertise for how cycles of growth work and how they can be harvested for human work. I wrote about the goodness of the labor:

Projects whose genesis was in the hands of those who still tend them now bloom. The people who have learned this life now further strengthen their story and eke profit and good nutrients out of land by pure work.
….
And now I find that passion does reside in tradition, and in history. But it is by adaptation and fresh labor that tradition functions. Something as ancient as farming can be replanted and re-imagined as something new. These fields are earned and aimed for, not inherited.

We got to experience that labor in a small way– we picked beans all spread out in a row, ripping up the plants and plucking the green beans to toss them gently into buckets, avoiding the insidious Mexican bean beetles, who glow bright yellow as larvae. Several of them, I am sorry to report, met their end squashed over my fingers. I emerged covered in dirt, but with my brain cleansed by the magic of repetitive physical movement. Like weeding or walking or weaving, the motions of picking the beans worked like meditation for me as I focused my attention on making my hands do the work.

Our facilitators, Jason and Taylor, suggested that as we walked around Southside Community Land Trust, we should take ‘snapshots’ – fifteen one-line fragments that could become found poetry, or branch off into other pieces of writing. I’m looking at my snapshots now, but resisting the urge to tinker with them….. I want to see if they happen to connect to other writing that sprouts up in the next two days.

At the beginning of the day, I wrote about community. And that is the absolute beauty of participating in these 3 days– I suddenly feel so welcomed, valued, and seen. I have been searching so hard for community and feel like I’m very much a part of something good.

Is there a way that covering ground can bring us closer to each other? If spreading out in a vast sequence of homesteads and plots of land created us as one people, is that good news for those of us who are far from home? Or those trying to start a movement, to make political change, to make a network of laboreres of thinkers of voters? Or for those of us growing classes of kids…..

In creating that settlement for growth, I’ve become a gardener in a nation of gardeners. What unites our little plantations isn’t space or even using the same water, but instead the very act of gardening.

And I think every person who wants to be a farmer once wanted to be tended to: raised and watered and sunned and fertilized as a young growing thing.

The farms we visited:
Southside Community Land Trust

Zephyr Farm