Stripes, or….

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If you have read this blog for a long time, you know that I am a huge fan of the genus sanseveria. Call these plants what you like–I usually call them snake plants but I know Mother in laws tongue is pretty common too–these plants are having their “moment” right now.

And they should. They always travel with me to lectures. I use them as examples of plants that will “almost grow in a closet.” In other words, they will grow in a very dark corner, completely neglected, and un-watered for weeks. Isn’t that where most of us encountered our first one, maybe in childhood or in a commercial building?

However, while they will grow in dark corners, these plants will also grow in east or west exposures–at least in my northern climate. And that’s where they really begin to shine and look glorious. They will bloom for you–mine bloom every year. And they will take on interesting coloring, even in the so-called boring green varieties.

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Here’s one of the variegated varieties with the bloom stalk about to open.

Incidentally, they also make great container plants for outdoors. I generally plant them with plants that tend to like it on the drier side–succulents, heuchera or even annual pelargonium (geranium) would work. But I wouldn’t plant them with something that’s going need a lot of water.

Snake plants are some of my favorites. Their interesting shapes and colorful leaves brighten a room year round. The fact that mine bloom is just an added bonus.

A Surprising Gift Plant

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This collection of plants was part of a dish garden that my neighbor received a little over a year ago when her husband passed away. She has nurtured it quite beautifully, but she professed to be “no good with plants” and passed it along to me for transplanting and safekeeping.

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What you might be able to tell from this photo is how pot-bound it was. Look at the tangle of roots where I have already cut out one of the plants. Despite that, the little dish garden was really thriving. I only had to remove a little bit of decay from the palm and some die back on the maranta (prayer plant–and they can be a little finicky anyway) and the rest of the plants were in really good shape.

What’s also very interesting about the collection of plants in this dish garden is that with the exception of the maranta, they are all known to be great plants for cleaning the air.

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Perhaps it’s not easy to see what’s in the dish garden from these photos. There was the little palm that I previously mentioned, and the prayer plant. There were 2 dracaenas, a variegated one and a variety called ‘Janet Craig,’ which is smaller. There was a philodendron and a peace lily (spathophilum). It’s really a nice little collection of plants.

And this is the end result once the plants were all separated and potted up. I asked my neighbor if there was at least one that she would like to keep but she said no. So my house plant collection has been significantly enriched by this!

Practicing What I Preach–Sort Of

One of the things I always talk about when I lecture is the importance of foliage in garden design. Even when I am talking about house plants, foliage is the star–I will often bring 20 or 30 plants to display–and after everyone is done “oohing and aahing,” I will remark that it’s important to notice a couple of things about my display: first, how colorful it is and second, that there are maybe only one or perhaps two at most flowering plants int he whole thing (and if there are, I guarantee you one is a phalaenopsis orchid so that I can talk about proper watering technique–not the “ice cube” method.)

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For example, here’s a grouping of plants from my living room. There’s not a flowering plant among them but the grouping is vibrant and colorful. This photo is from last year so it’s changed up a little bit, but it’s still substantially similar–and still no flowers in this low-light area beneath a window.

The same results can be achieved outdoors as well. In fact, when I have the time and energy, I find that it’s almost more fun to create all foliage containers. I have not created anything at all this year–as I type, I am nursing a 3″ scar across the my arm–and I am right handed–that is preventing me from doing anything outside at all, including watering. That’s where the Spoiler comes in handy. But I knew this was coming so I didn’t make this an intensive gardening year. There’s always next year.

For inspiration, however, check out these lovely, mostly foliage containers at Avant Gardens. And then plan for your foliage containers in the future!

Ways of Seeing

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I had this photo of my clivia miniata up just a little over a week ago on a “Wordless Wednesday.”

I’m posting it again today for a different reason. As we begin to fully enter spring in the northern hemisphere, I want to remind everyone to take time to really look at flowers. (So I guess you can tell that while I am a little too young to have been a “hippie,” I definitely believe in that stopping to smell the flowers–and to look closely at them–is a good thing!)

