An Alameda Garden: August 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

Think You Know Where You Stand on GMOs? Read This and Think Again.

Photo credit: Rosalee Yagihara
Just as with the issue of climate change, the subject of GMOs tends to be somewhat polarizing and there is a point where people stop looking at the facts (or never look at them to begin with) and just determine where they stand on the issue based on how much they like or dislike the messenger. I know many people who I like and respect who are are passionately anti-GMO but, in truth, a number of them don't seem to understand the issue with any depth or breadth. I certainly don't claim to have any expertise in this area--I don't have a science background and it's not easy for me to sift through some of the denser writing I've picked up on the subject.

But I became aware a few years ago when I attended the National Heirloom Exposition* that there are some speakers and writers who are putting out so-called "facts" about the dangers of GMOs that I know to be overstated, if not outright untruths. In the current issue of The New Yorker, Michael Specter takes on Vandana Shiva, an internationally followed anti-GMO activist who has been a featured speaker at the Heirloom Expo in the past. If you are concerned about GMOs and actually care about the science and how GMOs are being portrayed, both for and against, you owe it to yourself to read this article. By the end of the article I was truly outraged by the way this particular war is being waged and the number of people who have already starved to death or suffered malnutrition while the PR campaigns distort the facts. Please read the article and tell me if you're outraged too.

* I don't mean to impugn the National Heirloom Exposition or the majority of its speakers, many of which are honest, experienced and very well qualified to speak and write in their fields. On the other hand, the featured speaker for this year's Expo is Dr. Joseph Mercola, who has an entire page devoted to him at

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Choderwood: A Garden on the Allegheny

Here's a short video of one of my favorite gardens from my recent trip to Pittsburgh. Choderwood is a restored lockmaster's house on the Allegheny River that the owners have turned into a bed-and-breakfast and event venue. The gardens are lush, fun, quirky, relaxed, and inspiring. Enjoy the view!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Welcome to Randyland!

I'm back from attending the annual Garden Writers Association Symposium. This year the symposium was in Pittsburgh, PA and I never imagined that Pittsburgh would turn out to be such a fun, cool place. (Cool, that is, if you don't count the heat and humidity.) I always learn a lot at these GWA get-togethers and I also get the opportunity to tour some impressive gardens. I'll be posting more photos of garden scenes I particularly liked, but I thought today I'd post a little video of one my favorite Pittsburgh gardens--the wild and funky spot called Randyland! Enjoy! (Click the icon in the bottom-right corner to view the video in full screen.)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On Tour

I'm in Pittsburgh right now at the annual symposium of the Garden Writers Association. Aside from getting a lot of good information about blogging and other garden writing, I'm touring lots of gardens, both public and private, and taking a ton of pictures. Pittsburgh is a great town and it has some very passionate gardeners. Check back here later this week for more photos of some of the very cool gardens of Pittsburgh.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Miltonia Orchids: You Can Grow That!

I can't say that I'm obsessed with orchids, but bit by bit I'm becoming seduced by them. Cymbidiums were my confidence-builder and from there I succumbed to Phalaenopsis, then Catleya, then Dendrobium. I thought that would hold me for a while but last week when I was at the grocery store, I came to a dead stop in front of a whole table full of Miltonia orchids. I couldn't resist--the handsome specimen pictured here ended up in my cart along with the milk and paper towels.

Miltonia orchids are commonly called Pansy Orchids because some, like the one pictured here, have a flat shape and markings and coloring similar to pansies. Other Miltonias, however, have a flower with a spidery shape more like an Oncidium orchid.

In a mild climate like the Bay Area, a Miltonia would probably do well enough in a protected spot outside, but at least while it's in bloom, I'm happy to keep this Miltonia indoors. The reason? It is intensely fragrant with a heady but not overwhelming sweet scent. The blooms are typically long-lasting--usually as long as 4 to 6 weeks--but when they're done I'll move the plant out to my lathe-covered deck where some of my other orchids reside.

Miltonia orchids originate in the brightly shaded cloud forests of the mountains of Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia and if you keep that in mind, you'll know exactly what conditions you need to provide for them. They like bright indirect light and will sunburn easily if they get too much direct sun. They prefer continuous moisture but need excellent drainage and they can be sensitive to a build-up of salts from the water. They need good air circulation and humidity so some misting is a good idea. They have no dormant period so they require regular feeding (every other watering) with a half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer. Repot every 1 to 2 years after blooming.

I'm really happy I stumbled across this little orchid but honestly, if my grocery store is going to start popping up with all kinds of new orchids for me to try, I can see my grocery budget is going to go all to hell. It will, however, be worth it.

This post is part of the You Can Grow That! monthly blog series. Check here for more posts by other garden bloggers on how to grow all kinds of edibles and ornamentals.  

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