Thursday, 26 January 2012

Nicotiana (26 JAN 2012)

In my first post I wrote :  "This is one of seventeen nicotiana lime green grown from Mrs F's seedlings. Each one grew to maturity and developed its own personality. Had to transplant them several times as I kept underestimating how big they would grow. Think this traumatised them in the summer heat as they would raise their leaves up to cover the inner shoots. They all survived though."

You may wonder why I'm requoting myself after apologising previously for mentioning nicotiana too many times ...

My Blogger Signature Icon  -   August 2010

It's just that Diana invited me to join her meme about our signature plants :
(It would be rude not to, and I can't lie to Diana ...)

Seeds were nominally "lime-green" but flower shades faded to white - September 2010
Red nicotiana is also available which fades through pink to white, but there's something about lime-green that makes my heart beat faster.

My pride and joy in my first year of gardening, this abundant display was produced from six tiny seedlings with the aid of a carefully chosen camera-angle ...

Nicotiana rules - October 2010

The joy came to an abrupt end when the first frost was laid in late October 2010. I thought (mistakenly) that the black dots at the centre of the blooms were seeds and stored them in envelopes to dry, they were actually anthers. In autumn, I sowed the "seeds" using my tried-and-tested technique of poking a pencil into the soil, dropping in a couple of seeds, patting soil on top and leaving them in the plastic greenhouse to germinate. Then I discovered that the flower-holders attached to the stalks dried into seed-pods after the flower withered. I sowed these seeds too, unsuccessfully. (I learned later that nicotiana seeds need light to germinate.)

While weeding in June, I recognised a cluster of leaves that brought back happy memories, just as seeds in a seed tray more often than not all germinate simultaneously. The plantlets were separated carefully and transplanted. Did I imagine that these specimens were even more beautiful than their predecessors?  As the summer progressed I found more peer groups, germinating at different times in the subtly different micro-climates around the garden, extending the flowering period well into winter.

June 2011
August 2011

The leaves and stems of nicotiana alata are sticky due to excretions of poisonous nicotine aimed at discouraging herbivores from eating them; these are ornamental plants.
Nicotiana tabacum is grown commercially for the tobacco industry. Not surprisingly, this hyrid can't be found naturally in the wild.

My Signature Plant : Nicotiana Alata Lime Green   -   September 2011

Glad it's still around   -  January 2012

Seed-pod remains after the flower has fallen  -  January 2012

When I inspected these nicotiana seeds, I wondered if they all had the potential to grow as their parents, considering my failure to propogate them last year. I wasn't sure if the existence of a seed meant that pollination had taken place. Are plant seeds produced anyway, like unfertilised chickens' eggs ? 

Do all seeds have the potential to germinate if exposed to the right conditions ? - I think the answer is No, because some seeds may not contain embryos. Fertilisation does not occur automatically when pollination takes place (this is what I thought till this week). There is a sequence of events which involves the pollen grain germinating into the stigma, growing a pollen tube down to the ovule at its base, releasing two sperms down the tube which shoot out onto the ovule, double-fertilising to produce the food for the developing embryo (thanks to one sperm) and the embryo itself (thanks to the other).

It's quite amazing that pollination occurs at all considering the number of other flowers a bee could choose to visit, even more amazing when double-fertilisation produces viable seeds.
Incredible that those seeds fell on soil exposed to the right amount of sunlight and moisture to trigger germination, when you think of the efforts we go through in our kitchens or greenhouses to simulate this.
Awesome that my flower-beds were graced with these self-propogating lime-green delights for the past two years and hopefully for many years to come.

Nicotiana seeds should be sown on the surface of the soil as they need light to germinate :

Articles about seeds and seed starting :

Intricacies of post-pollination processes :

Another definition of ... SIGNATURE : a feature in the appearance or qualities of a natural object formerly held to indicate its utility in medicine either because of a fancied resemblance to a body part (as a heart-shaped leaf indicating utility in heart disease) or because of a presumed relation to some phase of a disease (as the prickly nature of thistle indicating utility in case of a stitch in the side)  ... Meriam-Webster Medical Dictionary

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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Grass (17 JAN 2012)

So much for being smug about the mild winter in the UK ...  On Sunday it was freezing in the spots where the sun wasn't shining. Quite in contrast to a month ago, there weren't enough blooms to justify a Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post. 

These photos of foxglove plantlets in different parts of the garden were all snapped at lunch-time :

sunny flowerbed
frosty flowerbed

I was supposed to be taking advantage of the few daylight hours available during the weekend to do some gardening. My main gardening activites in order of priority are : transplanting, weeding, mowing the lawn and pruning, but none of these needed to be done urgently. Inactivities are : thinking about things that I don't think about anywhere else, checking every detail of each individual plant and planning for the future.

