Six on Saturday: 10.9.22

It has been a busy week for me as I returned to work after the school holiday. It’s been a good week back but I also had more significant gardening news. I passed my final two RHS exams and to top it off I received commendations for both exams. So, I finished the course with 6 out of 8 as commendations. Very pleased to have made it through so I think a few gardening treats are in order.

Seating area

Work continues on the seating area. I got the weed matting down and started on the stones. It is gradually taking shape. It should be done by next week.

Burton Agnes Purchases

We went to Burton Agnes Hall last week and made a few purchases. Alice picked the Armeria which I reckon we can add to her fairy garden we started last week. Amy picked Euphorbia x martini ‘Ascot Rainbow’. She liked the contrast of the stem and leaf. I’ve put this one in a pot to give it the drainage it needs. I went for Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’. I fancied something forming towers of flowers that flower over a decent period. The gardens are still filled with lots of plants looking great but it is feeling a bit run down in areas. It’s gradually looking in need of a designer to come and bring some cohesion back to the individual garden sections.

Clematis Montana Warickshire rose

I picked up a cheap Clematis from Morrisons for one side of the arch. Their cheap climbers have grown well for me in the past and Montana are vigorous anyway. They have pale pink flowers in late spring or early summer. I planted an unnamed Montana for the other side of the arch. They should cover the arch nicely but without being spiky for walking through.

Houseplant treats

After receiving my RHS results I figured I deserved a little treat on the day. I got a little Sansiveria. Nothing particularly special, but it isn’t one I’ve got. Then a Crassula Rhapsody in pink. That’s the strange one that looks like little tails. Both of these are barely rooted cuttings so will need a bit of care to keep going. They were cheap but still probably shouldn’t be sent out from their nurseries like this. But the demand for houseplants is outstripping supply I reckon. Then I got a Chamaelobivia, the peanut cactus. It can be grown as a houseplant or in the garden. This one has bright red flowers. It is marketed as a hardy garden cactus. It is reckoned to hardy to -7 though it may be killed by winter wet, so I may put it in the mini greenhouse to shelter it from rain and then it’ll be a garden plant as the weather warms up. They grow easily from offsets so I may pluck out a few to keep inside as an insurance policy.

Cleistocactus strausii

I saw this cactus for sale on Facebook for £7. I’ve been after a nice big specimen and this is fulfilling that role. The big column is a decent two foot. I’m going to need to work out the best way to deal with the browned off stems. I think I will probably divide it and cut out the browned sections leaving me with the tall column and a shorter one. It’s not necessarily a plant you see for sale very often though it is used within a number of well-known gardens planting schemes. Jimi Blake uses it within his garden, Hunting Brook Garden, in Ireland. Looking online these are selling at £100 to £200 so hopefully I can divide this successfully and have a spectacular specimen for the cactus display. Not bad since it included the pot.

Astrantia ‘claret’

I got this Astrantia from Scampston a few years ago and it has proved a reliable plant. It has flowered well through summer and it’s still going strong.

I have the rest of the stone to get on with moving to finish the seating area. We may have ordered too much so the passage around the back of the house may get a fresh layer of stone too. I’d like to try and make it to the garden centre some point this weekend for a few treats for my exam result. I’ve got a few gaps in the border from moving things around that I’d like filled but have to see what’s available. We’ve had a lot of rain this week so the plants that have been moved are largely settling well and the water butts are looking full again. Hope you all enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

Find me on Twitter.

Plant Rescue Box

The new local houseplant shop, Botany Boutique, has partnered with the plant rescuer, Sarah Gerrard-Jones, to stock plant rescue boxes. These are bags or boxes of plants that need a bit of care to get them back to pristine sales point. They may need a repot or can be saved by taking cuttings. They are an opportunity to grab some interesting plants at bargain prices. When I saw Botany Boutique was going to be offering these I reserved one straight away as I like a plant rescue project. There is a sense of satisfaction in bringing back a plant to health that otherwise would add to the waste in this world. Sarah’s book the plant rescuer is currently on sale for kindle. I’ve bought it and probably going to give a read after I’ve finished my current book. I’m not generally keen on plant books on kindle but as I had a voucher it was pretty cheap. If it turns out to be good I’ll probably buy a hard copy.

The collection

For £15 I received:

Sago palmCaladium, Kalanchoe, 2 African violets, peace Lilly, Hoya, 2 calatheas and a few succulents.

  • Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)
  • Caladium
  • Kalanchoe
  • 2 African Violets (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia)
  • Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum)
  • Hoya kerri
  • 2 Calatheas
  • A collection of succulents

The state of these varied of why they’d been included. Some like the peace lily and African violets I think have been included as they are going past flowering point. The succulents are pretty disfigured. The caladium had a good few bent stems. The sago palm had two crisped smaller leaves and two larger healthy leaves.

Caladium

The caladium is one of the plants that interested me more as it isn’t one I have and it has an interesting leaf. It was quite a large plant but many of the stems had been knocked and weren’t going to heal. I don’t know caladiums well enough to know the variety but it looks pretty to me. It could be gingerland but they change a lot depending on the light levels.

I began by cutting out the damaged stems. This left a much-reduced plant but still a good couple of leaves.

The soil had a little bit of fungal growth. Possibly grey mould. Fungal issues are not uncommon for plants like this that need a decent level of moisture. The fallen leaves were causing part of the issue. With some plants, you can leave them to dry out between watering to reduce fungal problems but as caladiums need a good level of water this isn’t a great option. So I went with the more extreme option of removing the existing soil and repotting in fresh soil.

As it was a decent clump and one section had the fungal covering I decided to divide it while the soil was off. Caladiums form tubers, much like dahlias. You can take cuttings so long as it has a little section with a tuber on. I divided two smaller sections with leaves that are set to unfurl. Earlier in the year you could probably get away with just tuber and let it form new stems. I went with how it naturally wanted to split cutting this section with a sharp sterilised knife to avoid spreading disease.

