Senses of Living® Holidays

June 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

Before moving into new “stuff,” I have to admit that I goofed last month. I talked about all sorts of indoor gardening, but that doesn’t help too much if you don’t know what sorts of containers to use to plant your plants! So, here is a primer on pots for your cuttings and other plants:

Pot size and composition: I prefer clay pots for two reasons. First, they fit my interior décor scheme better, not only when they are new but also when they are aged with their irregular mottling and staining. Secondly, clay pots are porous, and allow moisture to wick away from the soil evenly in all directions. This minimizes the effect of having the top of the soil dry but the rest of the soil (and the roots) are sopping wet. This last condition is common with both plastic pots and with pots of all kinds without drainage. Personally, I think plastic pots just look cheap, they require petrochemicals to produce in most cases, and they fill up landfills and do not biodegrade when discarded. That said, they are necessary for some plants that are particularly sensitive to accumulated salts (which are common on the rims of clay pots), like orchids (by the time you are ready to grow orchids, you’ll have an excellent grasp of pot dynamics). Pot size is also an important consideration, though more variable: First, all things being equal, a large pot will dry out more slowly than a small pot (lower surface-to-volume ratio). However, a larger pot will often have more plants growing in it than a small pot, which tends to increase the surface-to-volume ratio, which can equal out the drying out time by allowing leaf transpiration to substitute for clay wicking. I use this principle/assumption in my own home, because I cannot be bothered to water several times a week, and to stick my finger in over a hundred pots … it’s just not gonna happen! So, I assume that, since each pot is quite full and bushy, it will need watering at the same time.

And what about drainage? Every so often, I experiment with pots that do not have drainage. I use unglazed clay pots to allow for wicking. I use glazed pots with lots of shards and gravel in the bottom. Plants thrive for a while, but then eventually rot (maybe some people have time to monitor such plantings daily, but I don’t). The only exception to this rule is plants that LIKE to have wet roots (like papyrus [Cyperus]). So, if the plants must have drainage, they will need something to catch what drains out of the pot during watering. Collectively called “saucers,” the items I have used in this capacity include real saucers, old dinner plates, old pie plates, decorative glazed ceramic dishes, decorative glass dishes, decorative plastic dishes, and non-decorative plastic dishes. I have used the standard unglazed clay saucers often sold with flower pots, but I do not like them (except that they coordinate with the pots very well); the porosity that makes clay pots so desirable is what makes clay saucers a nuisance … who wants a water ring on any surface? I use a LOT of the clear plastic, circular saucers sold specifically for houseplants; they have a good capacity, and high sides to catch a good quantity of draining water. They will not leak onto the window ledge or furniture (although, after a few years, they will age and crack, so be wary). Interesting, these plastic saucers seem rather expensive for what they are, so I scrounge thrift stores for ceramic dishes (like pie plates) that will work, usually at a fraction of the cost of the new plastic dishes; often they are more attractive, too! Sometimes I add gravel in the saucers to hold the pots up from standing water, but usually I don’t, because it really doesn’t make that much difference.

Kitchen Gardening: OK, let’s assume that you want a lush garden. Let’s also assume that you don’t really want to lay out a lot of cash for new plants since you don’t have a very successful history with growing indoor plants, and you don’t have any botanically-gifted friends who will give cuttings to you … what are your options? Well, even though I do have a relatively green thumb, and I have no problem spend “some” money for plants, and I do have contacts for cuttings, I do quite a bit of what I call “kitchen gardening.”

Kitchen gardening is using plant materials that we normally consume (or their “waste” bits), and growing plants from them. That can include carrot tops, citrus seeds, avocado pits, sweet potatoes, and others. Take the top of a carrot, stick it in some water, and watch it sprout leaves; if it also sprouts rootlets, stick it in some potting mix, and enjoy the greenery. Citrus seeds, sewn in potting mix, will yield a slow-growing but beautiful busy. Avocado pits, pierced with toothpicks and balanced in a dish of water, will eventually send out both roots and a shoot. Pot it in potting mix, expose it to bright light, and you’ll have a gorgeous tree, particularly if you remember to pinch the growing tips every couple of months to create a bushier effect. Try sticking some sweet potatoes in potting mix and letting their robust vines fill your space with greenery. By the way, “regular” potatoes (russet, new, white, red, etc) will sprout easily, but their foliage is toxic, so I don’t recommend growing these if you have children and/or pets.

