I’m Addicted To The Botanical Buzz

I’m excited about going to the plant swap this weekend. I am pretty addicted to the botanical buzz and in light of that I thought I would report this old article. If you would like to use it on your blog or website you are welcome to. Please include my byline.

Addicted to the Botanical Buzz
Bridgette Mongeon © 2003

I can’t help myself, it is a weakness.

I ‘m addicted! I’ll be the first to admit it. There is no denial. I am addicted to gardening. I just can’t do without it. I love the smell of the dirt, the idea of encouraging things to grow, and changing my surroundings. Basically I have a horrible horticulture habit.

I remember once while on a two-week vacation in another state, I was taking a walk and noticed a man digging in his flowerbeds. I could not resist, and asked him if I could help. I just had to interact with the dirt, without it I was going through withdrawal. I have even found myself pulling weeds at the post office while mailing the monthly bills. When March rolls around I’m just itching to get out and dig. Throughout the winter months I try to appease my addiction. December and January kept me busy with the holidays, and cleaning up from fall, but come February I was spending spare moments in the nursery, even during the rain, looking at plants, writing down names and dreaming. It is the feeling of being around all of the flowers and foliage that puts me in good spirits, gives me my fix.

I’ve been true to my plants and my addiction through the cold spells. I have covered and uncovered, and tried desperately not to be betrayed by the cunning weather. I am bound and determined to give those tender plants an extra boost of growth for the upcoming season. Every piece of cloth in our house is used on plants during the winter. My hubby encourages me to buy frost protective coverings for my winter ritual. I am not sure if he is embarrassed by the look of the calico covered yard, or if he is just concerned for what appears to be the suffocation’s of the brugmansia by the bedspread.

I watched as my neighbors intently raked day after day, reaching every corner, pulling every leaf out from under and behind things. I confiscated those very same leaves, ripping open the tightly tied bags and dumping them all over my yard. Covering the tender feet of some plants, protecting them from the freeze, and pouring the leftovers into piles to be run over by the lawn mower, and then added to the compost bin.

A gardening friend swears that the 17th of March is the last freeze date for Houston. I fool myself into thinking that certainly I can do something before that date; it is part of my addiction, and probably an example of some denial. By March my sheers have been out for a month. I cannot help myself, I’m very sick!

According to Texas garden lore you can tell that it won’t freeze anymore if the mesquite is budding, others have said the same about pecan trees. I keep looking at my neighbor’s pecan trees and once again enter denial, snipping, digging and planting and saying, “It is spring, the weather is warm.” I am totally deceiving myself but for all intended purposes I’m gardening and happy.

I have found ways to feed my addiction with free plants. This is definitely a rush. There is nothing more exciting! My suppliers and I meet in parks and under trees, providing each other with our drug of choice, nursing each other’s horticulture high.

Garden plant swaps are located throughout the Texas area. Usually held once in the fall and once in the spring, it is a premium deal for plant addicts. The concept is simple ­ bring what you have too much of and politely ask for what you don’t have. Pre-trades done on the Internet intensify this whole concept. I’m searching for someone out there that has an extra tropical ornamental banana pup, or bamboo, or tropicals, or citrus, or succulents that they are willing to dig up in trade for something I have.

When it comes to trading plants, I’m really not that picky. The great thing about plants is that they multiply, giving you a bounty of stash to trade for in the future. When visiting a plant swap you will not go home empty handed, even if you are just coming to observe. Gardeners are very friendly and giving people, if you are not careful each gardener will be insisting you have one of their special plants. Gardeners like to get other people hooked on gardening and are more than happy to share their expertise, advice and stash. As an addict myself I know if I give you a little of my stash, you will be coming back for more. At the end of each plant swap there is an orphan plant area, a place where everyone puts their leftovers that they brought and simply do not want to take home again. A quick adoption of orphans and you are sure to have more than a handful.