The larger tuber section had a bit of root rot. If you looking at the photo below you can see a number of roots that have gone brown and they felt like mush. These were cut off and the healthy white roots were retained.

To pot it up it needs holding in the pot at the desired level and then the soil was poured around the roots, tapping every so often to let the soil go down and continuing until the pot was full to just below the rim. The old soil has gone in the council bin just in case it was a nastier fungal disease than I believe.

At the end of this process, I have two small pots and a larger one. I have left them for a good soak in a tray. With any luck, I’ll have one decent plant for me and two I can gift away. They are often recommended for growing for one summer season buying the tubers in spring and not keeping so we’ll see how I get on with the winter dormancy period.

Succulents

The succulents are the ones I have the least interest in as I already have healthy versions of many of these. The sempervivum looked like it had just gone leggy but when I inspected it came away from the soil.

I stripped off the rotting and dead leaves back to the small central stem that was still healthy. I have a number of semperivums already so I’ve just poked a hole in the other pots and slotted it in. It may root, it may not. It doesn’t bother me too much either way as it isn’t one I’m that bothered about. It’ll be a while until it gets to any size to be worthwhile.

The succulent at the front has just been labelled succulent. Not sure exactly what it is. Could just be an etiolated echeveria or crassula.

I’ve stripped off the lower leaves and potted it deeper. I could have potted up the leaves and they would form new plants too but it doesn’t look like anything I’m too interested in. I considered composting it but it felt cruel when I was trying to rescue everything else. You can see it has several small leaves at the top that will hopefully form a fresh healthy plant. The stem below the ground can root us into the ground and it looks a bit neater for removing damaged leaves.

Kalanchoe

I was gifted a few Kalanchoe plantlets a few months back and they have been growing well. I think this may be another kalanchoe daigremontiana, mother of thousands. So I may well be swamped with this plant as it is very good at propagating itself. It had a few damaged lower leaves.

I potted it on into a slightly bigger pot. I removed the lower damaged leaves and potted it slightly lower with the repot. This is one I’ll probably just gift on unless it appears to be a different Kalanchoe from what I already have.

Healthy plants

The calatheas largely look healthy enough. They just have a few yellowing leaves. These have gone in the bathroom along with a few relatives as I already have a maranta and Goeppertia. These like to be moist with good humidity so the bathroom is the ideal spot. Mine is south facing so if I place them on the far wall they seem to get about the right light level and be happy. I’ll monitor these and see how they do and if there are any more problems. They are in small pots currently and it is always harder to keep the water level right. As plants grow and get potted on they become a bit more forgiving. The leaves need a bit of a clean so I’ll take them in the shower with me over the week to give a clean off.

The African Violets look to be fine. They have finished flowering so it will just be a matter of growing them on and potting as needed until they are ready to flower. For now, I have just put them in the north-facing spare room. I’ll keep my eye out for some small pots to put these in.

Sago palm

Despite the name, they aren’t actually palm trees, though they have the look of one. They are actually gymnosperms, relatives of conifers. They originate from southern Japan. Cycads have very ancient origins going back to Jurassic times with many dying out in the great extinction but some survived to modern times. This had two smaller leaves on the outside that had browned off. These have been removed. If I remember rightly new leaves form from the centre so hopefully, I have just removed older leaves. When checking plant health the roots are my first port of call. By taking a plant out of its pot you can check for watering issues, whether over or under watering as well as pests and disease. This had some white powdery egg like growth at the bottom and similar yellow growth higher up.

As I was unsure of what this was I figured a repot was probably a good plan. I removed the soil and washed off as much as I could. Scraped off a little bit of what looked to be fungal growth.

It seems to be increasingly rare to receive a plant in a potting medium that actually suits the plant. I reckon I see daily posts on the British Cactus and Succulent Society Facebook group where people have root rot from cactus purchased in moisture retentive soil. The sago palm comes from Japanese islands and when I’ve seen pictures in its native environment it is usually rocky slopes. So I’ve gone for a free draining mix with a good level of sand and grit. I’ve top-dressed it with grit as I plan to place it outside for summer and this will prevent a few weeds getting in. I’ve kept it in for now as it is a particularly windy day out there and didn’t want to traumatise it anymore. These can grow 5m or so but as it is slow growing this won’t be happening anytime soon.

Hoya kerrii

Hoya kerrii is known as the sweetheart plant. It is generally sold around Valentine’s Day as a single cutting of the heart-shaped leaf. I rarely see it actually sold as a vine with any stem. It is almost always sold as leaf cutting that is barely rooted and doesn’t survive much beyond February. Removing it from the pot confirmed my suspicion. This had the tiniest bit of root wrapped in a little bit of what I assumed was coir fibre wrapped in an elastic band. The leaf is yellowed and a bit wrinkled so I’m assuming the issue with this was underwatering made worse by its lack of root system.

I carefully unwrapped the fibre from around the root and kept as much root as I can. I then potted it into the soil so it has space for more roots to grow. The plant looks better on one side so I’ve kept that side facing out while the yellower side is hidden. The yellowing is difficult to judge why it’s happened as it could be over or underwatering, lack of nutrients, too many nutrients, too much sun, or too little sun. So I’m just going to have to see if giving it a better root run helps first and that should help with watering and nutrient issues. My suspicion is its days are numbered but I can probably get a little enjoyment from it before composting.

All in all, I’m very happy with what I got in the plant rescue box. There are several plants that appear decent enough quality without any effort and a good few that I think will recover. A few succulents I’m not so bothered about, not that I dislike succulents, I have many, but these are already ones I have or close enough to ones I have. The plants would have cost many times the amount paid so if I can bring them back it’ll have been a good saving. I’ve enjoyed the initial process of diagnosing and starting them on the road to recovery. We’ll see how many of them I manage to keep going back to full health.

