Saturday, January 20, 2018

How the Lifesaver Plant Got Its Name

Winter is a time when most of my houseplants get the most love they're ever going to get. That's because if I want to keep these plants - mostly tropicals - they have to live in the house with us during the winter and I generally pay more attention to those things that share my living space. We're in Zone 5b here and it gets way too cold for them to stay outside year round.

These begonias do well in the bright shade of the pergola, but need to
go inside for the winter.

One day, in the summer of 2016, I went nursery hopping with my good friend, Shelley, and while I showed some restraint as we visited various places, only buying what I needed for a photo shoot for a trade industry magazine article I was doing, I found something I couldn't live without. It only cost a few dollars, but we all know that when it comes to plants, cost often has little to do with our buying decisions.

I'd heard about the lifesaver plant many years ago and had seen photos of it - such a cactus-y looking thing with surreal candy blooms. I wondered if those flowers (I felt funny even calling them that) really looked as plasticky in real life.

But now here it was, right in front of me, and oh boy, yeah. It really did look like its photos. So I bought it. In the time since that day, it has taken turns growing in the house, in the conservatory, and outside during the summer. It seems to be a happy camper no matter where it is. You've got to love a plant like that.

Here are the growing stats:

Common name: Lifesaver plant
Botanical name: Huernia zebrina
Plant type: Succulent
Zone: 10
Light: Full sun
Water: Let dry thoroughly between watering, then soak. Tolerates neglectful watering.
Height: Under 6 inches 
Bloom time: Intermittent

FUN FACT: Huernia zebrina belongs to the same family as milkweed -  Apocynaceae. But no, monarch butterflies don't use it as a host plant. 😉

For ideas on how to use houseplants that coordinate with your personal style and decor, see my first book, co-authored with Jenny Peterson: Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants. (2013, St. Lynn's Press)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Return to Mexico and the Monarchs

I haven't yet blogged in detail about my visit to the monarch sanctuaries in Mexico last March, and I promise I will, VERY soon. That was a trip I will never ever forget, and not just because of what I saw, but because of what I felt. Seldom in my life have I been moved to tears by the very sight of something so  magnificent.

Clusters of monarchs in the El Rosario sanctuary, on March 2, 2017

When I left Mexico, I knew I wanted to return sometime, but I didn't know if that would be a reality or not. And then I got a message a few days before Christmas from Jim West, owner of Craftours, the world's largest touring company in the craft industry. He asked me this:

"...we are working with the SAVE THE MONARCHS FOUNDATION and we are interested in knowing if you would like to be our special guest for a tour in Mexico when we actually go to a monarch sanctuary and see hundreds and thousands of these beautiful monarchs."

Well...ummm...let me think about that. FOR TWO SECONDS!

To make a long story short, yes, I will be returning to Mexico to see the monarchs, along with 18 other people. I will be their go-to person for questions and information about the monarchs. I'm really glad that I've been there before, because that gives me background experience along with the information I've learned over the years, in order to help make the trip more interesting and enjoyable.

The Sun Man in the Cosmovitral

I'll be there February 19-26 and will be visiting three sanctuaries this time. El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, which I visited last March, and a third, Piedra Herrada, which I've not yet seen. We'll be going to the Cosmovitral in Toluca, which I've also seen, and is one of the most unique botanical gardens in the world. But we'll be traveling in and out of Mexico City this time, so visiting that city will be a new experience for me.

With just one month to go before I head out, I'm starting to get pretty excited about it all, and I can't wait to share my enthusiasm with my fellow travelers. I'll be sure to keep you posted when I go, with photos and updates via Facebook.

You can read more about the trip here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Visit With Sue Grafton, Author

In June of 2016, garden communicators from GWA Region III had a two-day get-together in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. One of the highlights of the garden tours was a visit to the home and gardens of author Sue Grafton, whose home is just east of Louisville.

If you aren't aware of who Ms. Grafton is, perhaps you've heard of her books. She's the prolific author of the "Alphabet Series" of detective novels. Beginning with A is for Alibi in 1982 and ending with Y is for Yesterday in 2017, she wrote the series after a 15-year career writing screenplays.

When we sat in Grafton's sunroom that Friday afternoon, listening to her share writing methods and anecdotes about her writing career, we didn't know that she already was battling cancer.

On December 28, 2017, we were saddened to hear that Sue Grafton lost that battle and passed away at her second home in Santa Barbara, California.

Those of us who had the privilege of spending that day with her began reminiscing about it. I realized I'd never written a blog post about the visit, so I'm righting that wrong here and now.
When I heard a couple of months prior that we were going to be visiting Sue Grafton's home, I immediately bought a copy of the first book in her famous series. Though many who attended that day were already fans of her writing, I had yet to read a single book she'd penned. Detective novels aren't my favorite genre (that would be historical fiction), but I wanted to read at least one before I met her.

A is for Alibi was a good read. By the time I got to the ending, which was worded brilliantly, I could understand how and why people were so enamored with her writing.

Of course, I took my copy of her book with me for her to sign, which she so graciously did. I gave her a copy of my own first book, Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants, as a hostess gift.

Sue and her husband, Steven Humphrey, purchased their beautiful home in 2000. The property encompasses nearly 30 acres and was the former estate of hardware mogul William Belknap. The home was built in 1911, and Belknap named it Lincliff. Situated along the Ohio River, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Author Sue Grafton welcomes garden writer and author, Barbara Wise,
to her Louisville home.

We started our visit with Sue welcoming us into her home, where we then settled in for a fun and informative chat with her. She explained how she approaches her writing and encouraged us to be less inhibited in our own writing.

Her husband, Steve, gave a tour of the gardens, but we were also allowed to roam her property at our leisure.

The gardens were formal in design, which complimented the Georgian Revival style home. It was Steve who took on the restoration of the gardens and he did his research, discovering that John Olmsted, nephew of Frederick Law Olmsted, designed the original residential layout.


About 20 years after the home was built, it was landscape architect Bryant Fleming, designer of Nashville's Cheekwood Estate, that created the gardens. Steve had access to the original plans and used them to guide his restoration.

Steve became interested in gardening before Sue, and he taught her to appreciate the finer points of landscaping. Besides the tailored gardens on the property, they grow edibles too, such as potatoes, asparagus, and an assortment of berries. I don't recall seeing that part of their gardens, but our time was limited enough that we couldn't take in the entire property.

At the time of our visit, Sue fielded a question about what she would do once the final letter "Z" was finished in her series of Kinsey Milhone adventures. Since she had just finished writing Y is for Yesterday, which was released three months after our visit, she still had plenty to think about for Z is for Zero, slated for release sometime in 2019. But she said she had no writing plans past "Z."

When news reported Ms. Grafton's passing, her daughter, Jamie Clark, spoke on behalf of the family:

“She was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

GWA Region III meeting attendees.
The region includes Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin,
Michigan, and West Virginia.

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