There are other essential things to bring to the plant swaps, besides your trade plants. A wagon to transport plants to and from your car is helpful. Everyone appreciates getting labeled plants. Cutting up slats of old plastic Venetian blinds and marking them with a grease pencil can make great plant labels. I always bring my own table, a portable camping or cooking table will do. I also bring a long sheet or tablecloth. I put this tablecloth over my table and hide all of my found treasures underneath. It is plant swap etiquette that plants under a table are not for trade and plants on the table are. I like the old adage; out of sight out of mind, and keeping my treasures out of sight help to make sure I get to take them home. Most swaps are potluck so a dish to share is appreciated. Newcomers are always welcome to swaps but I would RSVP for all swaps, as the space is usually limited.

When I am not playing in the dirt in the garden, I am sculpting in clay at my art studio. I always bring extra sculptures, and hand made planters to plant swaps to entice traders out of their most prized possessions or coveted door prize. Other traders might bring garden related items, rocks, flower press, fertilizer, etc. to trade. Gardening related items are always appreciated as door prizes at swaps and when everyone brings a little something for a door prize it makes the experience even more fun.

Trading on the Internet is also a viable resource for plants and seeds. Start collecting your own seeds and you would be surprised what you could trade for. Many people will also provide their seeds for a self addressed stamped envelope. You can find many different trades on the forums of www.gardenweb.com. The forums are also a great place to go when it is raining and you need a garden fix. There are forums on everything from Accessible Gardens to Xeriscaping. My favorites are of course the Exchange Forum, Texas Forum and within it the Texas Exchanges, followed closely by the Pond Forum and Southern Gardening. For a general chat with gardeners Garden Party is a good choice. There are so many forums at www.gardenweb.com I am sure it will meet the needs and answer the questions of any gardener.

Ninety percent of my plants are from the gardens of others. I remember when a friend begged me to take her cannas. She was tired of them and wanted to put something else in. Eight years later, I am sharing a lot of those cannas and trading them for other rare tropical plants on the Internet.

I’m always admiring the gardens of neighbors. As I am out walking, or even driving, if I see a gardener out working, I’ll stop. I should probably put a bumper sticker on my van that states, “I break for gardeners”. I always request a tour, and so far, everyone has obliged my addiction, often digging up or snapping off a cutting for me to take home. When someone offers you a fern that they dug from their great-grandfather’s yard, and they themselves are a senior citizen, you know you have been given a treasure and a family heirloom to cherish.

As the weather warms, I’ll start my walking ritual of the garden; at least twice a day weather permitting, I’m walking the front yard and back. I don’t think things change much in a couple of hours but the walk enlivens my spirit and fills my soul. The botanical buzz is a part of my addiction.

As spring approaches and the swaps near, I know I’ll receive a lasting fix. In the mean time I’ll dig up some more cannas, divide some lilies and protect my stash for other addicts. Bridgette Mongeon is a sculptor, writer and educator residing in the Heights area.

Biological Urges- I Just Can’t Stop Her

I just can’t stop her. Sex is on the brain, biology is kicking in. She is aloof, and giving me the cold shoulder just because …. well you know why. I tried to lovingly feed her strawberries, she turned her head and slowly went in the other direction, with something grandeur on her mind.

It is the rain. It aids in giving her that wonder lust.

I’m speaking of course of Tilly. When was it that she wandered off last year? Tilly is the Red Eared Slider ( RES) pond turtle, and my pond companion. I have a strong attachment to her. It broke my heart to see her walk down the side of the house today, and try to push herself between the brick and the wooden gate. Legs just kept going. Of course she could not get out.

Does she not remember last year when she was missing for days and the neighbor found her wedged sideways in her fence. I think she was trying to get back to the pond. Of course that is how she wandered on our property years ago, and found the pond. It is crazy that the lust inside is stronger than what she has here.

I blocked the other holes on the other side of the house between the gate and the dirt. This afternoon I checked, and yes, I tracked a turtle. I was really quite surprised at my ability to do this. And I did so while trying to balance on anything I could to keep from sinking my pristine sneakers into the mud. I could see her shell track, a scrape along the mud and those sharp nails digging in the dirt. She turned a few times at the gate, unable to get through. I worried she might have gotten out, but then…

I did find her, back in the pond and begged her not to leave. My husband wonders if she has eggs, and is driven to have them fertilized? I might try to mulch the area around the pond, just in case, give her something to dig in that is nearby.

She has had babies. Two clutches. I know you are wondering, “how did she do that with no male around?” Apparently according to my research, which I do quite often on these turtles. A can hold sperm up to 3 years one website said 5 years. The first clutch of babies were adorable tiny and bright green. We have to be careful as not to step on them when going back and forth from studio to the house. None of those babies lived. I would suppose they were prey to other things. I fear it is that nasty bullfrog that lives in the pond. I hear him at night, I have seen him several times. I swear he is wearing a leather jacket and has brass knuckles. He is a bully. he too has reproduced and there are baby bullfrogs in the pond. Anyone want a bullfrog tadpole?

One baby actually drowned. It was a dreadful thing fetching it from the water. Who knew turtles could down, but they can.

The only baby that survived is little guy or Toto . Named because I love to say, “Good morning Tilly and Toto too.” He now knows I bring food and swims hard to get to me when I am there. I scream “Dive, dive, it is faster.” As he franticly tries to push past all of the floating plants.
It is comforting to have him there. Actually, I am not sure if it is a “him,” it may be a “her,” I’ll let you know, it is still too early to tell. You can detect male from female by the claws and the tail, and of course by turning them over, but as some of you know who have read my Tilly Tales, I absolutely refuse to invade their privacy by flipping them over. It just is not right!

So Tilly will remain aloof. Pulled by her biological urges. I hope I don’t post that she is missing. I worry so. It is stupid to be attached to a turtle, but as I said we have bonded. She is a pet, but not really she lived probably 6-7 years before finding us, and our pond. Sure we feed her, it is hard not to. Yesterday I found her on the deck outside of the door. She was looking in, so opened the french doors. I have seen her wander right in the house, but this time she looked the other way. Again being strange.

I swore I heard her say last year when she was found and returned to the pond ,

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard,

because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

But I am afraid Tilly has forgotten what it felt like to be so far from home. Darn those biological urges.

Tilly Tales- A Pond Milestone “I Bring Food”

Today a milestone event happened at the studio pond. Tilly’s baby who has been around for about a year now, surviving long after the many other baby turtles did not, has hit a growth mark! Yes it is true a developmental wonder. He/she has learned that I bring food! Poking his/her little head amongst the floating plants he/she watched as the fish started eating their flake food and momma Tilly swam to eat her floating pellets. He/she gobbled one up and I swore you could hear him/her say, “yum.” As he/she paddled frantically to the next one only to have the big old fan tail gold fish eat it up. I tried to come to the edge of the pond and point out more, but that was a bit much for him/her. Away he/she swam diving under the water lettuce. I ran to the studio to get more “turtle” food skipping a step in glee and searching quickly for my camera to take a picture and put it in the baby turtle book that I am now just considering. I tried to throw the food in between the floating plants where the little head stood watching me. and instead I plopped one right on his/her head. I could never ever do that intentionally, but I did laugh as it bounced. This antic only made him/her disappear. When trying again my husband stated, “reinforce the behavior.” Which made me think my husband is reading too many psychology books of late. It is a joyous day at the pond. I bring food!

Found- She Is Glad To Be Home Again!

Tilly was found- If one could roll around on the ground with a turtle I would have. Snuggle or lavish kisses, maybe. But the relationship between Tilly and I is one of respect. She came to me- wild. I don’t touch her or turn her upside down, or things of that nature. Sometimes I will put my hand in the water and feel her as she passes by.

Now for the story.
She was found outside of the yard, apparently trying to get back home. She crawled beetwen two fences and the report is, she was wedged there sideways. I feared she was ill, or stressed. Was it instuition, or just an owners panic? I was on an important phone call when they reported she was found. It was hard to concentrate on our conversation. The old hispanic women next door found her and somehow was aware that we had a turtle. I guess she watched through the fence one day. She nocked on my father-in- laws window and reported her find. I went over there just now crying and saying, “thank you, gracias, gracias.” Though we don’t speak the same language, She understood. I gave her a hug, which was a little unsettling because she was holding a machete and a cigarette.