I remember distinctly a time when I said to someone how much I loved tulips because there were so many colors held within just one flower.The person looked at me as if I had 3 heads. But I would say the same thing about this lovely clivia flower.

Of course it’s a screaming orange color at first glance. That’s what attracts our gaze. But I am willing to believe that is what attracts pollinators to this beautiful flower (in its natural habitat, of course–not in my living room!)

Once the pollinators notice, I suspect they are lured in by the other coloration. I have read that bees don’t see red very well–they see it as a muddy dark color–and that’s why hummingbirds know that red flowers will have nectar left, for example.

There are some fabulous internet videos of the way bees see color–if you’re interested, take a look!

But the yellow throat of this clivia probably shows up as screaming, shocking fuschia to a bee!

And I adore the three delicate white scallops leading to the yellow throats of each petal.

Next time you have a flowering plant in bloom, take a closer look. Who knows what you’ll see?

Who Knew Plants Could Be Helpful?

Happy Spring! From here on out, were are in the 3 months most likely to be “spring-like,” hence this day, March 1, begins meteorological spring. It’s all going to get better–or warmer–from here, no groundhog required.

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Gardeners know that plants can be helpful in many different ways so the title of my post is kind of silly, really. But this particular plant, a tropical pitcher plant called nepenthes ventricosa is helpful in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.

First, I want to say that it’s looking a little wimpy right now. I just cut the last of the big red pitchers that it had from last summer off. That’s really what led me to this post. The pitcher was full of liquid so I dumped the liquid into the sink and out came a dead hornet. Aha! I thought. That’s where that hornet that was bumbling around in here about a month or so ago went.

These tiny green pitchers have all formed since I brought the plant in for the winter. Any hornets who find their way in now are on their own until the plant goes back outside for spring.

There was a vendor at our Flower and Garden Show offering these for sale. I suspect folks who bought these might have been given the instruction to collect rainwater or some such thing. I know every time I acquire a carnivorous plant, that’s what I am told.

That’s nice to do if you’re not in the middle of February in the freezing north. What I do instead is I fill a watering can with tap water and let it sit overnight at least. Longer is better. Many of the harmful “stuff” in the water evaporates out that way.

Something must be working–this plant is 2 years old. Maybe it likes its diet of scavenged hornets.

Patience Rewarded

Back when I worked in retail gardening, my #1 question was about hydrangeas and how to get them to reliably rebloom.

Now that I speak about a lot of different topics, my #1 question is about clivias and how to get them to rebloom. And while I can tell you, even I haven’t always had success following my own instructions.

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I am not sure what I did differently this year but I am going to finally get a bloom. Here’s what worked.

Ideally this how you get a clivia to bloom. It has to do with cooler temperatures and dryness in the fall and early winter. Each year, I stop watering the clivia around Labor Day. It seems crazy but don’t water at all from early September until January 22. You would think that the plant would die but no.

It also needs very cool temperature–just above freezing really, about 40 degrees. That’s hard for most folks to achieve. I have a glassed in sun porch with a thermometer. I left it out there and watched it very carefully.

Once temperatures dropped near 40 degrees Fahrenheit on the porch, I brought it inside,but to a very cool room. It got very little light. Apparently it didn’t care. I was so surprised to se the flower stalk forming even before I started watering.

Once I saw the flower stalk, I brought it into the light and began watering. Now it’s just patience.

Another Way to Deal with House Plant Insects

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You probably don’t recognize this photo from “Gardening Resolutions #1.” It’s the variegated plant–otherwise known as a kumquat–in the picture–the one that I talked about as having fooled me by dropping leaves. It was the one that had spread spider mites to the whole rest of the plants in the window.

Well, so far so good on the rest of the plants, but this one I am a bit nervous about so I decided to give it the “shower” treatment. That way, any hitch hikers and any new hatchers can just wash away down the drain–no fuss, no muss and no sprays (other than the water) required.

