Southern Memories & A Spring Plant Sale

I don’t know about you, but I think that this has been the most absolutely gorgeous spring season in Texas that I have experienced in over a decade.  I have come to greatly appreciate the cool morning breeze followed by the warm, sunny afternoons.  The azaleas were voluptuous this past month, and I ‘m sure that everyone who had one in their yard was proud of their healthy specimens bursting forth with such soft subtle hues of pink, white and red.   

fern-on-oak-oak-alley I can remember spring-time at my aunt’s house in New Orleans to be just as spectacular as what we have witnessed here in Houston this past month. I recall the Easter morning when she lovingly presented to me a hand-painted porcelain egg resting upon a bed of fresh alfalfa. Iwas at the tender age of seven.  I thought it was the most beautiful gift and I greatly admired it. 

This favorite aunt of mine showed me how to raise worms inside some old coca-cola crates she kept in an old trunk out behind her garage.  We would use their castings to fertilize the lush green ferns, and the beautiful, elegant, Louisiana Irises that adorned her beautiful cottage garden.  I was taught how to layer the vegetable waste from the kitchen between the pages of the Times Picayune newspaper carefully inside the worm-bin.  When they were ready, we would mix the worm castings into the upper layer of her garden’s soil.
     
oak-trees-oak-alley-plantation She was a loving family member who took the time to introduce me to the beauty of nature and taught me that if we give our time and prepare the soil properly, we will soon reap the benefits of our labors.

She took me to visit Oak Alley Plantation so that I might admire the beautiful oak trees that framed a path to the Mississippi river. She often took me to downtown New Orleans so that I might see the artists painting in Jackson Square and the beautiful patio gardens New Orleans is famous for.

When I visited her home, I was always eager to dump her coffee grinds into the compost heap, knowing that soon we would use this black gold to fertilize her vegetable garden as well.  There is nothing like the soft pleasing smell of a fresh ripe tomato that you have picked off your own vine in the very garden that you prepared and planted. 

Witnessing the beauty of the past few weeks here in Houston has brought back some fond memories.  I hope that someone in your life encourages you and shares with you their knowledge of growing green things.  If you are already a lover of the land, then please consider sharing your knowledge with a youngster and help to foster in them a love of all things green and growing. 

russelia2I would like to take the opportunity to invite you all to attend our marvelous Spring Plant Sale.  It will be held this Saturday, April 4, from 9 a.m. to  1 p.m.  We are very excited this year because we will be holding our sale on the street level of the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s main entrance.  (The plant sale is usually held on the rooftop of the museum’s parking garage.)  We hope by holding it on the street level, customers will have easier access to the sale.
     
Eddie Holik, our Head horticulturist, Soni Holladay, horticulturist, Dr. Nancy Greig, Cockrell Butterfly Center director, Erin Millender, entomologist, Laurie Pierrel, entomologist, and yours truly, Ory Roberts, greenhouse manager have been busy shopping and preparing for the sale.  And, most importantly our dedicated greenhouse volunteers who have propagated and raised some of the plants since last November are anxiously awaiting your arrival.  We hope to see you there and can’t wait to meet your family and friends.

Happy Gardening!!

Audubon Insectarium

Two weekends ago I went on my annual weird family adventure.  We decided to go to New Orleans this year for an Audubon filled weekend.  There were three adults, five teenagers and a five year old.  Seven of us drove the six hour drive, and I must say, it was very interesting.  I think we stopped 8 times for various things.  Our plan was to go to all the animal places there; the Audubon Insectarium, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, and the Audubon Zoo.  One of the main reasons I was so excited to go was the brand new Insectarium.  My friend, Jayme, is the manager and he said he would show us around.  If you are a fan of the show Dirty Jobs you may have seen Jayme on the bug breeder episode.  The show was great and very informative, but Erin and I are still a little jealous and wish we had thought of the idea first.  The Insectarium just recently opened in June and Jayme was ready to show it off.  I felt the same way when our own Entomology Hall opened, so I totally understood his excitment.  My 15 year old niece wasn’t too keen on the idea of a huge hall full of bugs, but everyone else was at least a bit intrigued.

The Insectarium was beautiful, creepy, and entertaining all wrapped up in one big box.  If anyone is making a trip to New Orleans, this is a definite MUST SEE venue.  It is located in the French Quarter across from the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.  I think the coolest thing about the insectarium was that the huge main hall way was covered with painted bugs and enormous models of various arthropods.  

They have a room that shrinks you down to the size of a small soil dwelling insect.  When you enter the room, a giant centipede greets you.  As you walk through the room, an earthworm (not an arthropod, but an annelid) is waiting for you to hop on it’s back and smile for a picture.  In this room you can also see ants foraging in their tunnels and taking care of their babies (larvae).  At the end, a gigantic trap door spider pops out and can give you fright if it catches you off guard.  This room is one of many that have different themes. 

They also have a section dedicated to termites.  You can pick up a phone and listen to the termites munching on an old house and you can actually see live termites in the wall.  The Louisiana swamp section began with an old bait shop.  An employee dressed up as a fisherman showed us various critters that can be found in the dirt, a great hands on activity for all ages.  My sister’s favorite thing about this part was a wonderful display of fly fishing lures made from actual insect parts.  After the bait shop you step right into a swamp.  The huge tree in the middle of the room is surrounded by different aquatic insects and fish.  You can even pop your head up inside the middle of one of the tanks to immerse yourself into the world of diving beetles. 

A very interesting room that I’m sure most people steer away from was the bug cooking cafe.  When I was there they were making cricket pancakes and tempura grasshoppers.  My five year old niece was all smiles when she got to eat one; at least one of them takes after me a bit!  Another awesome room was the 4-D movie we got to watch.  It was an awards show hosted by a beetle.  One of the awards he presented was to a honey bee for all the work she does to help produce fruits and vegetables. We could actually feel her flying around us. 

I’m sure all of you are familiar with the love bugs we get here in Texas in the spring and fall.  Well, they get them there too.  They even have an informative movie about the love bugs playing inside of an actual Volkswagon Beetle.  

I found a Giant Moth!

I could go on forever about all the stuff they have there, but I will just let you take a trip to New Orelans to see if for yourself.  I spent about 2 hours there, but I spoke with a lady the other day that spent 5 hours there.  I probably could have spent more time had I not been with a large group of people that were hungry and ready to move on to the aquarium.  If you enjoy our Entomology Hall here, you should definitely check out the insect zoos and butterfly houses in other cities.  There are insect zoos and butterfly houses all over the U.S.  I was fortunate enough to visit the St. Louis Zoo’s Insectarium a few years ago and it was amazing.  Some of the cool things they have there are bullet ants and burying beetles.  They even have a program that is researching the endangered American Burying Beetle

In college, before I had this job, I went to Cincinnati, OH for the Entomological Society of America Conference.  I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to check out the Cincinnati Zoo, which I knew had an insect zoo.  This was the first insect zoo I had ever seen, so I was pumped.  That was the moment when I decided that it would be so cool to work in a place like that.  I got to see beautiful purple beetles, honey pot ants, and giant walking sticks and I just fell in love with the whole scene.

Before you go on vacation, check out this website:  http://butterflywebsite.com/gardens/index.cfm to see if there is a butterfly house or insect zoo in the town you are visiting.  All the insect zoos around the country are different in many ways.  Some are enormous and some are very small, but we all have the same goal in mind.  We want people to love bugs as much as we do and understand how cool and important they are.