After congratulating the survivors of the heavy frost,  I could be found perched on the back-doorstep warming my fingers with a hot cup of coffee, trying to bite into a doughnut without squirting its contents onto my coat and staring at this tuft of grass. I contemplated how easy it would be to pull it out and toss it into the rubbish bag, but in a way grasses are weeding us out too ...

The grass family includes lawn grass, ornamental grass and the major cereal crops such as wheat. Despite their simple appearance they are highly evolved plants equipped to reproduce against all odds. Their seeds are not supposed to be dried, milled, mixed with water and yeast, fried in oil, coated in sugar and injected with raspberry-flavoured jam  ... or even nibbled straight off the stalks by mice.

Grasses have developed toxins to defend their seeds from creatures that try to digest them instead of facilitating transit to a new location. Rodents (labelled as granivores) have in turn evolved to bite back, their relatively large guts capicitate longer grain fermentation so that nutrients can be extracted. On the other hand humans, slower to evolve, can't stomach uncooked grains which led to the discovery that cooking releases extra energy in the form of carbohydrates. So much energy in fact, that they don't need to spend all day eating along with the rest of the animal kingdom, allowing time to focus on building communities.

Scientists are confused on whether man is naturally a herbivore or omnivore. Different blood types and smaller jaws which can no longer neatly accommodate our teeth, suggest there were changes. Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, were discovered to be hunter-gatherers; hunting also being a means for males to gain power, meat only accounts for 2% of their diet. Nevertheless, cultivating, cooking and consuming grains in moderation was probably a major contributor to the transformation of the Old Stone Age (Paleolithic) hunter-gatherer into the more civilised New Stone Age (Neolithic) farmer ... but was this the rise of the human species before the fall?
Over-consumption especially since the industrial revolution has led to increasing levels of coeliac disease, diabetes and other maladies initiated by high blood sugar levels.  Even though the British government recommends that a healthy, balanced meal should contain one third carbohydrates, there is an increasing trend harking back to those Old Stone Age times, to eliminate grains. Dieters are left with that unsatiated feeling only too familiar to our Paleolithic ancestors.

Maybe the grasses are winning after all :

130 000 000 years ago
: The rise of  Angiosperms: flowering plants
65 500 000 years ago
: Dinosaurs became extinct
60 000 000 years ago
: Earliest true primates
35 000 000 years ago
: Grasses evolve from among the angiosperms
2 600 000 years ago
: Beginning of Paleolithic Era (Old Stone Age) – first use of tools
2 300 000 years ago
: First homo (Homo habilis)
1 800 000 years ago
: First hunter-gatherer societies (Homo Erectus)
350 000 years ago
: Evolution of Neanderthals
200 000 years ago
: Anatomically modern humans appear in Africa
30 000 years ago
: Evidence of humans using tools to grind grains
10 000 years ago
: Beginning of Neolithic Era (New Stone Age) - introduction of agriculture
3 512 years ago
: Egyptian manuscript refers to  diabetes : “too great emptying of the urine”
2 083 years ago
: Report of first water-powered grain mill
1 900 years ago
: Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappodocia described coeliac disease : “suffering in the bowels”
209 years ago
: Doughnuts mentioned in an 1803 English volume of American recipes
133 years ago
: The first steam grain mill was erected in London at the beginning of the Industrial Era
Last year
: World Health Organisation estimated 346 million people worldwide have diabetes

Are humans naturally plant eaters ? :

Predatory behaviour of wild chimpanzees :

Introduction to the Paleolithic Diet :

The late role of grains and legumes in the human diet, and biochemical evidence of their evolutionary discordance :

A balanced diet, recommended by UK government Food Standards Agency :

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Cherry Blossom Tree (08 JAN 2012)

This is a photo of my cherry blossom tree taken last year. Foxgloves and bluebells thrived in its shade during spring, hydrangeas in the summer.   Without it, the "woodland" would be a shrubbery.


Worms in this section of the garden need not worry of being sliced by my fork as there's not much digging done here; the roots wont allow it. Cherry leaves provide a nutritious mulch which has built up layer by layer, melding with the perpetually damp soil. The darkest green hellebore plantlet growing at the site where a division was planted last year is proof of this.

hellebore plantlet in the woodland

Unfortunately the cherry blossom tree is sick. At first I suspected it was ailing from bacterial canker which is a common disease suffered by cherries, but stepping back and assessing its top-heavy figure, I diagnosed stress fractures too. Fearing that the branch on the left would fall off, I called in a professional gardener for a quotation to prune the tree. He hung off the branch in question, confirmed it was solid and suggested I give him a call next year. I hung off it too to convince myself that the cracks only penetrated the outer bark.

canker ?
frost cracks ?

