Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


CamelliaIt’s no secret that I’m kind of a fanatic about plants. Take me on a garden tour and I can do it all day…then get up and happily, go see more. At horticultural trade shows, I’ve been known to skip breakfast, lunch, and even dinner so I’d have time to see more of the plants and displays. And you can tell from the number of plants in my home.

A cool one is my camellia — an evergreen shrub with gorgeous pink flowers. It always blooms around the holidays for me. Other than giving it water and occasionally fertilizing it, that’s all the care it requires.

It’s a great example that if you want to have houseplants, you don’t need to be limited to everyday varieties like English ivy, pothos, or philodendron (not that there’s anything wrong with them; I grow those, as well!).

As long as you have a bright window or fluorescent lights and don’t mind watering your plants regularly, there’s a wealth of cool plants you can try, including a lot of things we don’t usually think of as indoor plants. Growing them may be easier than you think!

I’ve met a lot of gardeners who are afraid of growing plants inside, but really, you have nothing to lose. And if you live in a cold-winter climate like I do, there’s a lot to gain — both from the psychological effect of having something green and living when everything outside is cold and dormant and the physical health benefits (plants absorb harmful toxins from the air and also add welcome moisture to dry indoor air).

So give it a try! I’d love to hear what houseplants you grow!

Yesterday was a long and somewhat frustrating day at the office. Happily, I was treated to something fun when I arrived home: A big, bold, red bloom from my grape-leaf passionflower.

I really love passionflowers and most aren’t hardy outdoors where I live so I have to bring them in the house every winter unless I treat them as annuals and buy new plants each year.

Keeping exotic, tropical plants in the house sounds like it must be hard, but it’s not as bad as you might think. I don’t put any more effort into growing passionflowers, for example, than I do a big old ficus I inherited from a coworker years ago. The tropicals do fine indoors as long as you have a bright enough spot for them — under natural or artificial light, so even if you don’t have a good window for them, you could set up a low-cost shop light in a corner.

If they get enough light, all you need to do is keep them watered — just enough to prevent them from wilting, but not so much that the soil stays moist all the time. If the leaf tips turn brown, the air is probably a little dry, but grouping plants together can help, as can setting a small humidifier nearby. (Get more tips for increasing humidity here.)

Do you grow any houseplants? If so, comment below to share your favorites!

If you’re looking for a unique houseplant that’s easy to grow, consider the veldt lily (Veltheimia bracteata), also known as cape lily. This bulbous plant is a mid-winter bloomer, with a cluster of tubular pink blossoms that bear a resemblance to a bottle brush or the perennial flower red-hot poker. One of my plants is just starting to color up now. Another, which spent more time in the chilly greenhouse, will be several weeks behind.

veldt lily

veldt lily

Even before it blooms its undulating glossy green leaves make it an attractive foliage plant. The leaves are so perfectly shiny that many who see my plants think that they must be artificial. After the plant finishes blooming, cut off the flower stalk, and keep the plant in bright light, watering frequently enough to keep the soil evenly moist. By late spring, the foliage will begin to die back. Withhold water at that time, and let the plant go dormant. (As a native of South Africa, it’s programmed to grow on an alternate cycle to most of our Northern Hemisphere plants.) Set the plant aside over summer–I stick mine in the garage. In early fall, resume watering. You’ll be rewarded with an abundance of blooms in midwinter.

This plant is a survivor. Back in my college days, I left my veldt lily in the care of my mother while I studied abroad for two years. Because I departed in July, the plant was dormant and sitting in her dark fruit cellar. I came back 2 years later to find the plant in the same spot, and still alive! It had not been watered or moved to a sunny window in that entire time. As I recall, it didn’t bloom that first year, but grew beautiful foliage, and by the following winter was back on schedule with it’s reliable display of colorful flowers. Now that’s what I call one tough plant!

You probably won’t find the plant for sale at your local garden center, but it is available from several on-line mail order houseplant specialty nurseries and bulb growers.

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