Growing Gardener

Chapter 2–Memorial Mug

            In my brief tenure as a gardener, I have discovered a love for planting in unconventional containers. Vases and Terra-cotta pots have their own beauty, but I lean towards the quirky personalization of planting in something that wasn’t meant for soil or roots. And when that something has special significance to you, it becomes even more satisfying to see a living plant thriving inside it.

This past January, my father passed away. Even though he was a diabetic with failing kidneys, we expected him to be around for many more years. He was on dialysis and his doctors were optimistic. Needless to say, his death shocked our family. After someone dies, you learn more about yourself and the person you lost. Those revelations are for another day. To be honest, I’m not quite done going through that process. But it has been comforting that have things around that remind me of Dad.

My parents have been divorced since I was about four years old, so I was surprised when Mom called me in mid-March to tell me that she had an item that reminded her of Dad. In my last post, I mentioned Mom’s love of antiques. She’s got a special fondness for silver pieces. There’s an ornate tray on top of her commode with a small vase, a jar that hold cotton balls, and a baby cup that she used to hold Q-tips–all antique silver. After years of neither of us paying particular attention to the items beyond their aesthetic appeal, Mom realized that the baby cup had Dad’s initials engraved across the front in plain script. She asked me if I’d like to have it, and when I said yes, she suggested planting some kind of shade plant as a positive reminder.

Mom promised to bring out the baby cup when she visited me in May and even purchased a little fern that fit perfectly. Unfortunately, you can’t bring plants on a plane, so the fern she bought had to remain back in St. Louis. Part of our agenda for her visit became finding a small shade plant at a nursery. En route to a fabulous used bookstore, we stumbled upon M&M nursery, an equally fabulous place to find a variety of plant life.

M&M nursery was a fun little oasis to explore, with a friendly and knowledgeable staff. We quickly found a pink and white petite fern that would be quite happy in the baby cup. Despite Dad’s initials being present on the cup, it’s a girl plant. I’m weird about naming objects both animate and inanimate; I’ll spend quite a long time trying to figure out just the right name. Thus, there is a pink plant in my bathroom named Vanessa. Who actually needs to be watered…

Chapter 3–A Touch of Whimsy

                Something about miniatures increases the cute factor. Witness, toy breeds and tiny bottles of wine. They’re freaking enchanting. And really, really hard to resist. This whole green thumb thing kind of spiraled out of control after finding M&M nursery.

While on the hunt for a plant that would suit the baby cup, I became absorbed with the nursery’s Wonka-like aura of wonder. There were moss capped stumps of bleached wood made to look like toadstools. Teeny tiny trees with white rose buds reminiscent of the Queen of Heart’s garden blooms. Porcelain figures trapped under an errant wine glass in a picnic basket garden. Multiple miniature gardens all with an invitation to play and dream.

M&M specializes in fairy gardens; they even teach classes in how to craft them. The gardens ranged from sprawling miniature cities to fairies perched on a soup ladle. I instantly loved the idea of creating my own, but realized I didn’t have the outdoor space to support a large garden. I’m also renting, which means that what outdoor space I do have isn’t truly mine. Plus, there’s the moving factor. Carting an extensive garden cross country if I have to move in the next year or so just isn’t practical.  I had nearly convinced myself that it was impossible, until I reached the checkout counter. Next to the register was a smaller scale garden in a rounded glass vase–an indoor terrarium complete with winged fairy. Once again, I talked myself into this.

That night, Mom and I journeyed to Michael’s, where she helped me pick out a 160 oz. brandy snifter. The next day we returned to M&M and picked out five small shade loving plants, including a tiny ivy vine. Each of the plants selected should be good indoors, receiving enough diffused sunlight from the kitchen window to keep them happy.


My five shade loving plants.

Upon the recommendation of one of the chief fairy gardeners I bought a medium sized bag of both peat moss and perlite, along with a small baggie of charcoal. The ratio needed is 2:1 peat moss to perlite, with a few tablespoons of charcoal thrown in to eliminate odor and keep the garden fresh.


            To fill my 160 oz brandy snifter, I ended up using 3 cups of peat moss and 2 cups of perlite, mixing in the soil that came with the plants to re-balance the ratio. I added two spoonfuls of charcoal to complete the mixture.


                     The hardest part of shopping at M&M nursery was the limited space I had to work with. There were so many cool things it was hard to limit my purchases. They had hobbit-esque houses, miniature tea sets, unicorns, hedgehogs, margaritas…how am I supposed to make these kinds of choices??? On a side note, I’m convinced I’ll have to seasonally redecorate. There was a set of mini skeleton mariachis for goodness sake!