Some more exotic examples of plants that can be used in kitchen gardening are taro, malanga/yautia, and lemongrass. Taro, which yields poi in Hawai’i, is a large leaved plant of the Araceae family (aroids, as I discussed last month), also known as “elephant ears.” Every year I grow these plants on my back porch, creating a lush, tropical escape. I introduce malanga (or yautia) as well, which are similarly large-leaved aroids, but which have a more arrowhead-shaped vines; belonging to the genus Xanthosoma, there are several species, one of which, X. violaceaum, has beautiful burgundy hue to the stems (actually, petioles). Lemongrass is easily found in most Asian markets; stick it in potting mix, keep it sopping wet, and soon long grasslike leaves will emerge from the top, creating a dramatic and aromatic addition to your growing area.

Now that spring has sprouted all around you, summer is just around the corner (see below). June is named after Juno, the Roman goddess of love (with Venus), marriage, relationships, protection and leadership (as chief goddess of the pantheon); my mother’s name was June, so I honor her with this column:

Candy Month: It has been said that “life is like a box of chocolates” (well, it’s been said by Forrest Gump), and while overindulgence in candy of any type is unhealthy, moderation is the key to highlighting life with the occasional sweet.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month: I am unsure why a particular month must be designated to celebrate “fresh fruits and vegetables,” as EVERY months should celebrate Nature’s bounty. However, for those who forget to be grateful for this bounty, consider this as an “official” reminder.

Gay Pride Month: Although I think the name should be changed (that is, being gay is as natural and normal as being left-handed, or blond, so why take pride?), the goal of this month is to honor the activists who came before, and to celebrate the progress toward equality in all aspects of life. However, there is still much work to be done! We cannot afford to become complacent!

Dairy Month: As with “Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month,” I don’t understand the need for a special month to honor dairy, except that without such designation, we might forget all of the effort that goes to bring this valuable source of dietary calcium into our lives. As I enjoy half-and-half in my coffee, or milk on my bread pudding, or any of the dozens of cheeses (artisanal and commercial) that I consume for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I shall be more mindful of the cows, nanny goats and ewes, and their keepers, who made this bounty available.

National Adopt a Cat Month: I have had cats as companion animals all of my life. Currently, I have Lugh and Luna, brother and sister white Persians who needed a home together after their previous caretaker fell in love with an allergy-laden individual. That was 3 years ago, and as with all of my previous cats, I do not want to imagine life without them. Make yourself happy … adopt a cat! These are my first purebreds, and though I love Lugh and Luna, I would strongly encourage you to adopt a mixed breed … you will not regret it!

National Drive Safe Month: My last car died in 1988, and I relied on public transportation exclusively until last October, when some clients bartered my management services for one of their cars. At the time, I didn’t think I needed a car, but I have grown to enjoy it. What I do not enjoy is the number of wacko drivers on the road! Everyone is in such a hurry (and have to talk on cell phones and apply makeup in the rear view mirror while they are hurrying!). Be mindful as you drive (aka, “defensive driving”). Be safe.

National Pest Control Month: While my initial reaction to this celebration was that it commemorated parents’ managing their screaming progeny in supermarkets, I have come to discover that the “pest” in question are actually arthropodan in nature (insects and their ilk). If pests are a problem, try to use natural, organic means of controlling them. And PLEASE do NOT consider spiders as pests. I know people who complain that spiders invade their homes … those spiders will not stay unless they have food, and that food is actually any type of small insect that might finds its way into your home. Be glad that spiders have visited you! (The same is true of centipedes that always mark the beginning of autumn; in addition to entertaining the cats, centipedes are carnivorous, and will eat roaches, ants, moths and any other succulent insect they can find).