Find me on Twitter

Dinosaur Terrarium

It’s been a good while since I made a terrarium and I’ve found several good containers to make ones in. The last one I made was an open terrarium that lasted a good few years before the fittonia outgrew it and it started looking messy. The point of a terrarium is to help grow plants that need higher humidity. Unfortunately what you mostly see sold are succulents encased in glass. Succulents are adapted to dryer conditions and the higher humidity of a terrarium will slowly rot the plant. The plants that are suited terrariums are ones which want high humidity and are slow growing. A lot of plants that come from the rainforest understory are used. These would naturally grow in the damp undergrowth which will be similar to the conditions of a terrarium in our houses. A really well-made sealed terrarium can be left for long periods without much maintenance making them an attractive choice for the home or work.

I had a lot of the ingredients for making a terrarium in and bought in a few others. Today’s terrarium used:

  • Glass container
  • Leca (Lightweight expanded clay aggregate)
  • Spagnum moss
  • Potting mix
  • Moss
  • Plant (fittonia)
  • Decorative items

Alice helped make the first closed terrarium. We started with the drainage layer. I used Leca for this one. This acts as a reservoir for water so the roots don’t sit in water. Leca makes for a good choice as it’s lightweight and holds the water and releases it up as needed. Gravel or stones can be used but are heavier. Glass pebbles can be used for a more decorative choice.

Next, we used sphagnum moss to act as a barrier between the drainage and the potting mix. Some people use activated charcoal as it is believed that it helps filter toxins and impurities. We misted it down at this point to help squash it down before adding the potting mix.

The potting mix went on top of the sphagnum moss as the growing medium for the plants. I had bought a fittonia for the main plant for this terrarium from a new local houseplant shop, Botany Boutique. The shop seems to be doing well and I hope it continues to as it’s nice to have somewhere close to buy interesting choices from. The fittonia will eventually outgrow the space and then I can either restart it or cut and replace with cuttings. The moss is a carpet moss I bought from Etsy. I have used moss from the garden before and it has been alright in the spare room as we don’t heat it. But in most situations, our native moss will dry out too quick inside which is why I’ve bought actual terrarium moss. Alice chose a few rocks, the Trex and a polished ammonite for decoration. She was very proud of the end result.

Open terrarium

Then we made a second larger terrarium in an open gold fish bowl I’d bought cheap from a charity shop. I’m keeping my eye out for a glass plate or acrylic disc so I can make it a closed environment. While it’s open it will need more watering whereas if I can close it it will increase the humidity for the plants.

I used the remaining fittonia from the first and I was able to split it again to use for two sections. I had a little bit of carpet moss that I arranged around the fittonias and made a path between the two. Then grit was used to cover the bare soil.

I think it looks pretty good. Now we have to work on getting the moisture levels right in both. The nerves of this fittonia are great vibrant ones.

And a dinosaur prowling for good measure. I’ve made this one for work where it’s probably going to be in a room with fairly low light so I will probably be supplementing the light with a grow light.

I would like to develop a better knowledge of terrarium plants. There are better choices than fittonias that will stay small for longer but these should give me a year or so by which point I’ll probably want a different display at work anyway. A lot of the fun is in the construction. It makes for a pleasant craft activity.

Find me on Twitter.

Houseplant subscriptions

I have noticed a spike in my stats for an old blog covering Geo-Fleur plant subscriptions. I guess while all the plant addicts are stuck on lockdown they are craving their hit of plants. So time for some plant pimping. Geo-fleur is no longer operating as Geo-fleur. One of the staff moved onto House of Kojo. This member of staff is no longer with House of Kojo and they have no association with Geo-Fleur anymore. They are still offering interesting plants though but no plant subscription service. Worth taking a gander. So I’m going to cover a few houseplant subscription offers as I felt I should update the previous blog. I haven’t used any of them but I have heard good things about the ones listed. If any want to send me a box to review I am perfectly open to plant bribery.

The idea of a plant subscription is a bit of strange one. You pay to get a mystery plant delivered to you at a set interval. Some do monthly, some every 3 months, etc. Many offer delightful pots to go with the plants. I had three months with geo-fleur and I received several plants I would never have bought myself. A rather nice succulent, a string of hearts and some nice airplants.  All three are still thriving over a year later. It can be a bit of an expensive way to get hold of plants but can make for a nice gift for a special occasion.

Bloombox is one of the more established subscription services. They offer a classic subscription, a larger plant subscription or something special for rarer plants.

https://bloomboxclub.com/

Lazy Flora is nice in that they offer garden subscriptions, houseplant subscriptions or veg box subscriptions. With a lot of people struggling to get hold of GYO, I could see this one being useful. There is also the option for buying a combined indoor/outdoor pack.

https://lazyflora.com

Plantpetclub seems worth a mention for offering a variety of pet-friendly plants.

https://plantpetclub.co.uk/

A few suggestions for you if you are out there looking for houseplant subscription. If you try any let me know how you get on with them.

Find me on Twitter.

Six on Saturday: 16.2.19 Taste of exotics

Having posted about Ophiopogon planiscapus last week I thought I’d continue looking at some of my plans to widen out my selection of exotic plants or at least exotic looking plants. While I’m holding off on most of my sowing a few of my choices for this year have such long germination periods I thought I’d get them started.

1. Musa lasiocarpa-dwarf banana

One of my Morgan & Thompson seed purchases this year was a pack of musa lasiocarpa. This dwarf banana is fairly hardy supposedly taking temperatures down to -10. I’m aiming to grow it for the patio but with up to six months to germinate, I thought I better get started. While they are available as small plants there is a satisfaction that comes with growing from seed. Though as these come with a warning that germination is “slow and erratic” I’m not getting my hopes of success up to much.