I wondered if the core of this ornamental tree with oriental origin was swelling and collapsing with temperature fluctuations at a different rate to the bark. I found this article which presents the hypothesis that frost cracks manifesting in the bark of thin-skinned trees after a period of extreme cold followed by rapid thawing (as we had last year), initiate from internal wounds caused by injuries early in the tree's life. It's possible to encourage the tree to generate its own plaster of callouses by tracing around the crack with a sterilised knife and removing inch wide sections of the surrounding bark. This will help prevent disease entering through the crack but doesn't heal the internal wound. I personally never use plasters, preferring to leave my cuts to air-dry - not sure what treatment the tree would opt for.

I pondered on what could possibly injure a young tree, then remembered the grafting technique which is applied to many domesticated trees to combine slow-growth of roots and trunk with branches from hybridised specimens optimised to yield desirable flowers and fruit. What worse injury could a tree experience than having its major branches lopped off and replaced?

No doubt, due to the stress of bearing the weight of its over-grown grafted branches, canker at the base of its trunk and frost cracks, the tree feels the urge to reproduce over and beyond producing cherries.  In spring, suckers sprouting from the rootstock produced delicate single flowers in pale, semi-transparent, pink a few weeks before the grafted branches above were covered by proper pink double blooms. I managed to extract one of the vigorous suckers with a large piece of root intact in summer, assuming it a certainty that by the following spring there would be a small tree-in-waiting, with a simpler, more natural beauty compared to its  parent which was aesthetically enhanced by implants.

cherry suckers in spring
extracted cherry sucker in summer

However, here is the cherry tree this week and its potted mini-me - difficult to tell if it's alive. I'm hoping that ripping the sucker from its parent doesn't count as an injury ...

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Beginnings (01 JAN 2012)

One of my favourite gardening jobs is pruning the coarse hellebore leaves to reveal the buds inside.
Casting away the mature leaves yesterday felt so symbolic.

healthy hellebore ...

leaves pruned to reveal pink buds with green bracts

poorly hellebore ...
white buds inside unaffected

On starting my previous job, I was registered to attend a team-building week-away-from-work. It was a long struggle, my idea of torture. The colleagues in my team were strangers, I realised that this was supposed to be an opportunity to introduce myself to them but didn't know what to say. It seemed as though they were all friends even though they were newly acquainted too, conversation flowed easily, laughter and joking surrounded me.
An instructor asked for a quiet word outside. She asked me if I ever felt the need to take time-out to be alone, because that was OK. I felt even more uncomfortable after that.

All my time-out sessions are now taken in the garden. I never feel alone here especially as the garden and blog are so closely linked together. I can't imagine one without the other: my camera, note-pad & pen lie next to the pruners, fork & string.

Escaping from the New Year's celebration preparations to look for quieter signs of new beginnings :

hyacinth bud
daffodil bud

sedum spectabile buds
camellia buds

... and here's another new beginning that's in store ...

Talking about gardening is a great ice-breaker. There's no risk of being intrusive if you ask someone what they have in flower at the moment.  If not ... why not?   Like a missionary I preach to the unconverted, offering home-grown pots of plants to people I hardly know to keep on their window-sills. (I always use fresh compost so they're not infected with my weeds).

I feel my experience with the world outside expanding, maybe because it's the first time in my life that I've felt truly passionate about something, or maybe there's something special about gardeners. Similar to people who frequent churches or other religious places, gardeners seem to be good people, not so obsessed with themselves or material things. I've never met spiteful, two-faced, or cheating gardeners. The way they exchange pass-along-plants and tips reminds me of my grandmother's stories of bygone days when people in her village bartered produce and helped each other out.

With the help of the internet it's possible for small communities to exist without boundaries. Sharing with and supporting each other because they have similar values regardless of their different lives, even if it is only for a few minutes of time-out each day.

Last January when I wrote about Blotanical I was on a mission to acquire a red star and to have my title emboldened in the blog lists. It wasn't my intention to spend as much time reading other blogs as writing my own, but that's what's inspired me. Being a newcomer to the blogosphere, I was totally unaware of the interaction that goes on between bloggers, often the comments in response to a post contributing equally as the author's original thoughts.

This time I'm writing to say : Thank You to the Blotanical Community for a Brilliant Year !

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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