Iced Tea Month: I always have a jug of iced tea in my refrigerator. While many health professionals will tell you that your daily water intake must be pure water, many others assure us that just consuming liquid will keep us hydrated. Furthermore, not only will tea provide anti-oxidants to our diet, but recent studies indicate that drinking tea increases the function of our immune system. Furthermore, if you add lemon (or lime or orange) to your tea, you’ve increased your Vitamin C. Minimize the sugar, though; constantly bathing your mouth with sugared liquid (tea or anything else) can wreak havoc on your teeth.

Zoo and Aquarium Month: I have mixed feelings about zoos and aquaria. While I have spent many a happy day in zoos and aquaria, I also know that most of these facilities feature highly artificial environments that sometimes stress the animals. That said, I also acknowledge that zoos and aquaria are the leaders in wildlife conservation these days, with computerized breeding programs to enhance genetic diversity. Finally, I also must acknowledge that many children today do not have the advantages I did growing up, when I was able to experience animals in their wild environments and thus learn to appreciate the natural world, so I hope that these institutions can train yet another generation to respect the Earth and its inhabitants.

June commemorates lots of international patriotism. Here are some examples: June 1 (Self-Rule Day, Kenya), June 4 (Flag Day, Panama; Emancipation Day, Tonga), June 5 (Constitution Day, Denmark; Flag Day, Turkey), June 6 (Flag Day, Sweden), June 7 (Liberation Day, Chad; Republic Day, Iceland; Unionsopplosningen, Norway), June 12 (Flag Day, Luxembourg and New Zealand; Independence Day, Philippines and Russia), June 13 (Flag Day, Palau), June 14 (Flag Day, USA [see below]; Liberation Day, Falkland Islands), June 17 (Constitution Day, Iceland), June 21 (Flag Day, Greenland [Denmark]), June 23 (Victory Day, Estonia), June 24 (Zaire Day, Zaire; Countryman’s Day, Peru), June 25 (Independence Day, Mozambique and Slovenia), June 26 (Independence Day, Madagascar and Somalia), June 27 (Independence Day, Djibouti), June 29 (Independence Day, Seychelles), and June 30 (Flag Day, Portugal and Tanzania).

Other significant days include:

June 6: Shavu’ot: Well, this holiday has a variety of names that give us some clues to its significance, including The Holiday of the First Fruits, and The Season of the Giving of the Torah, so if Hebrew history of an interest, please read at your leisure.

June 11: Kamehameha Day: King Kamehameha I united the Hawai’ian Islands in 1800 under benevolent rule; this holiday celebrates his physical, mental and spiritual abilities, and serves as inspiration to the Hawai’ian people. Today is also National Hug Day … research shows that hugs are healing; humans need physical contact (as do our companion animals, so give them a hug and some deep muscle massage today and everyday), so hug a loved one today.

June 14: Flag Day (America): honor the flag, but do not worship it. It symbolizes the freedoms outlined in the Constitution … do not forget those freedoms. I believe it was Ben Franklin, one of our founding fathers, who said (paraphrased), “Those who would give up their freedoms for security deserve neither.” Think about it.

June 15: Father’s Day: Always the third Sunday of June, this holiday was first proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 (but was made official by President Richard M. Nixon in 1972). The holiday has its origins with Mrs. John B. Dodd, who wanted to honor her father, Mr. William Smart, a Civil War veteran. You can get into the spirit of the holiday by visiting http://www.marvelicious.com/fathersday.html . This is also National Smile Power Day … I cannot overstate the value of smiling at everyone you meet! I beg of you to trust me on this … start on this one day by smiling at everyone, continue it to the next day, and soon constant smiling will be habituated. This habit is a good one!

June 17: Eat Your Vegetables Day: eat your veggies today, and EVERY DAY. Don’t question me. Check out this month’s Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® salads.

June 21: Summer Solstice/First Day of Summer: Today is the longest day of the year. Take advantage of the Light by tackling some of those overdue projects. Who needs the status quo when you can truly start moving forward with your life!

So are you now ready to move forward? Or do you still feel stuck? Well, keep working on it, or call me for some help. I am here for you. I spent too many years feeling "stuck," and I know how uncomfortable or even painful that condition is. Don’t waste any time getting "unstuck." Please.