2. Agaves

The second of this year’s Morgan and Thompson seed purchases. This was a mixed packet of agave seeds. While I am in the cold North being by the coast I think might give them reasonable survival chances if I can get them going. There are a few gardens in my area that bring agaves out for Summer so we’ll see how I get on. At less than 99p after deals were applied I’m willing to take a chance on them. After a week in the propagator I’ve already got some germinating, so we’ll see if I can keep them going to become fully fledged plants. I need to read up on the next stage. I’d only read up on germination as I thought it might fail at that stage.

3. Heated propagator

In order to increase my chances of germination success, I’ve bought a heated propagator. It featured last week with the black mondo seeds. It’s only a cheap variety that adds a few degrees heat but that could make all the difference. It doesn’t have a thermostat to control temperature but I didn’t want to break the bank on it. I do wish I’d gone for the premium though for a more solid lid.

4. Discount ferns

A few weeks back I picked up a few discount ferns. While they are a bit miserable at the moment I think they’ll pick back up with fresh fronds. The borders are filled mainly with cottage garden favourites so to tie the patio and lawn area together I’m looking to use ferns and hostas that will feature in both areas.

One corner of the border already contains a good number of ferns. I’m now looking to mirror this on the opposite border. These new ferns are destined for there. Dryopteris is a nice erect shuttlecock form growing to around a metre tall.

Cristata the king is a tall form that remains evergreen in warmer climates and deciduous as it moves to colder climates. It tolerates a lot of garden situations from shade to semi-shade and tolerant of a variety of soils. It tends to clump and can then be divided to spread it around.

Filix-Mas is deciduous giving me hope that it will come back fine. Once established it shouldn’t need much care. Most of the ferns are evergreen as I’d intended them as a constant green backdrop. This will add a bit of contrast within that mix.

5. Plant lovers guide to ferns

Ferns make for fascinating plants with their prehistoric nature. They provide excellent foliage. Many of my choices are evergreen providing the garden with a background of year-round interest. This book from Kew Gardens has a lot more detail than I expected. I thought it would have a few recommended varieties and a bit of planting detail. A coffee table book but it’s actually very informative. There are recommendations for different areas of the garden, some design ideas, a solid section detailing different ferns and propagation.

6. Propagating houseplants for outdoors

It isn’t an original idea Will Giles did it, Christopher Lloyd did it but this year I want to try some of the houseplants I keep inside outside. It was discussed in one of this weeks plant based podcasts. My prime candidates are plants that are easy to propagate so I can keep the backup inside and put the propagated plants outside without worrying if they die.

Candidate number one is my spider plant. If I let it my spider plant population grow they could easily take over the house. I normally cut the flowers before they become pups. I have saved a few though to go outside in the Summer. They have put on good root systems and are getting to reasonable heights.

The second plant I’m looking at is my string of hearts. These are supposedly easy to propagate. Cutting laid on soil should root. I imagine this could be used in mixes pots to trail the edge of pots. I’m not sure of its hardiness but a few cuttings of these will only cost a handful of soil. So if they die straight away I haven’t lost anything but a bit of time.

I’m aware these are not necessarily the most exciting photos to ever feature on my six but hopefully, they will be more exciting later in the year. The discount bedraggled ferns should recover to become glorious foliage. The seeds will flourish into beasts. The houseplants will bring new elements to the outside patio area. Exciting times ahead.

Follow me on Twitter.

Houseplant hour-flowering houseplants

Last week I listened back to episode 46 of on the ledge podcast episode 46 of on the ledge podcast with Wisley curator Mathew Pottage. I was hoping for a bit of inspiration on my plans for exotics on the patio.  During the episode, they discussed the idea of why foliage houseplants are more popular than flowering houseplants.

I can think of quite a lot of reasons. Foliage has a longer period of interest than flowers. The Instagram houseplant trend tends to favour photos of leaves and variegation. Many flowering houseplants take a lot of care with long periods in between flowering. However, it did get me thinking. I pretty much only grow kalanchoe for flowers indoors. A number of the plants I grow do flower. A couple of my cacti have quite nice flowers actually, but I don’t grow them for the flowers. The kalanchoe I buy is the standard supermarket varieties. I don’t actually like them very much, but Amy does, so I buy one and they last on average about 4 months before I replace them. The spot Amy likes for them is a kitchen windowsill where they gradually become scruffy from leaf burn. Essentially we buy them as a longer lasting form of cut flowers. Before any one comments I am aware there are lovely forms of kalanchoe, but I’m not keen on the standard supermarket varieties. They look like plastic plants to me. I’ve never bothered with orchids or bromeliads or any of the other. I have done quite well with cut flowers from my garden this year. Ox-eye daisies, cosmos and sweet peas have filled many vases over the Summer.

So in an effort to branch out, I have bought one of the ever-present Christmas amaryllis kits from Aldi. For £2.50 I’m willing to take a chance. The box did say pot included. This was just the plastic drainage pot to pot the bulb up in. I had a bit of an issue finding a pot to fit over the sleeve as it was quite a short wide size. But I did locate a suitable size that isn’t too hideous.

The bulb sits on the pot with its neck out of the soil, then pushed firmly down to ensure contact with the soil. Until the stem starts to get going it doesn’t need much watering. It should take about seven to ten weeks to flower. So it may flower ready for Christmas.

So wish me luck as I venture into growing a houseplant with flowering in mind. Who knows? After this, I may even branch out to buy an orchid for the first time. What flowering houseplants do you all recommend?

Follow on Twitter.

Houseplant hour: The man who hated aspidistras

This week I bring you a houseplant horror story W.F. Harvey. William Fryer Harvey (1885-1937) was a writer best known for writing horror and macabre stories. Born into a wealthy Quaker Yorkshire family he trained in medicine. He served during WWI in various medical roles. He suffered lung damage during the war that caused issues for the rest of his life.

After the war, he worked in adult education until ill health forced his retirement. During his lifetime three short story collections were published. Then after his death, in 1937, a posthumous collection was published following the 1946 film release of his best-known work, the beast with five fingers.

Harvey’s horror stories are interesting as they don’t follow one theme or formula. Many horror writers write one story in different variations, but Harvey’s follow different directions.