But I digress. After prowling around the nursery, I settled on a trellis for the ivy to grow on, three white rabbits, a porcelain piglet (Mom and I had a huge debate over barnyard vs. forest creatures, but I couldn’t let the little piglet go. His name, if you were interested, is Winston), and a curtsying little chalk fairy.

First I put a baseline of the soil mixture in the snifter and got the trellis situated. The ivy went in first so I could wind its vines through the slats. The other plants were staged to create a diverse look of colors and textures.


                    The finishing touch was placing the fairy, bunnies, and Winston, the wee pouting piglet.


The final product


Aerial view

I love having my little fairy garden in the kitchen, but I fear it may only be a gateway fairy garden. I could see these turning into Christmas presents for friends, or a larger scale garden for myself when the outdoor space is available. Strangely, I haven’t yet landed on a name for the pink fey.  Any suggestions?

Paranoid Plant Parent

Chapter 1–I Talked Myself Into This

            Ever since I moved out to California, I have been obsessed with having something living in my care. Usually this involves an emotional spiral wherein I:

1. Get lonesome.

2. Decide that a dog would be a great idea.

3. Spend several hours on seeing what kind of small dogs are locally adoptable.

4. Examine the adoption requirements and ponder renaming the dachshund/chihuahua/bulldog in question.

5. Think about it.

6. Think about it.

7. Conclude that I can neither afford to give the pup the time it deserves, nor can I afford the potential expense (particularly the hike in rent).

8. Get sad.

9. Feel that I have made the morally right decision and congratulate myself.

10. Return to step one.

Clearly, I have made a series of logical decisions. On repeat. For ten months. Writing this has nearly put me on the threshold of step one, so I probably need to cool it. A dog seems like a great idea, but ultimately I realize it wouldn’t be fair to the little fella in question.

After a lot of deliberation, I landed upon my answer–plants. They’re alive. At least if you do it right. They’re not expensive. They don’t need to be walked. And they don’t require a large amount of time. Plus, I figure keeping a plant alive is a baby step towards a pet. So I wanted to start small. Enter the succulent known as Gus.

Side story time. My Mom’s favorite little store back in St. Louis, is called The White Rabbit. We go in there whenever I’m home, and the store is full of antique inspiration. One of the things that I saw repeatedly in The White Rabbit was adorable little succulents in tea cups or other unlikely vessels. I’m eternally convinced that I can be as crafty as a storefront or someone’s pins on Pinterest. And there are antique stores aplenty in Orange County for more convenient vintage hunting grounds.

Several months ago, I dragged my friend, Dara, to one of the various antique stores in downtown Orange, CA  in search of the perfectly unique container for my small, rose-shaped succulent. After scouring several of the booths in the lovely antique mall, we came upon a porcelain shaving pot with pastel flowers painted on the base. Hurrah for girly masculinity! The shaving pot had five holes in the uppermost portion that I thought would make a perfect method to drain excess water. Never mind the fact that succulents do not require a ton of H20. So shaving pot purchased and Gus had a new home. Gus, it should be noted, was picked out at a random nursery after I stared at their succulent selection for fifteen minutes.


            Except I think I over watered Gus. Next I worried he wasn’t getting enough sun in my kitchen, so I took him on field trips outside. He seemed happier out there–his trips became longer and longer. Then he looked a little fried. And then I got concerned Gus didn’t have enough room to grow in the shaving pot. I trimmed his roots. I put more soil in the pot. I may have accidentally broken off a few of his leaves at some point. One plant and suddenly I’m a paranoid (and terrible) parent. This is may be why I shouldn’t get a dog.

Multiple Google searches later, I felt that despite the mishap with the leaves, Gus could still have a happy life in my home. Instead of jumping around trying to fix any conceivable problem, I needed to provide more consistent care rather than repeatedly shock the plant with outdoor/indoor changes. I rationalized that Gus just needed better living quarters. And maybe some company. So I trucked on down to a store called Dragonfly in the circle to purchase a slightly larger pot, and a smaller succulent to move into the shaving pot. The new pot isn’t fancy. It’s just blue with room to grow. The new succulent looks like a tower of mini Lima beans. His name is Harold. Gus and Harold are now ensconced in my kitchen receiving modest sunlight and even more minimal water. They both appear to be content. Though I still helicopter parent them on a daily basis. I ask them how they’re doing, and they have yet to respond (Yes, I talk to my plants on a regular basis). The key here is that they haven’t died and this makes me happy.


            Chapters two and three of this saga detail my belief that I now have a green thumb. Get ready.