Monday, June 1, 2009

Plant smuggling...

Just got back from visiting relatives in California and as it can be assumed, it was plant-rific!

California, being a long state is lucky to be endowed with a multitude of climates and environments and has a healthy appreciation for native plants and biodiversity. I saw desert, coastal, mountain, chaparral, and woodland plants during my visit and imagine I still missed out on a good amount of different plant environments.

During my stay my aunt decided to invest in a local botanical gardens family membership, which apparent gets her and 3 other people into a good amount of botanical gardens in the nation for a year for just 60 bucks. Needless to say we made that membership worthwhile in a couple of days with a couple of friends!

The best thing about the California botanical gardens I encountered? The garden gift shops. It seems that there is no dearth of plants, but a limited amount of space in the gardens and they are very willing to share their plant thinnings of high quality, unusual or rare plants at a LOW cost.

At Encinitas Quail Botanical Gardens ( the gardens were lovely and well labeled and laid out. I went giddy over the edible garden (with no pick fruit signs :( *sigh*) and lost my small group when I hunted a volunteer down to chat and high five her over the selection of edible ornamentals. One minute into leaving her to catch up with my group I lost them again because I had walked into the herb garden section (I am mad for herbs) and became possessed by their selection of scented geraniums.

(If you are unaware of scented geraniums, they are not true geraniums, nor are the fakers you commonly see in the garden center) (to see true geraniums: Scented geraniums though are still infinitely more interesting than their non-scented friends. (

(The other reason why I've been enamored with scented geraniums is because their edible! You can bake with them and make tea!)

So, 10 seconds into admiring their scented geraniums I ran back to the volunteer lady who was accompanied by another volunteer on a go-kart and I was given a little ride back to the geraniums, point them out and ask as politely as I could, if they gave out cutting because I knew geraniums are supposedly easy to propagate.

Though they said they could not offer me cuttings despite my explanation that I have been lusting after these geraniums for a long time and have been too cheap to pay shipping for them online, they informed me that their garden gift shop had plants available. Quail Gardens were quite lovely, though admittedly, my plant lust/consumerism/natural wish to stimulate the economy (really) made me head way to the gift shop FAST.

I realized as I would be flying home, and am, once again, cheap, only hauling a carryon the plane, I had to be conservative in my plant purchases. So 3 scented geraniums it was! One mint, one attar of rose and a ginger scented one. SO GIDDY. There's also coconut, peach, lime, cinnamon, orange and other scents available (not at the gift shop unfortunately), but I need to build this collection carefully anyways as I sort of need to make room... in the house... since these guys will need to be overwintered... (I can hear my husband's palm slapping his forehead in disbelief already. We had a wee bit of a fruit fly problem last year because of the amount of plants indoors).

I also got something called Dittany of Crete ( which I had heard about on NPR in reference to Harry Potter. I saw that it is a member of the oregano family and can be culinary, so I decided it would be fun to get. It also has some very interesting history/background. (Plus it grew flattish and I figured it would be an easy fit into the carryon bag)

A shout out to another garden: Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens ( in Claremont that was having an end of season (It's-going-to-be-WAY-too-HOT-plant-anything-soon) sale. Only purchased one item, a salvia clevelandii, arroyo azul cultivar that will need to be potted up in the crappiest dry soil available because this plant likes abuse. This herb has the most heavily, heavenly scented sage scent I think, and it was the only salvia they had there that they knew would be tasty. Not all salvia/sages are delicious apparently.

So, after all the wonderful garden trekking, it was finally time to pack all the plants into my carryon bag. Luckily I am a space ninja (ability to find space to fit stuff in anywhere, though I will say, my husband has a double black belt in finding space) and I got all the plants, plus stuff to protect them, my clothes, and souvenirs into the bag.

Should have realized it, but my bulging bag appeared suspicious apparently "really jumbled" is what the x-ray woman said scanning my bag, and they decided they needed to search it.

I had done my research before I packed, and there was no mention that you couldn't take plants home with you, even the California botanical garden people said that it was ok to take them home! So, because I didn't want them to think I was trying to be evasive or seem like "Where did that come from?" I said up front that I did have plants in the bag and I was informed that it was ok. They confirmed that it was (thank goodness) and said that they still had to search it. The search guy unzipped my bag and the bag literally opened itself by bursting open with stuff... Guy found the box of scented geraniums and I said, "those are geraniums." I didn't want to explain that they were scented, better make things simple.

Then he opened the box that had the Dittany of Crete in it, and I really didn't want to explain Dittany of Crete, so I said that it was just an "oregano." He rubbed the leaves and smelled it and said appreciatively (almost too appreciatively), "oh yeah, I know that scent," in a bit of a weird way, as though he had some sort of very close bond with oregano. I wondered if he was hinting at something...? I later found out Dittany of Crete is thought to be an aphrodisiac. Well, hey, whatever gets my plants through security.

The security guy was rather nice and said that it was very sweet about how patient I was to letting him check my bag (not like I really had much of a choice...) and then said all was good and I could go. He left, and as I struggled to get my bag in order and closed again, another security guy stepped in and helped it get zipped up again and as I left he commented that he, "liked my outfit." Hmmm... (I have to dress up business-like as I fly standby using my husband's company tickets) Later another guy commented that he had been in the fabric and fashion industry and also "admired my dress."

Dittany of Crete? ....or is it just the power of the little red dress? Next time I travel I'll experiment.

Anyways, for anyone interested in scented geraniums, here are some good places online: