Gardening Negativity

There are so many signs of life in the garden, and yet there are always things to be down about if you insist upon being mopey.  The King Sago to the left is putting out a new flush of growth, but I can't help but dread the cycad scale insects that tend to plague them in late summer around here.
Its easy to get discouraged when your plants aren't doing too hot and that being said, I could easily be discouraged right about now.  My "Ice Cream" banana isn't doing well, my neoregelia "Hannibal Lector" finally rotted away after all the prolonged cold, and I'm experiencing my first ever insect infestation in the "Rainforest Garden".

I've battled scale insects, spider mites and mealybugs on my apartment balcony, but the wonderful lizards and treefrogs have always kept the bugs in check at my mom's place until now.  Apart from the aforementioned cycad scale, I suppose I've always been lucky!   
This little ornately patterned insect (pictured) and its brethren are to blame for the wholesale destruction of nearly all of the morning glories I planted last month, and they're just now starting to feast on my butterfly weed and canna edulis!  These pretty flowers might not even exist when I get back to my mom's in a week.

I know that the monarch caterpillars will devour them soon anyway, but that's not the point!

Banana Problems
If the bugs weren't enough, my ice cream banana is looking pretty pale on the newest leaf.  Its a symptom I've seen before in my badly sited bananas planted in wet soil, and all of those eventually died.  After doing my research it seems that its likely due to dry conditions, which would also explain last year's failed bananas too, except then the waterlogged roots were too soggy and rotting to give the plant any water.

Rotted Bromeliad
My beloved Neoregelia "Hannibal Lector" had been looking bad since winter, and by tugging on the central leaves today I confirmed that it was dead.
This was the straw that broke the camel's back so to speak, especially since last year at the Kanapaha Spring Festival I foolishly paid $20 for it, only to find it for much less at two other vendors.  If I'm going to waste that much money, the least the plant could do is live for me.
You can imagine my surprise when I then pulled the rotted plant out of the ground and found a brand new pup coming out from the base!
Come to think of it, there were so many more plants recovering than dying anyways, like my monstera deliciosa.

 Or my Cat palm...

 Or my peace lilies...

More To Life...
I guess there are always so many more things to find happiness in, be it in life or the garden.  Though we gardeners tend to let our hobby be our refuge and a source of joy, even gardening is not safe from our inherent pessimism.  Those morning glories were from cheap little seed packets and only planted to live one season anyways.  When all the baby treefrogs and lizards come out of the woodwork, now they'll have something to sustain them to maturity.
The banana's pale leaf got me to learn something new, and I laid down some composting coffee grounds around it to enrich the alkaline builders soil and add some moisture retention.  After I left, it rained on the parched plant and the weather outside my studio window is telling me that it will be quenched more.

Gardeners do not have a natural skill or knack for helping plants live, we just have the patience and faith to visualize the fruits of our labor.  When I talk to people about gardening, most of them tell me that they tried it but had a "black thumb" and simply gave up.  Usually they were growing something that anyone would have a hard time growing around here, like lavender or fuchsias, or something high maintenance like roses that's inappropriate for their lifestyle or budget anyway.  Those "black thumbs" are often a little relieved when I tell them that I wouldn't be able to keep foxgloves alive either!  Every time a plant dies on you, remember to do two things.  Find out why it died so it doesn't happen again, and compost it for another plant, one that's not so ungrateful for the twenty dollars you paid and all your hard work.
The alocasias below started from bulbs in my parent's garage that were left there for years.  I planted them two years ago and this is what I see today:

Maybe they'll get to be this big someday...

This neoregelia spectabilis was left out in winter, looked pretty badly, and is now flowering like nothing happened.

Optimism is best found in all the details, right there with God


  1. RFG: Well said! I actually felt a little down about the garden recently. Except some pest problems, I came home today found my new princess flower (Tibouchina) had almost all leaves falling, and the sticks turning into brown. Only two small branches are still green.... Don't know what happened. I guess I need keep my spirit up and be patient, and learn to deal with the failure. Those are also new things coming with my new gardener label...

    Your last picture of "Blue Cone" really cheers me up though!

  2. omg, I have not recently heard a better or more personal sentiment about gardening than what you wrote in this post, "Gardeners do not have a natural skill or knack for helping plants live, we just have the patience and faith to visualize the fruits of our labor."

    I personally struggle with patience, perhaps more than any other virtue. This thought hit home for me and I can apply it to many other areas of my life, not just gardening.

    Also, I've lately become a bit tired of "feel-good" plant success stories on everyone's blog. It's good to hear this. Glad I visited just now.

  3. What a wonderful and heartfelt post! Just yesterday I was telling myself to just keep moving forward with my black-eyed pea plot. I planted them from seed, and had a million plants, so gave some of my seedlings to my friend, who built a raised bed in shade (which I wouldn't have done...mine is in full sun), and she had never planted multiple vegies before...
    So I stopped by to see her plants, and the black-eyed peas I GAVE her, are three times the size of mine! The only differences in soil is that she added peat moss. And the shade... go figure. But it is discouraging. I am adding weekly water doluable Miracle Gro now and giving extra efforts to make this crop a success. It is just one example of what you say here in this post. I appreciate you saying is giving me more fight and determination to be the winner with this crop!!!

  4. Such a good essay on gardening in touched upon so many truths.

    I am sorry your Neoregelia "Hannibal Lector" has died (is that REALLY the name??). Having just bought two myself, and not really knowing anything about them, I wonder if you have any tips to share? One of the two we bought had VERY few roots. Hardly any. I'm keeping it upright in the pot mainly with a couple inches of gravel top dressing.

