Anchored somehow by dirt

It’s been almost three months since I arrived in Bavaria, longer since I dismantled my deck garden and grow room and sent my favourite orchids and plants out for fostering. Needless to say, the move has been exciting, a wonderful opportunity to experience life across the pond. In a life marked by constant changes in scenery and geography, this is the “big one” — I don’t think I need to belabour that point. But something interesting happened to me yesterday…

I bought some houseplants. I’ve been resisting all summer, making do with the few plants left behind by the apartment’s previous occupant. We’re living a gypsy life in a home that came to us fully furnished, and it just didn’t make sense to add to the stuff that we’ll need to unload when we leave. This practicality has become a philosophy for me over long years of experience, but when it comes to green growing things and flowers, my resolve is non-existant. Happy though I am to be in Munich, I’ve been puzzled by the sheer envy I experience when I pass by the allotment gardens or read my sister-in-law’s latest report on her harvest from the vegetable patch. That funny little squeeze in my heart when I pick up a magazine and see pictures of bright little cottage gardens has me avoiding that part of the bookstore altogether. What IS that? Well, I think a new orchid and a couple of small tropicals may have answered the question.

A wanderer I may be, but everywhere I’ve gone, even if just for a little while, I’ve planted a garden. Not a bad legacy, but executed for purely selfish reasons. Yesterday, when I repotted the little plants, the feel of soil between my fingers was enormously soothing. The pretty blooms on the orchid (an unnamed variety that I would not ordinarily buy for that very reason) made me smile, smoothed out the little bump in my heart just a bit.

I can’t be a wanderer and not be a gardener too — it’s my way of coping with an irresistable urge to connect with a place, even if I can’t stay. I’ve lived in few buildings in my life that I would call home, but I’m always at home in the earth, in a garden of my own making. I prefer a real garden, of course, but when improvisation is required, a few pots on my windowsill will do.

Img_1979Meet my little unnamed orchid, which I bought at the hardware store and which I am quite sure is a Burrageara Stefan Isler ‘Lava Flow’

Compare it with this photo.

A New Adventure

I’m all packed, and ready to go. Boy, am I ready to go!! I’ve got an air mattress, a tv, my computer, and my camping gear, and the movers come tomorrow to take what remains of our belongings to my parents’ basement for storage. The apartment is bare. My grow room has been completely dismantled, the only plants left are a couple of big ones (the umbrella plant and a couple of begonias) that someone asked me for but has forgotten to pick up. My orchids are safely tucked away in Jocelyn’s greenhouse for safekeeping (thanks Jo!), except for the Miltonia clowesii x Golden Showers, which is in bloom and I couldn’t bear to part with just yet. I am now regretting that decision, realizing that it’s going to be gracing the dashboard of my car for the next six weeks.

I lost my job at the end of March, in the usual way that big corporations treat people if they think they can get away with it. I am one of several staff who had been on contract for many years, and they realized that the law was breathing down their necks and it was time to give us full-time status with benefits before they got nailed by Employment Standards. However, some of us made more money than they wanted to continue to spend, or had health problems. Their solution in my case was to dream up not particularly coherent reasons to claim that the position didn’t exist anymore, but that they were creating a “new one” that I could apply for “if you want to. But you probably won’t want to.”

After the initial shock wore off, disgust set in, and a grim recognition that yes, this is how big companies and their little people behave – I’ve seen it many, many times before. I was a little taken aback by the amateurish tack (for heaven’s sake, just cough up a settlement and let’s be done with it), but I realized they were trying to get by on the cheap, and have probably gotten away with it before, and what’s more, they needed me to set up the new position before they dumped me. Um, no. My lawyer quickly set things right with a minimum amount of fuss, and I was soon happily on my way with a fairly reasonable severance cheque.

And a decision to join Laird in Germany. We’re both enthusiastic to put an end to the repeated long separations, since his job takes him there much of the year. I’m raring to leave Toronto. I love travelling. I’m a big believer in being grateful for wonderful opportunities that come my way by grabbing them with both hands. So, I’m off. I have a high school reunion to go to in July, so I’m hanging out until then, and flying to Munich after it’s over. Until then, let the couch tour begin. I’ll be camping, visiting friends and relatives. Next weekend I’ll be up in Tobermory, at the Orchid Festival. And I’ll blog my way through it all, every chance I get.