The story today is in the open domain now for copyright purposes. It offers a warning to abusing your houseplants, particularly that stuffy symbol of the Victorian middle class, the aspidistra.

The man who hated Aspidistras

The earliest memories of Ferdinand Ashley Wilton were green memories—of aspidistras. The aunt with whom he lived at Cheltenham was fond of the plants. As you entered the hall of Claremont Villa there was on the right an upturned drain-pipe painted a sage green and decorated with arum lilies. This contained Miss Wilton’s umbrellas and her father’s walking-stick. Projecting into the hall on the left a fretful erection of mahogany supported a mirror, hooks for cloaks, and two shelves. On the upper shelf was a porcelain bowl that contained the cards of callers; on the lower, in a sea-green earthenware pot, precariously rested the first of the aspidistras. The second stood in the dining-room—in summer in the fireplace, in winter on the ledge of the window that faced south. In the drawing-room was the third, raised high above the ground on a fluted wooden pedestal. The fourth and last aspidistra stood on the round table by the couch in Miss Wilton’s bedroom. At night it was carried out on to the landing, for Miss Wilton, remembering something that her doctor had once said about sick-rooms and flowers, thought it on the whole wisest that she should sleep alone.

The aspidistras dominated Ferdinand’s life. They were always liable to be upset, so that he was not allowed to run about in the hall or dining-room. When he was very small he had a fancy that they repeated to Miss Wilton the many things that he had done amiss, and especially did he distrust that fourth plant, which stood at night, a sleepless sentinel, on the landing close to his bedroom door. As he grew older he learnt, reluctantly, how to sponge their leaves with soapy water. When a gentle rain was falling he would carry them into the garden in order that they might enjoy what Miss Wilton called a thorough soaking. But if Ben, the poodle, were in the garden he had to be brought in straight away and dried. The laws governing the vegetable and animal worlds seemed to Ferdinand strangely different. In very dry weather the bath would be half filled and the four aspidistras would stand in a row for hours partially submerged. Ferdinand was not allowed to sail his boat among the gloomy islands of this archipelago, but if his conduct had been satisfactory he was permitted to pull the plug before going to bed. Ferdinand was still a very little boy when he was sent away to school. He was constantly ailing and even when he was well he received more than his due share of kicks and bruises. In the matron’s room he felt as if he were back again in Cheltenham, the pot of aspidistras reminded him so much of his aunt. On it he vented the hatred of his schoolboy world. When the matron was called out of the room he would share with the aspidistras vegetable laxatives and iron tonics, or impart to their leaves an unnatural glow of health by polishing them with Scott’s emulsion or liquid paraffin. A vertical section of the pot illustrating Ferdinand’s activities would have shown a thimble, three hairpins, a number of needles, the case of a clinical thermometer and, an inch below the surface, an almost complete tessellated pavement of sugar-coated pills. When, however, in a rash moment, Ferdinand, in applying the contents of a bottle of tincture of iodine to the leaves, found to his alarm that the black stains were irremovable, the fat was in the fire. The matron made a formal complaint, but nobody owned up. The ten more or less ailing boys who had visited the room on that fatal morning were indiscriminately punished. To them it was known that Ferdinand was the delinquent. He did not escape. Like the aspidistra he was poked and prodded and shaken to the roots. Boyhood passed. At the university Ferdinand achieved a certain success. He published a volume of verse and was founder and secretary of the Mid-Victorians. He only met two aspidistras during the whole of the time he was up, one in the porter’s lodge whose leaves he would absent-mindedly trim with pocket scissors, and the other in a dentist’s waiting-room. Miss Wilton died. She left to her nephew the villa at Cheltenham and four hundred pounds a year. Ferdinand was able to devote himself to literature, and from Bloomsbury lodging-houses wrote his first series of Antimacassar Papers. It was at this period of his life that he found himself once again under the influence of aspidistras. He began by nagging them, treating them as ash-trays, pen-wipers, and cemeteries for safety razor blades. He ended by torturing them. One, he slowly did to death with weedkiller; into another, following the example of the Good Samaritan, he would pour in oil and wine. A third he garrotted with rubber bands; a fourth, slowly succumbing to a solution of bath salts, filled his room for weeks with the faint perfume of lavender. A horticultural detective would, of course, have quickly got on the track of the Bloomsbury murders, but no suspicion ever fell upon Ferdinand. He was so inoffensive, so subtle, so respectable, and in his own way so quietly ornamental. His requirements were so few and he needed little looking after. His landladies were always sorry when he went. The aspidistras never got over his departure.

Ferdinand, of course, should have realised that it is dangerous to indulge in hatred. The man who hates open spaces as likely as not will be killed when crossing a square. It isn’t the motor car but the square that kills him. Ferdinand had his warnings. Once on a wet morning a pot of aspidistras fell from a third-storey window ledge on to the pavement at his feet. On another occasion when travelling by train a sudden stop brought down from the rack a heavy and bulky package that indubitably involved risk of injury to passengers. If Ferdinand had not been sitting with his back to the engine he would have been struck on the head by the most monstrous aspidistra he had ever seen.

