Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Huge congrats to my friend and former blogging colleague Eugenia O'Neal on winning the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for best short fiction in The Caribbean Writer. Her winning entry is “Harold Varlack’s Return.” Eugenia is the author of two novels, Jessamine and Jamaica Dreaming, as well as works of non-fiction including Black Voices, From the Field to the Legislature and Obeah, Race and Racism. A Tortolan, O’Neal resides in Grenada.

Also shortlisted for this prize were "Occasional Moonlight” by Sara Lynn Burnett and “Gringo Pobre” by Rafael Gamero.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

These plants grow so fast!

Spider plants and pothos newly hung and 3-4 months later

I'm focusing on easy care plants in the apartment and on the balcony these days and these two stalwarts absolutely fit the bill. 

I haven't had much luck with spider plants indoors: two died and one fell over on its head when I pushed the table it stood on. So I got two more and hung them outside in the entry. Guess what? Some big, gross moth larvae attacked them almost immediately and chomped half the leaves to stumps! I happened to go out there in the middle of the night a few times and caught the chompers in the act. I destroyed them and voila! The spiders are now growing happily. Keep it up, my lovelies!

Then there's the pothos. My lawd. I swear this is the easiest plant EVER for pots and hanging containers. It hardly ever needs watering. Never seen a pest go near it. Fertilize when you feel like it. And this baby grows, and grows--just keeps sending out these lovely long vines that drape so elegantly. If the vines become leggy after a while just clip them back and there it goes again. It even tolerates low light; the only difference is that if it's a variegated variety the contrast will be less pronounced--there will be much less of the lighter color as the plant maximizes the green surfaces of the leaves to process what little light there is.

If you're a new indoor gardener, or an experienced plant mom or dad who just doesn't want to deal with finicky plants right now, spider plants and pothos are the way to go.

Happy planting, greenies!

Coping with a global pandemic

How does one maintain some semblance of balance, positivity, sanity, peace, health and focus during these fraught times? It's a struggle for me, a constant work-in-progress, but here are a few things that help me stay afloat, at worst, and bring me joy, at best. 

1. Plants and nature. There is something very healing and balancing about tending green, growing things and observing nature. This plant to the left is my pony tail palm (beaucarnea recurvata) that has been languishing for months, root bound, in a too-small pot. (It's a succulent, not a palm, btw.) If it wasn't such a hardy plant it might have expired from neglect already. I recently scrubbed this pot that used to house my old lavender and replanted the pony tail in it. With more than enough space, new soil and a generous helping of fertilizer it should begin thriving again. It looks happier already. I'm sure it feels happier--and so do I! 

 Meditation. I'm a total neophyte at it but I've tried to make it a habit since the lockdown started. I don't manage to meditate every day but on the days that I do it DOES make a difference. For some people, this practice might take the form of prayer. Whatever centering practice you prefer, do it! Or do several. It does calm the mind and relax the body. I promise.

3. Counting blessings and nurturing gratitude. I'm in the habit of counting my blessings--have been doing this for several decades--but it was only this year that I followed Steve Harvey's advice and made a list of all that I'm grateful for: family, friends, trees, plants, rain... I include even the simplest things like indoor plumbing and electricity. Health. Birdsong. The ability to think, breathe, move, see, hear, smell, taste. I make a habit of taking little for granted. 

4. Dreams, hopes and plans. It's healthy to have things to look forward to. I know I'm going to sound like a Steve Harvey acolyte here, but I started watching his shows on YT for the laughs and came away with so much more. I followed his advice to make a list of 300 things I wanted. That list took me a long time--weeks or months--before I hit 300. I broke things into small pieces. For example, instead of just writing that I wanted a garden of my own again some day soon, I listed separately all the plants I wanted: the herbs, vegetables, flowers, fruits etc that I wanted to grow again, or grow for the first time. 

You want new shoes? List the types and colors. (Don't go overboard with this. You don't want the entire list to consist of clothes, bags and shoes. The same goes for books: my reading wish list alone has more than 300 titles.) You want to travel when restrictions ease up? List each country individually. What about those medical checkups, the dental work, the documents that need to be renewed, selling your car, getting rid of the things you don't need or use... You want to climb mountains? Sail around the world in a boat you built yourself? Go back to school? Adopt a child? Adopt a puppy? List them all. Let it sink into your brain that you have all these things to do, or see, or experience, or achieve. You have a future to look forward to. It helps to keep hopelessness at bay.

