Thursday, April 5, 2018

Signs of Spring

It has been a cold, dreary beginning of April, and the weather report suggests that there is no relief in sight.  But cold or not, snow or not, nature is giving tiny glimpses of what is to come.

Iris reticulata cultivar
Another Iris reticulata

Of course, my houseplants can usually be counted on to help chase away the "where the heck is spring already?" blues. Below are a few plants in bloom that make a cheery contrast with the grayness outdoors.

Phalaenopsis Bella TN324 (That's what the tag says)
Columnea variety
Ludisia discolor in bloom, along with the Phalaenopsis from the photo above
Hoya carnosa inflorescence
Hippeastrum 'Red Lion' with a NoId Hippeastrum on the left
Anthurium NoId
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana

So where the heck is spring already?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Replacing: Always, Sometimes, Never

As much as I love buying plants I've never tried before, I find more and more that my plant shopping is focused on replacements.  Plants that I've had, loved and lost.  Whether I made cultural gaffes, or the plant was lost to pests, I am eager to try these plants again:

Aglaonema 'Peacock' and Aglaonema 'Cory': I've come to the conclusion that I'm just not good with Aglaonemas. I don't know why; they are supposedly easy plants.  My mother, who insisted that she was no good with plants, had two that flourished. I inherited them when she died, and managed to kill them too.  Anyway, I would still like to try again with A.'Peacock' and A.'Cory', but these days, no one carries the green, white-stemmed Aglaonemas anymore. I love the red and pink ones as much as the next crazy plant lady, but I'd like to see some of the older varieties on sale.
Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata': I lost my two plants to scale insects. While I have been able to fight scale and win at least twice, (with my huge ZZ plant and my Monstera deliciosa) I generally don't fool around with it. It's hard to treat and spreads like wildfire. My general rule is that scale-infested plants have got to go.
Begonia 'Cracklin' Rosie': A beautiful plant that did beautifully for years, till all of a sudden, with no change in care, it started to decline and continued until it died. 
Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India': I lost one to cultural mistakes, (not enough light, inconsistent watering) and another to the dreaded scale.  The third was very large, and was doing so well until it was attacked by mealybugs. Trying to get them out of the dozens of crevices where the leaves join the stems was impossible. Then the mealybugs attracted ants.  A disaster all around. 
Echeveria (any species or variety:) I lost the bulk of my collection to mealybug. I am slowly but steadily replacing them.

Part of my current collection of Echeveria (and Graptopetalum)

That certain Saintpaulia: The flowers were close to sky blue as possible for an African Violet, and outlined in white.  It has been close to 30 years since I lost it, (I was a complete AV newbie, and I repotted it into too large a pot) and I've never come across anything like it again. This is more than a quest, it is a crusade. I won't rest until I find something that looks like it. 

Then there are the plants that I have sworn to never buy again. I made this list about 9 years ago, and to tell the truth, I find myself wavering on it. Several of these plants have tempted me in recent years, so take the "never" with a grain of salt.

Aphelandra squarrosa: It's been years since I have had one. The memories of constant leaf drop are as fresh as if I tossed my last one yesterday.
Begonia rex: Even the popular "Houseplant Expert" book calls them short-lived. They can live their short lives with someone else.
Calathea, Ctenanthe, Maranta, StromantheThese related genera are not difficult to keep alive, just hard to keep presentable without proper humidity. The edges of the leaves get dry and brown.  Even the Calathea zebrina I saw at the Garfield Park Conservatory had crispy edges

Calathea zebrina at the Garfield Park Conservatory.  Even in their humid enviroment, the leaf edges dry out.

