Robin-Lee

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Archive for January 2017

Weeks Two & Three Under the Greenhouse

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The worst things aren’t the Trixis, but they’re definitely toward the top of the list of things unpleasant under the glass of the greenhouses. The return, on the other hand, is worth the trouble and the while.

Trixis are a brand supplied by companies like Selecta, a large-scale breeder of ornamental plants and supplier of unrooted vegetative cuttings based all over Europe and Africa, and are assortments of three varieties of plants available to purchase in one pop. There are over 44 available brands of Trixis, all with unique names, as unique as some other cultivars of cuttings that have come through my hands at the greenhouse, my favorite being one in the Coleus genus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), ’Gay’s Delight’.

You might see some of the more patriotic assortments hanging from porches during the fourth of July and others exploding from their baskets in brilliant colors of the rainbow. The ones below, however, are my favorite picks, both for visually striking aesthetics and texture appeal. Sticking cuttings of three unique plants is tedious and time-consuming, and while we generally receive an acceptable shipment of cuttings of Calibrachoa, Petunia (being the worst for its stickiness), Verbena, it’s still a matter of delivery being on time and temperature conditions during transit. Cuttings—even after being immediately opened, accounted for, and stored in an ideally cool climate-controlled storage facility—can be flaccid or wilted when ready for sticking in soil medium.

Even then, it’s impressive to see these cuttings a week later, thriving under the greenhouse lights and following them through the greenhouse misting sections, some of them (especially Bacopa) trying to flower prematurely and needing shearing a week before ship-out date. But without further ado, I present my favorite varieties to grow under the greenhouse and a little bit about each component as well!

'Strawberry Shortcake' All images from Selecta

‘Strawberry Shortcake’
All images from Selecta

'Nightfall'

‘Nightfall’ All images from Selecta

 

'Geisha Girl' All images from Selecta

‘Geisha Girl’
All images from Selecta

'Out of the Blue' All images from Selecta

‘Out of the Blue’
All images from Selecta

'Treasure Chest' All images from Selecta

‘Treasure Chest’
All images from Selecta

 

Regardless of the other difficulties and obstacles under the greenhouse, I’m still learning a lot and I’m working with plants (and people), and that’s more than enough.

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Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

January 23, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Week One Under the Greenhouse

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Last month, I managed to wheedle my way into a greenhouse job north of Philadelphia, and, following my first week on the job, I can report that week one was nowhere near great nor promising. On that same note, I’ve learned a tremendous amount in a short time, and, on a separate note, joined a community band.

My new job is in the cuttings department of the greenhouse operation – it’s here where cuttings are received and planted in trays to be carted out to specific sections of the greenhouses to be misted and grown under special lighting for specific amounts of levels and time, treated with pesticides and hormones as necessary, sent to hoop houses to be subjected to some cold treatment for hardiness, then shipped out to retailers and private buyers.

The job is both simple and complex, simple in the fact that the process is exactly described as above and complex in the way that anyone just walking into the greenhouse would have to quickly become familiar with rooting hormones, specific designated areas within the greenhouses, specific order of processing incoming shipments (in addition to temperature recording, tray-size assignments and pre-setup of trays to be placed on conveyor belts), handling surpluses, detriments, and damaged incoming shipments of cuttings, and, lastly, working with both individuals with either a long employment at the greenhouses, those with a deeper background in horticulture, and Cambodian seasonal workers with little a lick of English.

As someone just walking into the greenhouse, I have not exactly cottoned on quickly enough to assure my supervisor of six years’ greenhouse savvy that I was the best candidate for the job.

In spite of what could be a very short career stint and my first firing ever, I’ve had the pleasure of “sticking” (planting cuttings in a soil medium in specific-sized, plastic growing trays) everything from fuchsia (actually nearly pronounced the way you want to say it) and New Guinea impatiens to Scaevola and Thunbergia. There are also the more needy types requiring rooting hormone before sticking such herbs as Rosemary and Lavender.

It’s all very fascinating, and so long as I last there and ending on a positive note, you can also come to see me perform in the Southampton Community Band after I relearn my trumpet scales.

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

January 8, 2017 at 8:17 pm

A Sensational Botanical Exhibit

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The National Liberty Museum, one of Philadelphia’s lesser-known attractions in the historic district, is dedicated to highlighting and preserving the heroic actions of everyday people, particularly those who fought for freedom, including professional baseballer Jackie Robinson, United States Marine Corps lieutenant general Chesty Puller, and author, political activist, and lecturer Helen Keller.

It was early summer this year when I visited the Museum and had at that time started working at a company that had just successfully led a Segway tour for the blind; this wasn’t the company’s first in offering services for the visually impaired, as it’s been involved in leading sensory tours of the Philadelphia Flower Show (coming up again soon, this time with a Holland theme, which means growers have already been preparing bulbs for the March event!)

And lastly, I received a call at my work from a woman distraught over the lack of services and attractions catering to the visually impaired and frustrated about how far behind Philadelphia was in these kind of services.

While all three events clashed around my head, I reflected how the role of plants in everyday life and the achievements in botany, horticulture, and plant science receive little attention. Given the oft overlooked “gem” of Old City that is the National Liberty Museum, I thought an extra exhibit, one not just for but especially catering to the visually impaired, would fit in nicely with its mission and help to highlight the amazing people and the astounding accomplishments and endeavors.

It’s completely fantastical, as the installation, upkeep, and general everyday wear-and-tear would be mind-numbingly beyond any museum’s funding or desire to take in such an exhibit, but it’s fun to fantasize without limits about an experience that everyone can enjoy and appreciate, especially on a subject so taken for granted particularly in the concrete “greene country towne” of William Penn’s Philadelphia and the very city where botany, horticulture, and agriculture first took root in the new world.

The following plants and accompanying stories are the ones I selected, from various readings (including the excellent adventure nonfiction Plant Hunters by Tyler Whittle and personal accounts written by John Bartram), to be included in my imaginary exhibit. (Never mind the lack of soil and the glass belljar covering each plant making it fairly difficult to actually touch the plant — I’ll flesh that out later after my exhibit is accepted for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau award.)

 

lycopodium

 

vinca

 

white-snakeroot

 

peanut

 

orange

 

capsicum-annuum

 

shortia

In addition to the plants themselves, the sensory experience could be added to by including “mystery boxes”, boxes which visitors could reach into and determine what they were feeling — objects such as the soap made from A. hypogaea (peanut plant) would be placed in a box next to the relevant plant exhibit, and visitors could reach in and guess what plant-derived product they were touching.

Text and braille timelines of plant discoveries could be included on the wall behind the exhibits, and even perfumes made from extracts of local plants that have been around since Bartram’s time (e.g., Artemisia annua, my favorite) could be another included segment of the sensory exhibit.

Philadelphia being a sprawling expanse of cramped rowhouses and concrete, the exhibit could even touch upon the Philadelphia Horticulture Society’s efforts to add and improve community garden efforts throughout the city, provide a much-needed experience for the visually impaired, and inspire conversation about directing the city towards more efforts that would bring about the vision of Penn and others after him for making Philadelphia a greener place to live.

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

January 8, 2017 at 7:35 pm