Brown Thumb?

I used to have a brown thumb — brown compared to a green thumb, that is. Instead of everything I tried to grow turning green, things turned brown.

I’ve been thrilled with my garden this year, delighted to see so much greenery and so many different flowers. I thought perhaps my “brown thumb” had finally been cured, but that gave me something else to worry about — my gardening posts have been almost giddy with my success, so deep down inside where I didn’t have to face the thought, I’ve wondered if I were about to get my comeuppance.

Well, I did.

Late yesterday afternoon, a wide swath of my pretty green lawn suddenly turned brown. Did my brown thumb re-emerge? Did my fatalism cause my grass’s doom?

I’m sure, despite the suddenness of the brown attack, the dying swath of grass had nothing to with my thumbs or my fatalism and everything to do with the very strong, very hot, very dry winds that blew through here all day yesterday.

I suppose a green-thumbed person would have foreseen the issue and hence could have prevented it, but I hadn’t a clue. Even if I had thought that the hot, arid winds would desiccate my grass so quickly, I wouldn’t have been able to rehydrate the lawn. Being out in that wind could have wind-burned me, not just my grass, and at my age, dehydration isn’t a joke. (Well, it never is, but youth can sometimes handle physical problems that age cannot.)

That patch of grass got the worst of it, probably because it was in the direct path of the wind. Other plants also succumbed, but those that were protected somehow — mulched, in shade, or had a bush nearby to lessen the wind’s viciousness — came through just fine.

I’d taken down this hanging plant and set it in a protected area. It’s twin, which was not placed in that same protected area, did not fare well at all. An unplanned experiment, for sure!

This whole experience showed me why that sort of weather — temperatures above 100, humidity in the single digits, winds around 40mph — is so dangerous and why it prompts fire warnings. Grass that turns instantly to hay can catch fire easily, and the wind can whip up that fire until it’s uncontrollable. Eek. I’m glad I only have to deal with a patch of desiccated lawn; things could have been so much worse.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

The Gift of the Bonsai

My brother gave me a bonsai kit, which was a wonderful and thoughtful gift because I’ve always been fascinated with the little potted trees (that’s what bonsai means — a potted tree). But  . . . (there’s always a “but” somewhere, isn’t there?) I have a brown thumb. Have never been able to keep a houseplant alive. Never.

Still, I’m game for anything new right now, so I decided to plant my tree and see what happens. I got as far as opening the box and reading the “complete” instructions. They said to cover with the seeds “with a light sprinkling of soil, moisten the soil, and cover the pot with plastic wrap. This will create a mini greenhouse and no further watering will be necessary until the seeds sprout. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the plastic wrap from the pot.” End of instructions.

And then what? These complete instructions are missing the “complete” part. How does one care for the seedlings? What do you do with the plants as they grow? The kit includes four cakes of “growing medium,” but what does one do with this medium? The cakes don’t break up easily, and you can’t exactly sprinkle these chocolate mint-sized cakes over the seeds. And anyway, even if I pulverized the cakes, they would barely cover the bottom of the planter.

So, I began googling.  Bonsai kit.  Garden at Home (the brand) bonsai kit. Black pine bonsai seeds. I found a query about a bonsai kit that sounded like like mine. She didn’t know what to do with the cakes, either. The response that woman was given? Buy a ready grown bonsai and maintain it since growing a black pine bonsai will take years.

Years? How many years? My life is in a state of flux. I can’t count on next week let alone next year or the year after.

More googling. On  the site: Training Black Pine for Bonsai I found this by Brent Walston: I consider the training of black pines, Pinus thunbergii, to be one of the most difficult aspects of bonsai, as well as one of the slowest goals to achieve. After over fifteen years of playing with them, I am only now beginning to get to the ramification stage, and I emphasize ‘beginning’. Of course I am not talking about one inch trunk Shohin here, but full blown three inch trunk monsters like you see in the books. Most of the finest ones I have had the privilege to see have been in training for approximately fifty years or more. This seems to be the general minimum age for really fine trees.

Fifty years to grow a single plant!!!! Ouch. I think the longest I ever kept a house plant alive was one month.

In another article, Brent Walston said: I discourage beginners from working with Black Pine, Pinus thunbergii, because it takes so long, and you need to know so much just to begin. I started with Black Pine, ignorant of this fact and massacred a lot of plants learning how, even with John Naka’s book, Bonsai Techniques I. I bought about 100 of them in one gallon cans, old root bound plants that appeared to have potential. Some of them have turned out to be really nice trees, but ten years later, the best are still several years away from being finished bonsai. Not a subject for the impatient. So when beginners ask me what to do with this seedling pine they just bought, I just roll my eyes and try to talk them into a nice deciduous tree.

And my black pine isn’t even a seedling. It’s merely a seed.

So, I decided I need to find out how to grow a black pine from a seed, and this is what I found at Though seed is very cheap and easy to obtain, it does have some drawbacks when propagating plants. It is a very slow process; seeds can take many months to germinate, some species can take a number of seasons for their seed to germinate and many species need exacting conditions to begin the process of germination. Many types of seed require periods of cold or mild temperatures or wet weather before they will begin the process of germination.

It might take many months just to germinate my seed? Eek.

A ready-grown Bonsai, or at least one that’s had a few years under its skin, started to look like a fine idea. I found a few, but they cost more than my car is worth. $6,750.00. $5,400.00. $3,700.00. Yikes. Even the cheapest ones cost hundreds of dollars. Did I mention my brown thumb? Inability to keep a plant alive?

Maybe what I need is an artificial bonsai for my planter. Sprinkle it with pine oil. Do you think my brother would notice?