Talk to you all very soon.

Urban Gardening Essentials: Bustan

Hey, my resident apartment jungle has been honoured with a plug on the Bustan Website — a hydroponics and indoor gardening supplies store here in Toronto.

Well, the admiration is mutual. Speaking as someone who has scoured the whole of the city and beyond to find supplies for my grow room, I can honestly say that I was thrilled the day I found this store. It not only had the grow lamp nobody else carried, it was conveniently located on Harbord near Spadina. I highly recommend the place. Everytime I go there I learn something new and interesting about indoor gardening — Nurit and Harley are friendly, extremely well-informed, and very generous with their time and knowledge.

Blooms in sub-zero temperatures

Thank goodness for my grow room… I think I’d go crazy if I couldn’t look at green growing things for months on end. It’s still very cold, and a fair bit of snow on the ground. I went outside at lunchtime, and when I returned my face was so red I looked like I had a sunburn. Ah well… there are blooms in my grow room, as well as on my cheeks.

The first spike on the Burr. Nelly Isler finished a while ago, and it since has put out another inflorescence and bloomed again.

The gigantic Phal. Orchid World ‘Joe’ that I bought from John Marcotte is starting to bloom on four old spikes and two new ones. It has a sweet fragrance and is a stunning plant.

And finally, a pretty pink Geranium that my friend Atilla gave me this summer has two long-lasting flowers. I have visions of propogating this plant and covering my deck with geraniums next summer.

I checked the worm bin the other night, and topped it up with damp paper (I regularly raid the shredders at work and lug bags of the stuff home on the subway) and plant clippings. Lotsa squiggly critters in there, so they must be happy. The bin is half full of worm compost already.

And aphids. Another healthy crop of aphids, unfortunately, on many of my orchid plants. I’ve been warned to be aggressive about terminating these pests, as they carry virus’ from one plant to another. Time to get the Neem oil and insecticidal soap out again… and maybe leave it out this time so I remember to spray again in a few days.

Deep freeze

It’s cold. Not the wimpy kind of cold we Torontonians generally moan about — inducing much eye rolling from other parts of the country, except the west coast of BC, of course — but real cold. 22 below zero cold, with a -36C wind chill.

The first clue that today was even colder than yesterday was when I let the dog out this morning, and my fingers stuck to the metal doorknob — on the inside! My second clue was when I tried to run the shower, and nothing came out but scalding hot water. The cold water pipes have frozen on the outside wall of the building. It could be worse — at least we have hot water, and the cold water is running in the kitchen. I managed to avoid second degree burns by using the watering cans to ferry cold water to the tub.

The third clue owes its dues to Murphy’s Law. The streetcar stop is right outside my door, and runs every 5 minutes during rush hour. This morning I waited with a dozen other miserable commuters, perfect strangers huddled for warmth as far as propriety would allow, waiting for a streetcar that never arrived. Every once in a while someone would break from the crowd to run and stand in the middle of the road, peering anxiously down the street to see if it was coming while the rest of us watched hopefully. Repeated disappointment induced disgusted shaking of heads and stamping of feet. Finally the stamping turned into a stampede of people speed-walking several blocks up to the subway station, suffering all the way. By the time I burst through the doors, my nostrils were stuck together, my forehead and ears were burning, my eyes were streaming, and my thighs were numb. So were my fingers, and it took several tries to hold the token long enough to push it into the slot to let me through the turnstiles.

After listening patiently to my whining (a taste of which you have just experienced), Laird told me he is taking me to Mountain Equipment Co-op tomorrow to buy me a warm down jacket with a hood. I keep borrowing his, so the joke is that only one of us can go outside at a time.

