Friday, December 31, 2010


            Well, the weather outside is less frightful, the weekend’s supposed to be delightful. Nonetheless, with Wilmington clocking 26 consecutive days of below-average temperatures, this December ranks as the coldest in 135 years. (The government only started keeping systematic records in 1875, so we don’t know about the countless millennia before then.) Oak Island shivered through 19 sub-freezing nights, compared to the average four-and-a-half, according to my own eight years of recording observations.

            A seemingly endless round of low-pressure systems rolls in from the west, sucking in frigid air from Canada. My son Sam returns to McGill University in Montreal next week: I hope there’s some cold left for him up there. My son Sean is in Brooklyn, digging out from the 24 to 30 inches of snow dumped by the Christmas Blizzard of 2010. Makes me think I should stop whining about local weather. Here, as in every other facet of life on Earth, someone somewhere has it worse than I do. Probably much worse, because I’ve led one astoundingly lucky life.
            So far.
                    December 10th’s post, “Stuffing Stockings,” got the most hits this month. Hope it was helpful. Not that I’d know for sure, because comments are few and far between, although pageview stats climb steadily. I thank you all very much—especially my fan in Slovenia—but I’d really, really like some feedback. Nothing bad happens if you post a comment. You won’t go to hell. Plus, it’s easy. At the bottom of every post is a box entitled “Post a Comment.” You move your cursor inside the box and type something, perhaps a flattering remark about what joy this well-written blog brings you, enquiries about my astrological sign or hair color, a story about your community garden or gardening community, your pickleworm phobia, your astrological sign or hair color, whatever. I’m into dialogue, y’all. As long as I don’t have to use the telephone, which I despise more than pickleworms.
            I’ll lay into you about signing on as followers next month, if this comments tirade helps.

            Let’s see, what else? I did, in fact, manage to catch a part of the lunar eclipse. Being of a certain age, I generally have to get up once during the night to visit the bathroom. On December 21st, the bladder call happened at 4 a.m. “What the heck?” I thought, so I bundled up and tiptoed out to our back deck. The eclipse had started to recede, so there was a crescent of white light topping the otherwise dusky red globe. I must have stood there, agog, in that strange light for almost ten minutes. Then Petey the Possum lumbered up under the potting table to check for scraps of catfood Rocky and Rowena Raccoon may have missed, breaking my reverie. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not afraid of Petey, but maintain a healthy respect for his status as a wild creature.

            The pallet of 50 25-pound bags of Black Kow I asked Santa for failed to materialize, alas. I was hoping to use them to counteract the pound of dark-chocolate-covered macaroons and the dozen coconut igloos that were waiting for me under the tree. Guess I’ll have to keep schlepping 50-pounders of Kow around one or two at a time.

            Houseplant status report: the Solanum pseudocapsicum is totally defoliated. Turned out it had an infestation of little green caterpillars. Two soakings with Safer Insecticidal Soap at ten-day intervals took care of them, but it was too late for the leaves. The plant sits in its corner of the Fitzgerald Kitchen of Death, looking rather minimalistically sculptural with its orange fruits and bare green stems. I find I prefer it this way: beats the daily dustpan-full of crunchy leaves and caterpillar poop. Some tiny new leaves are starting to unfurl, stoking hopes of ultimate survival. 
The defoliated yet sculptural
Solanum pseudocapsicum

            A few caterpillars tried a change of address to the verbena/pentas pot, but a single shot of Safer quashed that tactic. Both plants continue hanging in.

            The dahlia drowned. The mango sprout damped off.

            Incredibly, the poinsettia still has most of its foliage and to date hasn’t lost a single red bract. This is little short of a Christmas miracle. All other specimens of the uber-hybridized Mexican beauty sentenced to a holiday term chez Fitz give up within three weeks. The current season’s mutant is a month old and going strong. It's true—wonders never cease.
Aha! It's a
Physalis heterophylla,
a clammy ground cherry

            The tapeworm fern is holding its own, even sporting some new shoots. Our cat Three (it’s a long story) keeps trying to ingest it, but every time she does, she has to throw it up within minutes. I know this because the vomit spots are all in the immediate environs of the piano upon which the plant sits. This behavior raises doubts as to exactly how smart this wily old feline survivor really is

            The papayas are both doing very well indeed, recovering nicely from their initial shock defoliation. I attribute this amazing turn of events to the fact that both were spared any time at all in the Kitchen of Death, and weekly doses of Super-Thrive.

            The biggest houseplant story of December, however, involves that mystery plant I asked you for help in identifying. Well, never mind. I found it in on page 47 of the February 2011 issue of Garden Gate, in the “Weed Watch” section. It’s a clammy ground cherry, Physalis heterophylla. Leave it to me to attempt to overwinter a weed. The plant itself succumbed last weekend, but I’ve kept some seeds. Hey, a weed’s only a weed if you don’t like it, right?

Gulf fritillary caterpillar
munching on passionflower foliage

            This out-of-the-clear-blue-sky plant identification happens to me quite a bit, mainly because I read a lot of gardening magazines. The other instance I remember with crystal clarity is when I learned the name of the ugly orange-with-black-spines caterpillars eating the life out of the passionflower adorning our outdoor shower. I keep back issues of various magazines in the bathroom, so that no minute goes by without its opportunity for expanding horizons. On this occasion, I picked up a three-year-old copy of The American Gardener, and opened it at random. Well, slap my ass and call me pinky, there was a picture of the wriggly creatures devastating my vine. They were the larvae of Gulf fritillary butterflies!

            I don’t really believe in coincidence. Tim and I had been batting the idea of killing the little things back and forth when I felt the need to use the convenience. And voilà! It would be spooky if it didn’t happen so often.

            The seed catalogs are rolling in. Comstock Seeds, Burpee’s, and Cooks Garden have arrived, along with a new Gardens Alive! offering 25% off KaBluey blueberry plants. I’m already salivating, having spent four dollars for six ounces of the antioxidant powerhouses from Argentina just yesterday. (It was for a party—I don't normally buy non-U.S. produce, and try to keep purchases to what’s in season. Which, at this time of year, is practically nothing.)

            Thanks for dropping by. Take the plunge and leave a brief comment, okay? See you in the New Year.