I had read this past fall that Brie Arthur (who wrote the wonderful outdoor vegetable book about incorporating vegetables into your landscaping in the most creative ways! The book is called The Foodscape Revolution for those of you who want to get a head start on some ideas for this coming year’s edible garden) suggested that it was “meditative” to wipe down the leaves of your house plants as a protective way to keep insects at bay.

God bless Brie, but that isn’t going to work for me and my 180+ plants! I prefer to take a single plant (or a windowful, if that’s what’s affected) to my shower, give them a quick, but thorough spray down with some water and let them dry.

It’s easy, it’s chemical free, and it dislodges spider mites (and aphids) quickly and painlessly. A nice side bonus is that the plants get thoroughly watered as well.

But, if you only have a couple of plants, you might want to try Brie Arthur’s method to see if that works for you. Different things do work for different folks–or as I always say, if we all liked the same thing, we’d have a pretty boring world!

About Growing Those Shrubs as House Plants…..

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What are you looking at? Last year’s poinsettia of course. Are you surprised? I know that no one really keeps these things from year to year. By March, they are toast–or perhaps if they’re lucky, compost.

But they do have a long and storied history as shrubs, particularly in Mexico, which is their home country. And obviously, if they are growing as shrubs in the ground, no one is doing the crazy machinations we hear about in the news or on blogs or web sites (which you won’t read about here, by the way) about putting the plants in closets or under boxes to get them to bloom. I think those folks who have them as shrubs in their yards have better things to do with their time.

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So if you don’t mind your plants not blooming not quite on schedule (and you know I don’t–I’m the one with last year’s amaryllis in June!) this is what you can expect. And this is just the beginning.

So this year, if you have the room, perhaps consider saving over a lovely poinsettia of your own. Or at least compost it, if you can!

Gardening Resolutions #5

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This resolution is sort of an offshoot of Monday’s resolution to stop falling in love with shrubs. This is not the plant I wanted. I wanted a Norfolk Island Pine. In retrospect, it’s better that I didn’t find one in a size that I wanted to buy (I won’t even go into the reasons for that!)

But I did this same thing last year. I bought a little evergreen–which, by the way, is not intended to live indoors, even in my chilly house. I nursed it all the way through the winter. And then we got into March and the thing promptly succumbed to something. I think it was shortly after I had re-potted it because it was woefully pot-bound but I never re-pot in the dead of winter.

In any event, I have done the same thing–I have bought a completely inappropriate plant for the house. The tag says it will grow to 8-15 feet! So that indicates it’s definitely it’s an outdoor plant–but not in my climate. However, I suspect that just like last year it will succumb to something–perhaps the mites that seem to be affecting some other things in my collection this year–well before I can re-pot it and get it outdoors for the summer.

Perhaps next year, I will just content myself with my bulbs!

Gardening Resolutions #4

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The large plant in the center of the photo is what’s prompted this “resolution.” I seem to be full of them this year, most of them which I am sure that I will never be able to keep, of course!

This is a variegated pittosporum. It’s not a house plant. It’s a shrub that grows in warm climates. I saw it on my trip to Italy in 1999 and fell in love with it. I’ve also seen it, as well as its non-variegated cousin, on my trips to Texas.

My “resolution,” if you will, is to try not to fall in love with these huge plants that were never intended to be house plants. As I just mentioned, this is a shrub. The only reason it’s in my house in a pot is that I can’t grow it outside in my cold climate.

So why am I growing it at all? Well, because, as I mentioned, I saw a lovely hedge of it in Italy, outside of Rome, at a restaurant where I enjoyed a lovely open-air dinner on a warm, late summer night. My chair backed up tot this hedge and the foliage is slightly fragrant. That was all it took. When I saw a small plant offered for sale, it brought back that wonderful memory of that open air dinner and the rest is history.

I didn’t realize that this plant flowered and had lovely fragrant flowers int he spring. It won’t do it for me every spring–but that’s part of its charm too. But still–if I keep falling in love with shrubs, I’ll have to move out of my house!