He was smoking one day in a despondent mood when his friend Basset Tankerville chanced to call. The Blue Review had noticed his latest volume of essays with less than its usual appreciation. ‘Listen to this,’ said Ferdinand to Basset. ‘“We begin to be conscious of the limitations of his point of view—the interstices of a Venetian blind. He is the embodiment of the aspidistra.” And then,’ said Ferdinand, ‘they have the impertinence to give half a column to a review of Gertrude Stein.’ ‘Glorious jingles,’ said Basset. ‘You should really try your hand at them yourself. “Ferdinand Ashley Wilton with his dashed aspidistras that wilt unless fertilised. With black tobacco ash. Ad astra Aspidistra.” But seriously, you do remind me of the plants. You are becoming more and more green with envy, more and more pot-bound. And, by the way, have you ever thought of how applicable to aspidistras is St Paul’s description of charity? That specimen which I see before me suffereth long and is kind. It vaunteth not itself, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. And the same, Ferdinand, in a large measure is true of you. You and the aspidistra are one.’ Those light words of Basset Tankerville, spoken as they were in jest, marked an epoch in Wilton’s life. They stirred the vegetable fibres of his being. His conversation became more and more torpid. The wit that had enlivened the Antimacassar Papers vanished and though from time to time he still wrote, his style—polished and stately as it was—became dull. He left London to live once again in Cheltenham, but it was as an invalid that he lived. Though he took the waters regularly his skin acquired an unmistakeable greenish tinge which the dark green cloak he always wore made all the more noticeable. A little odd, his housekeeper thought him, and very old-fashioned, but Mr Wilton gave next to no trouble. On sunny days she would pull up the Venetian blinds and place his chair in the window, where he would sit quietly for hours occasionally sponging his long leaf-like hands with soap and water. He was happiest, however, when the faintest of drizzles was falling. Then the man who hated aspidistras would be wheeled out into the rain to enjoy a thorough soaking.

My classroom aspidistra, solid enough to survive a gloomy classroom and four year olds.

After thought

A warning to plant keepers. Have you become the plants you look after? Hope you’ve enjoyed the story. Are there any plants you need to ask forgiveness from? For more houseplant conversation check the twitter hashtag #houseplanthour A fortnightly conversation on Tuesday all about houseplants.

Follow on twitter

Geo-Fleur plant subscription

An update on this blog. Geo-fleur is no longer operating as a subscription service. A more recent blog can be found here listing alternatives still in operation.

In my previous blog, on buying houseplants, I had mentioned plant subscription services. One I mentioned was Geo-Fleur. In this blog, I’m going to look at my experiences with Geo-Fleur.

Geo-Fleur

Geo-Fleur is a Yorkshire based company. It was started in 2014 by Sophie Lee and has been gradually growing. There are several shop based stockists of their plants.

The Hepworth Cafe-Wakefield

North Star coffee shop-Leeds

Laynes espresso-Leeds

Fred Aldous-Leeds and Manchester

As well as the stockist, they offer their plants by subscription or you can choose plants, pots and books through the online shop. Workshops on terrariums and kokedama are currently available to book. Sophie Lee, the owner, has made her contribution to houseplant literature with her book living with plants. In this basic plant care is dealt with, along with a number of DIY projects. I’ve only got the kindle version of the book, but I imagine it’s quite a lavish coffee table book from the reviews.

Plant subscription

Geo-Fleur offer a plant subscription. This seemed like an odd idea to me when I first heard about it and I suppose it is. You subscribe to receive a surprise plant each month. The aim is to send out rare and unusual plants each month. The plant is sent in a pot or other suitable receptacle. They can be purchased in 1, 3, 6 or 12-month subscription packages. It becomes cheaper the longer a period you subscribe for.

They suggest the subscription as a gift, which I think is quite a nice idea. You can pay for someone to have a direct subscription posted to there door. This saves you needing to wrap or sort out postage of a present. It could make a good gift for a plant lover of interior nut.

Along with the plant and pot you receive a plant related accessory and notes on the care of the plant. Within the constraints of posting the subscriptions are currently UK only and limited to small plants. That said, plenty of small to mid-sized fascinating plants that can fit. Have a look through Twitter or Instagram for the #PlantPostClub hashtag to see previous boxes.

Alternatively, there is the post grow club. Instead of a full plant you receive a cutting and instructions on how to grow on. While this will take longer to grow it allows bigger plants to be offered by subscription.

My box

My first box contained a string of hearts (ceropegia woodii). Also known as rosary vine you will see this plant and string of pearls featuring hanging from bookshelves in fashionable photoshoots. A world apart from my child-friendly house. This is an evergreen succulent native to South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. It grows up about 10cm before trailing down up to 4m. The leaves are about 1cm and heart shaped. In good light they go darker. Whereas in the house you will usually see them looking paler. In 2017 it gained the RHS award of garden merit.

Its trailing nature makes it a good choice for hanging pots. Alternatively, it can sit on a bookshelf or high shelf. It likes good light, plenty of sunshine, though not too much direct sun. It doesn’t need too much attention. The soil needs to dry out between watering.

The plant subscription string of hearts I received appears to be in good condition. It was packaged well with the vine coiled well. It came neatly packaged with wrap and cut tissue to keep it safe. It came in an attractive hexagonal pot with a drainage tray. String of hearts doesn’t like sitting in water, so this is a good set up for the plant. After watering the excess water can be drained off.

My surprise for this month was a plant person badge. It’s a nice quality enamel badge. Fit on my bag along with my RSPB goldfinch. Geo-Fleur also sell a plant killer badge. We’ll see whether I need that a few months into owning my string of hearts.

The plant care instructions are presented stylishly on a postcard-sized note. I can see these would build up into a nice collection if you subscribe long term.

Price wise, it costs £25 for a single month subscription. It’s cheaper if you pay for more months. String of hearts cost from about £5 to £20 without a pot. So with a rather nice ceramic pot and postage, it is a reasonable price. Towards the top price end, but it is a well looked after plant of a good size.

Overall, I’m happy with my first experience of plant subscriptions. The plant is a nice little addition to my house. It’s possibly not one I’d have bought for myself. I’ve not really considered buying vines and climbers before. That said it looks good where it is. As I clear my spare room I have a better spot in mind for it. Both better for the light requirements and the look of the vine. I look forward to seeing what I get next month.