5. YouTube! My screen time has increased dramatically this year--like most people's I believe. I've made a conscious decision to cut down and cut back because it was getting out of hand. I now minimize some types of content (politics! coronavirus news! toxic humans!) and maximize others. I choose to watch content that feeds the soul, that brings joy, that cheers me up. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Gardening channels such as Planterina, Self Sufficient Me and The Gardening Channel with James Prigioni. I get happily lost in videos of beautiful plants and the caring of them. 
  • Comedy. Laughter is good for the soul. It lightens the spirit, reminds us that we're together in this mess called life, allows us to chuckle at ourselves and others. In addition to my favorite standup comedians (Dave Chappelle, George Carlin) I've discovered lots of new (to me) performers on the Dry Bar Comedy channel. 
  • Channels that promote healthy, harmonious, sustainable and adventurous living. I make a point of subscribing to my favorites since these channels contribute towards the livelihood of the owners through ads and sponsorship. (I let the ads run for at least 30 seconds so the owners of the channels can get paid.) These channels feature themes such as van life, tiny home living, organic gardening, sustainable living/permaculture, DIY, preservation of the environment, respect for people and cultures, kindness, love of nature ... Here are the ones I frequent most: Rob GreenfieldAdventure Rich, The Nomadic Movement, Amelia & JP, Trent and Allie, Kalle Flodin--all people who are living their lives unconventionally and whose principles I endorse to some degree. 
  • Films. I don't subscribe to Netflix, but I have a comprehensive list of films I found on YouTube. Some are perennial favorites that I re-watch now and then. Others are movies that I've always wanted to see or have recently discovered. More and more I'm drawn to older films, the classics from my parents' time and from my childhood. I find them much gentler on my spirit.
  • Exercise. This is the hardest one for me, but it makes a world of difference to my sense of well-being and my mood. Whether it's walking, yoga, spin, dance, Pilates, whatever--just do it. You'll be glad you did.
There's so much more that helps: connecting with family and friends on the phone, an occasional bottle of wine, my writing, editing for my clients, exchanging text messages and voice notes with grandkids, posting plant pics on Instagram... Whatever feeds you, lifts you, energizes you, do it. And if you can do something for someone else, that helps too. Be kind to someone. A neighbor who has no car or who is elderly and afraid to leave the house would appreciate it if you offered to pick up some groceries for her/him. If you can afford to, make a contribution to a cause that makes the world a better place. Help to support an artist by signing up for his or her Patreon. Give that tired cashier or the security guard taking your temperature a heartfelt smile of gratitude. And remember...

It's good to be alive, every single day. 

Spider plants have amazing flowers!

I've had spider plants for years, and I'm aware that they send out tiny white flowers that become the spider babies for which this plant is famous. But I never realized just how beautiful these tiny white flowers were until recently when I hung two spider plants at eye level. The blooms are just half to three-quarters of an inch wide, but they are utterly breathtaking. 

Pristine white petals and yellow stamens - exquisite!

Here's my hand for scale - and no, I don't have a gigantic hand!

Closeup of spider plant bloom courtesy my trusty iPhone! So lovely!

See the buds in this pic? More blooms and more baby spiders to come!

Delicate, airy fairy flowers of the spider plant

This is one of the spider plants currently beautifying my porch

Here's all the proof you need, thanks to the magic of an iPhone camera! I've always loved spider plants for their beautiful and graceful foliage and the babies they grow on their own shoots, but now I have a whole new appreciation of their tiny white flowers as well! 

Interestingly, spider plants are not as easy to grow as I thought: I've tried several indoors and both died after a few months. I did not overwater and I did not let them dry out; one was right next to a window where it got lots of light - but they died all the same. (One was a pure green, and the other was the white-striped as in the photo above, so it's not a peculiarity of a single variety.) The one on my balcony survived and I recently bought a second; it's these two that I hung in the porch--and they're flourishing thus far! 

Keep growing, greenies!

Follow The Gardening Writer on Instagram for more plant pics!

Fairy mushrooms of Panama

The pandemic has delayed my trip to Panama indefinitely but happily I have people there who send me lots of pics and videos of the delights of the Central American highlands. These photos were taken in the Chiriqui Sierras on the western end of Panama, part of which has seen much devastation in the wake of Hurricane Eta last week. Here's to happier times, beautiful sierras!

These are fairy inkcap mushrooms (coprinellus disseminatus) growing in the Panama Sierras. They aren't toxic but are seldom eaten because they have no particular taste or flavor.   

Blue, blue, my world is blue

This plumbago is one of two that I kept in big pots on my balcony. The unusual blue flowers are simply gorgeous! These grow best in full sun and don't like to be overwatered. I live three floors up in an apartment building and this was the first plant on my balcony to attract hummingbirds. 💖💖💖 

My plumbago plants tend to bloom in flushes.  After every flush I trim off the spent flower shoots, remove the top layer of potting mix and top up with fresh soil, fertilizing with slow release pellets at the same time. If you grow them in the ground this consistent renewal and fertilizing isn't necessary; plumbago will spread and drape and thrive in regular soil once it gets lots of sunlight.

Confession: I became so enchanted by these sky blue flowers that I went in search of other plants with blue blooms for a section of my future yard that I plan to call "The Blue Garden". It's going to be beautiful. 

Green, growing things

I'm taking a break from monitoring the parlous state of the world to focus on things that give me joy, namely plants--my plants, my mother's plants, my friends' plants, and the plants and trees all around me here in the Southern Caribbean and wherever I might roam when the world is no longer in pandemic mode. 

Angel's trumpet (brugmansia)

This is a peach angel's trumpet (brugmansia) in my mother's garden. It's a stunning plant with huuuuge perfumed blooms that range in length from 6 - 20 inches. It's one of my favorite ornamental plants, quickly growing to the size of a large shrub or small tree. The pleasant fragrance is most noticeable in the evening. Fun fact: This shrub contains a deadly poison similar to the one found in the deadly nightshade.

I've been sharing plant pics on Instagram as @thegardeningwriter. I try to post one every day, and this focus has helped to save my sanity during the worst of the lockdown. I've decided to share some of them here on my neglected writing blog as well. Enjoy!