Tonight when I let the dog out, I spotted the raccoon huddled in the tree branches beside the deck, looking miserable. He was gazing sadly at the door, aware that therein lay warmth, orchids to chew, and a big bag of pet food to raid. I really felt sorry for him. So, God help me, I put out some dog food. He gobbled it down, and I refilled it. He looked at me, I looked at him and we called a truce for the moment. Once the cold breaks, the free lunch is over, buster.

A cautionary tale

It’s been a while!! It’s been a busy holiday season, punctuated by a knockout punch from the flu (an annual tradition). Happy New Year!

My orchids managed quite well without me for more than a week, and many of them are showing signs of impressive growth. However, I nearly killed two favourites from inadvertent overwatering in a stunningly short period of time.

One of them, a beautiful yellow phal, has done quite well on my light stand all summer. It had a nice branching spike, and was starting to bloom. Then poof, the leaves went limp and wrinkly and the buds turned brown and fell off, just like that. The culprit turned out to be a micro-fogger, recently installed to increase humidity. The phal was right in the line of fog-fire, got waterlogged, stayed waterlogged, and rotted. Bummer. I put the fogger on a timer so that it now only comes on in short spurts, and moved the phal a bit farther away. It’s too soon to tell if it’s going to recover.

The other casualty is the nice Oncidium ‘Golden Sunset’ x Oncidium onustum (see picture, Dec 1st) that I brought home from the last orchid society meeting. It was situated on a shelf close to the wall in the grow room, underneath some wall-mounted orchids that I spray almost daily with water. The drip of water from the orchids overhead prevented the medium (moss) from drying out, and oncidiums don’t like wet feet. I didn’t notice the problem until the flowers suddenly shrivelled up and fell off, and the plants was looking noticeably sick. It happened within days. Another bummer. I’m trying to save it with the “spag & bag” method (placing the plant in a plastic drycleaning bag with a little damp moss — the humidity is supposed to spark some new growth), but it’s still a crap shoot as to whether it will recover. Double bummer, I really liked that plant.

It’s not all bad news. My phal ‘Orchid World Joe’ just started to bloom. A half dozen spikes, and the flowers are stunning. Plus, that crazy phal-type dendrobium decided not to tease, and a couple of blooms have actually opened. I’ll post pictures soon.

Fun indoor activities

We’re having a bit of a bug problem – roaches, actually. Ugh. I’ve caught a couple around the kitchen sink in the mornings, a nice way to start the day. So, I decided to make the best of a bad situation, and squeeze some entertainment value out of it while waiting for the roach traps to work. I decided to catch one, and feed it to my Venus Flytrap.

At the earliest opportunity, I lightly squished one under a paper tower, and then picked it up to inspect for signs of life; the flytrap won’t close unless there’s at least a little squirming action. I saw several legs wave in the air. Holding the paper towel in one hand, I retrieved an old pair of tweezers from the bathroom, and as I passed through the living room, I said, “Laird! Come see me feed a bug to my plant”.

Intrigued, he put the movie on pause, and left his chair in front of the TV to follow me into the grow room. I picked up the flytrap and held it close, then I opened the paper towel and applied tweezer to bug. Bug moved. I jumped. Bug and tweezers flew. Laird snorted in disgust and returned to his seat in the living room, muttering
something unflattering about me and bugs.

I may be squeamish, but I’m not easily deterred. A little while later, while watering my plants, I discovered some aphids on the buds of my phal-type dendrobium. I never get excited about buds on that plant, they exist just to irritate me by drying up and falling off before they ever bloom. I digress. There were some sizeable specimens of aphids there, so I rooted around on the floor under the pots, and retrieved my tweezers. I tried to pick an aphid up with the tweezers, but it fell
off. So I lined up the flytrap under the bud, and used one of the tongs to try to knock one into the jaws of the waiting plant. I assume the aphids must have had some awareness of the fate waiting for them below, because every one I nudged leaped off in a different direction, but never straight down.

Finally, I got one in. A little one. I must have been heavy handed with the tweezer, ‘cause it was lifeless. The jaws stayed open. So I took the end of the tweezer, and tapped the pad a couple of times. It shut with a resounding clap. Well, it was soundless, really, but I’m sure it clapped. Applauding my efforts
maybe. I know I had no credibility with my audience in the living room.