Cissus discolor: Sometimes called the rex begonia vine. Enough said.
Dieffenbachia: Not culturally difficult--I just don't like them much.
Dracaena marginata: See Dieffenbachia.
Lithops: Their care requirements are beyond me, it seems. Since I'm a chronic underwaterer, I doubt that I overwater them. Maybe it was a light issue.  At this point, I don't care to find out.
Monstera obliqua (or M. adansonii, or M. friedrichsthalii): Whatever the actual Latin binomial, those vining swiss-cheese plants are as difficult for me to grow as they are to identify.
Peperomia argyreia and Peperomia caperata: I give them what they are supposed to like, and what do they do? Die, that's what.
Philodendron scandens: Yes, the easy plant that anyone can grow.  For some reason I can't. It's like Aglaonema. I just don't have what it takes. Unlike with the Aglaonemas, I don't care to try again.
Sansevieria trifasciata 'Hahnii' (any  variety): In my opinion, Sanseviera trifasciata in general isn't quite as easy as their reputation suggests.  But I do well with them.  Except the various bird's nest types.  Those seemingly come to my house to die.
Spathiphyllum: Apparently, I can't be trusted with anything that reacts that dramatically to underwatering. 

Well, there are the "always" and "never" lists.  What about the "sometimes" in the title? That list consists of every other houseplant you can imagine. If it's out there, I'll probably try it at some time or another. 

Addendum: Shortly after finishing this post, I went through the archives and discovered that I had posted a version of the never again list previously, shortly after I compiled it in 2009. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Remembering: Cats Among the Leaves

In the five years since I last posted, a lot has happened in my life, both good and bad. The saddest thing, though, is the loss of my cats, Luke and Peppermint.  Luke died in the spring of 2016, just after his 18th birthday.  And Peppermint left us this January, at the age of 17.

I knew I would have to write this post, because Luke and Peppermint have been very much a part of this blog over the years. A look at the "pets" label confirms this. They loved to come investigate when I was doing something with the plants, either some actual tending task, or just moving them around to take a photo.  Each was very sweet in his own way.  Luke was a shy, serious, and reserved little man (except when we broke out the catnip; then he was a total stoner dude).  Peppermint was bold, kittenish even in old age, and affectionate with everyone. They were buddies to each other, and to me and my husband. Rest in peace, guys.

Peppermint hiding out behind some Hedera helix
Karen and Kitty, a portrait of Peppermint and me, by my husband Robert Cairone
Luke peeking out from Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Lounging in one of their favorite places, the sunroom

Despite these sad losses, we are not cat-less here among the leaves.  Let me introduce you to Lily.  We adopted her three years ago when one of my stepkid's friends needed to re-home some of her pets.  Lily is pretty, active, curious and loving.  She has the adorable habit of sleeping in plant pots.  Here below are photographs of her doing just that, and below that is my husband's striking portrait of her, entitled Jungle Cat.

Here and above: Lily lounging in the pot of a variegated Monstera deliciosa
Jungle Cat, by Robert Cairone

She also follows me around when I care for the plants, especially when I water. (I have a hose that attaches to the kitchen faucet, which is long enough to water every plant in every room of the house. I don't know what I'd do without it. Lily, however, thinks the hose is a toy.) But she is also a plant eater, a problem I've not had with my cats before.  I've caught her nibbling on Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and Saintpaulia leaves. So she bears watching to say the least.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Recording: A Video of my Sunroom

These days, nearly everyone with a smartphone fancies themself a videographer, and your blogger is no exception.  Actually scratch that; after many attempts, I know I am definitely not a videographer.  But still, I try. And try. And try again.

I have written a bit about the sunroom where I keep the bulk of my houseplant collection, and I have shared photos.  But I thought a video would give a better sense of what the room looks like, and why I love it so.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Returning: A Trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory

In the spring of 2011, my husband and I paid a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory.  Not too long after our visit, a freak hailstorm devastated the conservatory, particularly the Fern Room.  I was devastated myself, as I found the Fern Room to be one of the most magical places I had ever visited. If one needs convincing that ferns and their allies are incredibly beautiful plants, seeing so many varieties in one place should do it.  I love the color green, and I couldn't believe how much variety and impact ferns provide. I was afraid that even with restoration, the place would never be the same.

Well, on Friday we paid another visit, our first since 2011, and I found my fears to be misplaced.  The Conservatory is as gorgeous as ever. Because I've blogged about the conservatory before,  I'll just let the photographs do the talking.