I lavished Tilly with pellets of food, bent as close to her as possible and told her I loved her. Sounds silly, loving a turtle. We will fix the hole near the fence and the ground, and definitely watch after a rain. That is when she likes to explore.

NExt thing on my list of things to do, was to make up lost turtle posters. Crazy turtle lady. Don’t have to do that now. Can’t wait to be in the studio and watching Tilly while I work. Such a friendly face. My yard once again feels full of life.

In Fond Memory Of…My Dear Studio Companion, Tilly

Many of seen my posts about my studio companion, not a studio cat or dog, but a turtle. Outside my studio door is a wonderful stream and pond. We live in the middle of Houston and the yard is fenced in, however three years ago when we built the studio Tilly appeared. She is approximately 9″ in length and an estimated 10 years old. I never thought I would bond with a turtle, but I have. She knows my voice and often comes running when I call. Each fall she would hibernate at the bottom of the pond and I was elated when she was a regular site in spring. She has had several clutches of babies, only one has survived.

Tilly has been missing for 3 days. I have searched everywhere and can not find her. I fear she is gone. We did find a gab in our fence near the gate where some recent construction was done. The ground had sunk in. Though it is far from the pond, Tilly has free reign of the entire yard and has been seen all the way in the back of the studio. I never would have thought I could bond with this turtle but I have, and my walks back and forth from house to studio seem lonelier now. My only reprieve from my grief is that she has left behind this baby. I will miss our sharing of fruit in the morning and her coming when I call. I have story after story of Tilly and have often thought of writing a children’s book about the Tilly Tales. People on the turtle forum loved to hear the stories of Tilly.

In loving memory of Techla Turtle ( Tilly)

A Living Sculpture

Studio in the back on the right.
The view that my client have as they walk
to the studio to discuss art.

This is my continuous work in progress. A living sculpture, a retreat and my commute to work. As I stated before this pond, stream and waterfall is something we have been working on for 10 years. This past week we finally finished it! O.k. there is still some things I would like to do.

First picture looks from the porch of our house to the small shed left, and the corner of the studio steps. When ever I come home from work ( 40′ commute) I take the long way!

Here is the view that clients see when they enter the backyard. The sculpture studio is downstairs and that is my office window in the loft. I can see the pond from my office. The stream runs along the walkway, as you walk to the studio. Tilly the turtle and her baby climb this stream and waterfall daily!

Sculptor Bridgette Mongeon and her pond and studio
The pond looking toward the house from the studio steps.

My husband hates the purple chairs, but I wanted to bring some color to this back yard and purple was my color of choice!

Tilly and her baby have come down to the lower pond after construction. I think they approve. Here Tilly is coming out of the pond ( lower right corner) There is rock that is supposed to stick out of the pond, but we had a lot of rain. Guess I’ll put my wet suit on and get back in to lift it up!

Stepping out of the office window onto the roof is the only way to get a picture like this. You can see a bit up the stream. The bench and chair in the middle of the yard is where my husband and I have our meetings, though I have to say we did take our shoes off and stick our feet in the pond the other day. We both thought that was a perfect meeting spot as well.

A nice place to sit.

( you can see that about the middle of this picture is some liner. Here is the unfinished spot. A small beach is going here, for birds, easy out for Tilly, watering hole for dogs etc.)

Sculptor Bridgette Mongeon and her pond and studio
A view from my office.

It is my oasis, you could hardly tell that you are in the middle of the big city of Houston. Only downfall to this is getting a life size sculpture or bronze back and forth from the front, but we have done it and have tried to keep that in mind when putting together the walkways.

Certainly a living sculpture.

Tilly Came To Take A Look

This morning Tilly came to take a look. I found her in the” soon to be new bog area” looking up at the pink rock. She used to like to sit on the black liner. I asked, “Want me to build you some steps up from the bog? She just looked taking it all in. “It will look much different when I fill the pond back up.” I assured her, like she could really understand. “Did the baby come with you?”

Yesterday I put the waders on that my husband bought for me years ago. I choose to do this when I was straddling the bog and edge trying to sink a milk crate, put a concrete block on top and then what I now refer to as “the bathing stone.” A stone that has the perfect slope for baby and Tilly to get on and sun bath. The bottom of the pond was murky, thank god for my toes being covered. I balanced that milk crate with rocks that I shoved under the murk and between the crate, this I did with my toes and feet. I am sure I looked a site standing in the pond.