Kickstarter

I have mentioned in a previous blog, but Geo-Fleur has started a Kickstarter campaign. So forgive me, but I’m going to repeat myself. For those of you who don’t know Kickstarter, it is a website where people fund money to help projects. It has become a popular format for funding game development and gadgets. People pledge money and if the campaign is successful they gain rewards. The company sets a target of how much money they need for their project. If they get enough pledges they receive the money. If they don’t get pledges up to the target you don’t pay anything and the rewards don’t go ahead.

haworthia and pot up for grabs

Geo-fleur is looking to expand the business. They are looking to invest in a larger greenhouse and develop a collection of rarer plants. In exchange for funding these improvements, you can choose from a number of rewards. There are a number of lovely looking handmade pots up for grabs. There is also a reduced price available for you to get a plant subscription. So if the concept interests you it’s a chance to buy in cheaper. Make your pledge if interested and share on your social media of choice. The campaign is halfway to the target, but the whole amount has to be pledged for it to go ahead, so please add your support if you’re interested.

Check it out on kickstarter

Competition time

To add a little support to Geo-Fleur’s Kickstarter campaign I have a little giveaway competition on Twitter. I found another copy of The Houseplant Guide by Dr Hessayon in my local charity shop. For those unfamiliar with the houseplant expert is generally considered one of the best houseplant books ever published.

To quote the blurb:

Quite simply, the best-selling gardening book in the world. Over a million copies have been sold in the U.S., and nearly 14 million worldwide. According to one reviewer – “after the Bible, the best-selling reference book of all time.”

It tends to be my go-to book for checking care and problems with plants. On the ledge podcast makes regular references to it. If you have any interest in houseplants you should own this.


To enter check my twitter feed and you should find a pinned post. To be in with a chance of winning like and retweet the post. I will run the competition until the end of the Kickstarter campaign when I will pick a winner at random to send the book onto.

Follow me on twitter.

An update on this blog. Geo-fleur is no longer operating as a subscription service. A more recent blog can be found here listing alternatives still in operation.

 

Houseplant hour-where to buy plants

Having written about why you should buy houseplants it seems worth looking at a few places you can buy houseplants and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each option. I haven’t tried all the options, some will depend on your geographic location of what you will have access to.

Garden centres and nurseries

Within most garden centres there is almost always a section dedicated to indoor plants. The variety varies massively from garden centre to garden centre. You may only find a handful of succulents, an orchid and a spider plant. These days you will probably find a bit more. If you look around your local garden centres you’ll find one that probably has more choice. Within my locality one has more bonsai, while another has a good orchid range. Generally, garden centres will look after the houseplants well, with the exception of a few specialist plants with more particular needs. The price is usually reasonable for a good quality plant. You can see the plants condition and take it out of the pot to see if it’s pot bound or infested with any pests.

Alternatively you may be fortunate to have a specialist nursery. These may offer you a better range. The advantage of a specialist nursery is that the plants will probably be a passion of the owner and at there best. Most of our plants including houseplants come from Holland, but you may be lucky and have a source closer to hand. Attending local plant fairs can put you in touch with local sources.

You may also have small greenhouse businesses. Near my in laws is a sign outside a driveway that takes you to a specialist cacti greenhouse. The money raised goes to help children in the third world. Plant sources like this often don’t advertise. You just need to keep your eyes peeled as walking and driving through areas.

Supermarkets and high street shops

It has become the norm now that supermarkets stock a number of houseplants as gifts. The variety is often limited to succulents and orchids, but it gives a cheap source of windowsill plants. The little Tesco succulents currently sell for £1.50, but they quickly establish and grow giving you a decent plant. The supermarkets vary in quality. Many of the plants will be left to die slow painful deaths with no one assigned to look after them. So it’s worth keeping an eye on supermarkets for when new deliveries come in. Alternatively, watch for when the plants have been taken to the point of death and have been reduced. I’m a sucker for a rescue project. Much of the lavender in the garden started as bargain rescue plants. Succulents will usually recover with a small amount of care. Even if they don’t you’ve got a spare pot for dividing plants.

As said supermarket plants are often over or under cared for leaving them in bad states. They are also often filled too heavily with the particular plant. Calla lilies and sansevierias are prime candidates for this in the supermarket. They can then be divided to give you multiple plants. Supermarket plants tend to be potted in coconut coir, whether it’s appropriate or not, so often good to re-pot in the correct compost.

In my experience Morrison’s seems to look after their plants the best. They appear to have people assigned to look after and give them the occasional water. Tesco and Asda offer about the same level of care. The plants are delivered and put on a trolley. If you get them on delivery day the plant will be in a good condition. If it’s been a week or more into its stay it will be looking the worse for it. The succulents often suffer from being picked over by customers and losing leaves. Aldi and Lidl offer quite reasonable plants, particularly ferns, but suffer from just being labelled foliage plant. Waitrose and Marks and Spencer’s have the highest price tags, as expected, but are, ultimately, the same plants in a nicer pot.

A serviceable £4 sanseviria from Tesco

High street shops such as Next and homeware shops such as IKEA have also got on the houseplant wagon and are currently stocking quite good varieties. The last trip to Next saw a better range than many of the local garden centres. However, many of these did come with high price tags. That said, the plants did look healthy. But, if you’re paying top money for a lifestyle accessory it should look good to start with. I imagine many will not look as good after a few weeks in their wannabe designer homes when people realise they need care.

Internet shopping

The internet opens up more range to plant buyers. While people can be stung by buying online there are a lot of reputable sellers. But even the best seller will occasionally have delivery issues with plants getting delayed fatally in the mail. However, for the range of choice, the risk seems worth taking. Be careful when buying to check postage. While the plant may be a reasonable price, with a pot the weight goes up and the price of postage goes up.

A cheaper option online is to buy cuttings. eBay has many cuttings available. Buying on ebay has risks, but you can leave negative reviews if and paypal offers some protection if you get poor service. Many houseplants grow well from cuttings giving you a cheaper option for postage. I’ve only grown succulents bought this way, but it is rewarding. The care you put in initially means the plant means more to you and is more likely to be looked after than the quick easy store option.