View from the entrance to the conservatory

Below is a series of photos taken in the Fern Room:

Platycerium elephantotis Angola Staghorn Fern

Blechnum gibbum Miniature Tree Fern

The next series is from the Palm House:

I couldn't find a label for this lovely palm

A number of Bromeliads were used as groundcovers below the palms. Above is Neoregelia 'Fireball', below are an unidentified Guzmania cultivar and Neoregelia 'Gazpacho'

From the Desert House:

Eve's Needle, Austrocylindropuntia subulata 'Cristata'
Euphorbia lactea 'Cristata'
Euphorbia enopla
This crested Euphorbia looks almost like a sculpture

From the spring flower show:

I loved seeing all the Azaleas (Rhododendron species and cultivars)  It reminds me of springtime in New York.  They aren't common where I live, probably because the soil is too alkaline.

And finally, because it is good to be blogging again:

Life in front of the leaves: Karen 715

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


On the occasion of starting to write again, I took a little trip down memory lane.  I started looking at the photos of my plants taken for this blog, starting in 2009.  It was a tad depressing to see how many plants I've lost over the years, especially in the last two. First there was the scale infestation that took my large White Bird of Paradise, (Strelitizia nicolai) two variegated Alpinia zerumbet and a few other small plants in the sunroom.

The Strelitzia nicolai that once anchored the northwest corner of my sunroom

Far worse has been the ongoing Great Mealybug Incursion, which began some time in 2016.  This devasted my succulent collection, particularly the Echeverias, Aeoniums, and other Crassulaceae. I also lost several tropicals, including a mature Piper ornatum, a large Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India' and several Phalaenopsis orchids. I still do battle with the mealies on a daily basis, to the point where I just put a spray nozzle on a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I carry it with me when I inspect my plants and zap the little white demons whenever I see them.

It broke my heart to get rid of this Dracaena

But there were some pleasant surprises. I was was thrilled to see how much a few of my plants have grown and changed over the years. This picture of my Euphorbia lactea crest is from 2008.

Euphorbia lactea with two other Euphorbias I had at the time.
The grafted one is the same one I dismantled in my 2013 post. The answer
to my question "How will you make is on your own?" is: Not Very Well.
Both parts of the graft died.
Here it is today, very much alive and quite a bit taller. Compare the distances between the crested portion and the top of the plant.

Euphorbia lactea, flanked by Crassula ovata varieties
Those Jade plants (Crassula ovata) seen on either side of the Euphorbia have done also done quite well.

Crassula ovata 'Gollum' in 2010
The same plant today

Crassula ovata in 2010

The same plant today

Both of these plants survived mealybug infestations, and have continued to grow and thrive, I am happy to say.  

Thursday, March 1, 2018


Last year, I visited a local orchid nursery (Orchids by Hausermann in Villa Park, IL) on the occasion of their annual open house and sale.  Among my purchases was a beautiful yellow Cymbidium. I had owned two Cymbidiums in the past, but had to discard them due to a scale infestation. (I have learned, the hard way, that it is best to get rid of plants with scale.  This doesn't mean I always do; as a matter of fact, I have rescued both my much loved Monstera deliciosa and my ZZ plant from scale, but it wasn't easy.)

 My yellow Cymbidium as purchased 
last February. It had two bloom stalks.

Another view, from Feb. 2017, at night

So I bought this plant wondering if, after the blooms faded, I'd ever see it bloom again.  Orchids are finicky, I thought. I haven't been the most diligent of plant caretakers, especially these past few years.  But the care sheet made it seem simple enough: Let the plant spend the summer outdoors in dappled light.  The cooler night temperatures as fall approached would encourage rebloom.

Did I do that? No, I didn't. I left the plant in my sunroom.  I repotted it after the flowers died. I used the special Cymbidium mix I bought for it, but I didn't put it outdoors.  I fed it a couple of times when I remembered.  But I kept it indoors. My sunroom does undergo a natural cool down at night. In the cool months, I keep the heater set at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  During the day, the sun warms the room to at least 70 degrees, and oftimes warmer.

The results:

The Cymbidium on Jan 30 of this year, with three bloom stalks

Close ups of the blooms and buds.

I have to admit that I don't know if the plant bloomed again because it liked my conditions, or because of the professional care it received previously. Next year will be the test.  I plan to repot it again after the blooms fade. I'm not sure when that will be. The plant started blooming in January, and is still going strong in March.