There is one small problem with the pond that I just cant figure out. You see I can’t use concrete on the pond liner as it is a living pond and it the concrete will play havoc with this perfect system that I have here. It could even kill all of the fish and turtles. I could not stand for that. So, once again. I’ll finish the edge and fill the pond, but the beach will have to stay just liner, until I come up with another solution.

originally I was going to, lower the pond level even more to expose the beach and stream, put in concrete with pebbles, scrub the concrete once cured with vinegar, this helps neutralize the concrete. While scrubbing it I was going to vacuum the vinegar up with my wet vac. YES! a lot of work, but I am not sure even that would keep the critters from being hurt. I can not stand the thought, and can’t find help. So… Fill her up and work with dilemma that another time. I really have to get back to the studio.

Have You Ever Placed a Ton of Rock?

I began my pond about 9 years ago. It started with an upper pond then the 14 foot stream and the lower pond. The edge of the lower pond has never been completed. I am not sure why. Probably because I have changed my mind so many times about what it should look like. When people would walk by the pond, on the way to the studio I would say, “My work in progress.” I kind of feel like this back yard is a living sculpture, a never ending piece of work and a very magical place. By the end of the week I expect the lower pond to be done. What will I do with my self? How will I ever adjust to the fact that I don’t have to “finish” the pond?

My hands ache, my back aches, and I still have about a 1/2 a ton of rock to place. Wish us luck.

Oh yes, and Tilly the turtle, along with little guy have moved up to the upper pond. They really did not like all of the noise and disturbance at the lower pond. But boy won’t they be surprised when it is done. The design is one that is very turtle friendly, with special treats for them both. For one of those treats I have to get into the lower pond. That should be interesting. I’ll update more, must find Advil.

Yes, I Do Have Fairies!

Someone that I had traded plants with before emailed me about plants and at the end of the post asked, “My girls still talk about the “magic pond” and the sparkling lights that you showed them when they were with me earlier in the year! My littlest one has also asked me if you have fairies that live there.”

when these girls were in my yard, I went to get something, their mother was digging plants and one little girls was dancing around on the beach, the other was sitting very erect on one of the wooden benches. She said she was the queen of the garden. These children understood what I was trying to do with my garden. Some adults come here and say it is magical, these children played into the magic. It was getting dark and I told them they could bid the garden to become even more magical. They said the words that were indicated and I plugged in the twinkle lights. You should have seen their faces light up.

This was my response for her children.

“Yes, indeed I have seen some fairies in my yard. Some have introduced themselves. Fern is the oldest and wisest, she seems to watch over everyone, and make sure that the garden is in order. Ivy is quite lazy and prefers to lounge on the ground, especially in the shadows of plants. I don’t think she likes the heat, but I have never asked her, as most of the time, when I see her she is yawning, and either just getting up, contemplating another nap, or has sleep in her eyes, is annoyed and does not want to talk.

The dragon flies are back at the pond and they often perform for everyone that will watch, showing off with their acrobatic maneuvers, then dipping their tails in and splashing in this circular dance. I have not seen the huge dragon fly. I heard they are called tree toppers. I was sitting on the bridge one day and one of those dragon flies came out of the sky and nearly knocked me in the pond. No one believed me until we saw one come down and lay eggs. She must have been close to 12” wing tip to wing tip! They are called tree toppers because that is where they live. ”

The bully bullfrog has brought a couple of his friends. Even though they are not my fondest of pond creatures, because I have heard they could eat my baby turtles, I still would not wish harm on them. I do love to watch them jump and dive. I should talk to Tilly the turtle and see if she might like to host a pond Olympics.

It was so funny, when I was taking out this huge portion of plants out of the pond it was so heavy my son had to come and help me. Then out of the blue…bully bullfrog jumped out! He hopped around the pond, and the foster black lab chased him, around the pond, over the bridge and then dove. The lab looked so sad. She sniffed around trying to figure out where on earth bully went.