Cutting swaps

Following on from buying cuttings there are a number of options for obtaining cuttings through swaps. House plant swap group on facebook and houseplantswap.com offer online options.

Organised events to physically swap plants do also take place. Obviously, certain plants that are readily available will turn up in abundance, while rarer plants will be snapped up fast. In my local area plant and cuttings, swaps do take place as part of a number of the plant fairs, but it’s mainly garden plants rather than indoor plants. The Instagram indoor plant trend not having had any major impact on sleepy North East seaside towns. But if you are in bigger cities I imagine these may be an option for you.

I have however ended up with cuttings through open gardens. Open gardens are good events in general for seeing what will work in your area in your gardens. But they also put me in touch with a number of local gardeners with wonderful knowledge. From the front of their houses, I wouldn’t have known the wonders existing behind.

Friends and family are also options for taking cuttings. My mum donates lots of cuttings and seedlings for my garden. In return, I have given her a few seedlings and chicks off my sempervivums. Always ask first though before cutting or they may not remain friends with you.

Florists and boutiques

As well as your high street shops selling houseplants florists and boutique shops often stock a limited range of houseplants. I’ve found this to be one of the most expensive routes. The florists usually stock a limited number of houseplants ready as gifts. The boutiques usually stock for gifts and for the designer houses. The plants I’ve bought in this way have usually been good quality, but amongst the most expensive I’ve bought for what they were. Annoyingly, many will have no labels either of exactly what they are. For cacti or succulents this is an irritation, but for other plants, this may prevent you from looking up the proper care they need. This is a common issue with the supermarket purchases as well. My local florists do normally have them nicely displayed though, so you get an idea how they may look at home.

Curse of the unlabelled houseplant, merely cactus

Seeds

As with garden plants, there is the option to grow your houseplants from seed. Growing the window box of herbs from seed has been a popular choice for a long time. Aldi has recently offered a cacti seed mix as a project for children. Although I can’t say I’m convinced by the combination of children and spikes. Growing fruit from pips is a nice windowsill project. Avocado’s seem to be a popular choice at the moment (RHS podcast). Many seed companies offer seed mixes for a number of house plants. Sutton has a good range of indoor seeds, although many are flowering and like foliage for indoors more than flowers.

Subscription services

While it might seem an odd concept buying plants by subscriptions, but there are quite a few companies offering just this. My Facebook and twitter adverts clearly feel I need these in my life as they come up regularly. Geo-Fleur offer a plant subscription service where you relieve a plant and pot and details of the care the plant need. They also offer a subscription to receive cuttings of larger plants. Bloombox offer the option to have a plant every 3 months so you can slowly build a collection. Or replace plants as they die, which might be the case for many people. They also offer a cheaper subscription for plants with no pots, but their pot choices do look good. I’d be tempted with the more expensive option. Sprout London offer an interesting option to have coffee and a plant delivered. However, as a coffee hater, I’m glad to see there is an option to subscribe for the plants without coffee.

While some people will like the surprise of getting a plant with no choice for some people this will just be impractical. All of the three I’ve listed do sell the plants separately giving you the freedom to choose exactly what you want.

Kickstarter

It seems a good time to do a shout out for geo-fleur. Geo-fleur is a subscription company mentioned above. They have started a kickstarter campaign. For those of you who don’t know kickstarter, it is a website where people fund money to help projects. It has become a popular format for funding game development and gadgets. People pledge money and if the campaign is successful they gain rewards. The company sets a target of how much money they need for their project. If they get enough pledges they receive the money. If they don’t get pledges up to the target you don’t pay anything and the rewards don’t go ahead.

haworthia and pot up for grabs

Geo-fleur are looking to expand the business. They are looking in invest in a larger greenhouse and develop a collection of rarer plants. In exchange for funding these improvements, you can choose from a number of rewards. There are a number of lovely looking handmade pots up for grabs. There is also a reduced price available for you to get a plant subscription. So if the concept interests you it’s a chance to buy in cheaper. Make your pledge if interested and share on your social media of choice.

Check it out on kickstarter

Brexit

While not one for scaremongering, it seems worth noting we have no idea how Brexit will run its course. But seeing as the majority of our houseplants come from Holland it seems a good time to buy that plant you’ve been pondering or become more familiar with UK sellers who may be able to put their prices up.

Hope you’ve found this weeks blog useful. While writing this blog I found Jane Perrone’s blog on the same subject. She’s covered almost exactly the same material I had planned. Worth a read here for some extra links. Also, keep an eye out for Gardener’s World magazine feature on houseplants next month.

Leave a comment if there is anywhere you’ve found useful for houseplants.

Follow on twitter

Mossarium

Following on from the open bottle terrarium and blogs looking at houseplants I’ve had a go at another mini-project. A mossarium works much the same as the open bottle of terrarium. For a how-to guide read here. People make really fun mossariums using items like toy dinosaurs and fairies. I am just aiming for a fairly closed system that keeps the moss alive.

Moss is an amazing plant. It acts as a wonderful sponge for carbon and it has been suggested it may hold the key to lowering the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to combat climate change. At the Chelsea Flower Show moss featured in a number of gardens for this reason. A section of moss being more effective at absorbing carbon than an oak tree of a much larger size. So, I quite a fancy a little desktop reminder of the power of moss. I would also like a Japanese style moss garden, but I don’t have the time to build or maintain one. A mini moss patch will suffice for now. Alice helped put the layers in, so the distribution is a bit higgledy-piggledy. But she likes to help and I like to encourage an interest.

I’ve used a medium sized mason jar. The smaller ones don’t give space for the layers. The first layer is a layer of grit or pebbles for drainage.

Activated charcoal stops fungi growing.

A layer of soil.

Then the moss on the top. I’ve added to varieties of moss scraped from rocks under the hebes in the front garden. Then a spray with the mister.

The end result is quite nice. I may try a larger one with a few features in if I keep this going. I quite fancy a stuppa surrounded my moss or an ewok home.

Follow on twitter.