  5. Such an uplifting post, although I can tell it didnt start out that way! Going out into the garden can always lift my spirits though. We all have some successes and some failures though, and hopefully learn along the way. So thrilled to see your garden coming back to life.

  6. You are so right that we gardeners need to talk about our failures as much as our successes. It actually is encouraging to discover that one is not alone in not being able to keep every single plant at its optimum, or even alive at times. Appreciating what does work in each individual's garden is much better than dwelling on what doesn't. Each garden is a unique microclimate and sometimes more than one microclimate in the same garden. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    But, I am a little scared to see that your cat palms are having to come back from ground zero. I just planted 3 this January after the 11 day freeze. Oh well, this may give me an opportunity to practice what you preached! :)

  7. I love the neoregelia spectabilis bloom. Last year my chili plants and bougnvilla plants were eaten by big caterpilliar. This year i am not planting bougnvilla . Only chili plant i don't is it going to come or not. we will see.Negeative things are part of life

  8. Ami: I'm so sorry to hear about your tibouchina! Mine is in wet soil that gets saturated in the rainy season and it gets to be as tall as me... maybe yours needed more water?

    Danielle: Thanks for your kind words! I think its really beneficial to everyone when the good, bad and the ugly are all shown, because otherwise we would get pretty discouraged. We wouldn't learn much either!

    Julie: Its really fascinating to hear about a successful crop in the shade! I think that your story also illustrates a hidden benefit to sharing plants with others. We see how they do in different situations, and if our plants die their descendants are alive and well next door!

    DG: You're so nice! You'll also be happy to know that bromeliads often don't even need to be planted in soil, and bareroot plants have often been my best assets... BTW enter my contest so I can send you some! I actually have a big neoregelia bare root on the back patio, and thriving with flowers and a pup to the side. I'm tempted to just leave it that way!

    Africanaussie: As you know, I'm not brought down very often, especially when I'm talking about plants! When you think about it, how could anyone walk out into their own personal paradise and not feel ecstatic?

    NanaK: Honestly, I do wish I was a little more apprehensive about none of my bananas making it in the wet soil, but now I can tell everyone else with certainty "DON'T PLANT BANANAS IN SOGGY SOIL!" I can also show everyone what happens when the soil isn't wet enough too, and thats pretty valuable stuff.
    I wouldn't worry about your cat palms, since mine experienced much more cold than yours ever will.
    Swathi: I'm sorry to hear about your bouganvillea and chilis! If I like a plant enough I keep trying it (like bananas) but if I can live without it I save myself the headache.

  9. Oh my, I could write a book of pessimism on the horrors of cycad scale!!! They are not late-summer pests here. I am already seeing a new generation cover last year's leaf layer.

    Glad to see you found a pup on that dead brom. How exciting that must have been! That's exactly why I left my freeze-damaged broms in the ground, and some are sporting tiny little pups now as well.

    Anyway, my latest pessimism is regarding bugs! We've always had a great bug balance here (except for the St. Augustine lawn), but this year, my garden plants seem to be inundated with life-sucking critters. Stink bugs in particular have discovered a haven of paradise here at PITV. They are everywhere, in numbers I've never seen before. Where are my predators?!!! Whew, that was a whoppin' load of negativity, wasn't it? Oh well, things will even out in the end, and there are always more optimistic things to focus on out there.

  10. Well, if the plant I really love died on me, I just buy an exact replacement. I will (like you said) think about why it died and try to grow the plant differently the next time. Very often, the new one will be fine. I will consider the money spent for the first one as a 'tuition' fee for the second plant he he...

  11. Yes, we all have to learn from our mistakes, or sometimes we're just victims of circumstance. Either way, when one of my plants bites the dust I take advantage of the opening in the landscape and plant something new there. I always have plenty of plants in pots just waiting for a new home in the ground!
    I also like to have two of everything. If they both die then I accept that it's just something I can't grow.

  12. I couldn't have said it better. The garden is so reminiscent of life...sometimes you win and sometimes you lose...but there's always a lesson to be learned and the chance to do better next time. I was nursing a beautiful large orangey color bromeliad baby along when all of a sudden it up and died. I was very disappointed but now I have a new spot of ground where I can plant a "new" plant. So, now I'm off to the nursery to find something interesting. :-)

  13. aloha,

    i enjoyed this post because you never think there are alot of issues in a tropical garden and that is not the case...yes even here in hawaii there are bugs year round, weeds going crazy. mildew, mold, rust, black spots, the list goes on and on so it can become overwhelming at times...but along with the bad does come the good parts to and you do show those well

    come and join me for the hot meme for the end of the month.

  14. FAB macro - love it. ps. love yr new blog design too.

  15. Great post. I have a ice cream banana, too, and I'm going to slow down on the watering, thanks to your advice. Mine's inside for now, but I hope to plant it outside someday.

    What kind of Alocasia is that? Odora? It's so happy!

  16. All I can say is,I agree with everything you and everyone else already said.Now,I think I'll go fret over my garden......

  17. Derek:
    This post was back in May and the banana is leafless now, but just dormant. It looks like it overwintered well though! I can't wait for the yummy naners. The first alocasia is alocasia odora, and the second, bigger alocasia is alocasia "California". I love that plant!

    Don't fret! :)


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