Author: Hemerocallis Society.
Soil has spilled all over my kitchen my floor. It happened while I was dumping another withered plant—this time, a sad collard green—from its pot into the trash. The mess, and the funeral, is for a good cause though.
Today, I bravely enter new territory: My neighborhood garden center, where I will adopt my first, fledgling plant family. You might remember my pledge to become a better plant parent from the first post in this series. Now, my adventure begins.
For moral (and horticultural) support, I’ve asked Wade Wheatley to be my fearless guide. Wheatley, the Garden’s tropical greenhouse horticulturist, knows a thing or two about indoor plants. His love for all things botanical began back in fourth grade, when his grandmother gifted him a clipping of one of her many houseplants. When the clipping grew into its own plant, “It blew my fourth-grade mind,” he said.
Now, Wheatley has—count them—almost 70 houseplants. He even keeps an Excel spreadsheet to track the Latin name of each plant, where it came from, its parentage, care preferences, and age. An Excel spreadsheet, you guys. This man is not messing around.
For the likes of me, Wheatley recommends a more forgiving collection of starter plants. For those of us new to this plant parenting thing, starter plants can survive on low maintenance care, even benign neglect. They’re independent teens who don’t like too much attention. When you pick them up from school and ask them about their day, they say, “Fine.”
With help from Wheatley, I plan a crew of tropical plants that would do well in my small studio. Most houseplants are native to tropical or subtropical habitats where temperatures remain above freezing, which means they can survive year-round in our warm homes. My apartment is hardly freezing (the overactive radiators make sure of that) and I have two windowsills—an east-facing one with bright, direct light, and a west-facing one with low, indirect light. I also have a cat who, although she cannot be bothered with houseplants, I don’t want to accidentally poison.
With my beginner-level skills and apartment limits in mind, here’s what Wheatley recommends:
Six Starter Plants for the New Plant Parent
ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
Meet ZZ, the poster child of starter plants. “ZZ plants can handle dryness if you forget to water them, and are unbothered by low light levels (though bright is better),” said Wheatley. A good rule of thumb is, if you think you should water ZZ, wait a day, and then wait three more days. This guy likes it dry, so I’ll plan to put him in my west-facing window.
Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)
Known for its variegated foliage, or funky leaf patterns, the prayer plant’s leaves move. At night, the leaves respond to the dark by gradually turning up, then folding back down during the day. Plus, they’re easy to care for. “The prayer plant can handle it pretty dark, but likes even soil moisture,” said Wheatley. When the top ½ inch of soil feels dry, I’ll give it a drink.
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Arachnophobes, fear not. Spider plants are easy to grow and do well without much water. “Spider plants can go a little drier, and make a fun hanging basket if you let its runners spill over the side of the pot,” said Wheatley. Never mind that they look like spiders dangling by a thread above your head. Just go to sleep.
Aloe (Aloe hybrid)
Though I was a little afraid the coral flowers make for a good cat toy, Wheatley told me not to worry. “Aloe isn’t poisonous, should your cat find it tasty,” he said. “It requires a lot of light, but it’s very drought tolerant.” Read: Aloes love neglect.
Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum)
An easy way to add color to your home, anthuriums bloom bold red and pink flowers. “Anthuriums are generally problem-free and easy to grow. They can handle a wide range of light but would probably do best in a bright, east-facing window,” said Wheatley.
Mexican firecracker succulent (Echeveria setosa)
Succulents can be deceivingly tricky to care for. They thrive on dryness, so most people kill them by over-watering. This is another one for my bright, east-facing window sill.
Armed with Wheatley’s advice, I push open the greenhouse door at my local plant center, and my glasses fog up. Water trickles into a nearby koi fish pond, and birds chirp softly in a cage. I unwrap my scarf. An employee spots me wiping my lenses and asks, “Do you need help?” My plant blindness is showing—literally.
The employee points me to an aisle of easy-to-care-for, relatively-indestructible, can’t-possibly-mess-this-up plants. People go about their work around me, tending to the shelves of anthuriums, cacti, and orchids. They seem to have a peaceful glow to them, and I wonder how long it’ll be until I’m gliding around my own apartment, watering my plants in a blissed-out state. Science says nature makes us happier, after all. It’s only a matter of time.
Follow along with Plant Parenthood as I track the success of my starter plant family.
After assembling my plant gang, I ask Wheatley if there was anything else I should grab. Do I need pots? (No. You should only repot a plant after at least one year.) Do I need plant food? (Sure! General all-purpose fertilizers will do the trick. Just follow the instructions.) Seems easy enough. I grab my bag of plants, and turn to go.
“Wait!” An employee hands me another bag of wrapped plants. “You almost forgot half your kids.”
Next: Tips for keeping an eye on the “kids.”
©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Call Number: Postcard 25
The hand-carved Buddha is in the house. A circa-1850 glazed Chinese jar is filled with green Cymbidium orchids native to Asia. And we’re pampering 10,000 other orchids so they’ll be in full flower for Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show.
Lighting crews, horticulturists, and dozens of other staff members are putting the finishing touches on Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s biggest flower exhibition of the year. The Show features sweeps of orchids native to Asia, blooming with color and scent. In our heated greenhouses and galleries, the exhibition runs February 10 to March 25 and kicks off with a Members’ Preview night on Friday, February 9.
This year’s Orchid Show is infused with a deep sense of history and culture, thanks to our friends at Pagoda Red galleries in Winnetka and Chicago. Pagoda Red loaned us many lovely items—including the circa-1900 Buddha and vintage glazed jar from Shanxi province, China—that helped us bring the theme Asia in Bloom to life.
You’ll see Pagoda Red’s pieces throughout the Show, as grace notes to the stories and legends we’re telling about orchids in Asia. The narrative includes fairies, native headhunters, and the secret ingredient (we cannot vouch for this, sorry) in love potions.
From dream to reality
Here’s a peek at how we make our design ideas happen:
This idea for an entryway was inspired by a modern Japanese tea house. It started with a sketch by Gabriel Hutchison, the Garden’s exhibitions and programs production manager.
Carpentry supervisor Andy Swets built a frame for the tea house and constructed the finished walls.
Horticulturist Brian Barker sketched this idea for a Japanese-inspired dry garden surrounded by rolled bamboo walls:
Brian and senior horticulturist Salina Wunderle also thought it would be cool (pun intended) to shade orchids in the Semitropical Greenhouse with handmade parasols from Myanmar:
Meanwhile, our horticulturists are keeping a close eye on the 10,000 orchids, each of which has its own water, humidity, temperature, and light requirements.
Other new features
New this year is a display of the graceful Japanese flower arrangements known as ikebana, with orchids as the focus. Also new is Orchids After Hours on Thursdays, from 4 to 8 p.m., with Asian beer, sake, sushi, poke bowls, and other light fare for purchase.
Remember that the look of the Orchid Show changes throughout, as new orchids come into bloom and the ikebana displays change. And the Semitropical Greenhouse? You’ll get a different view each time, depending on the angle of the winter sun as it shines through the patterned parasols on to the orchids.
Pro tip: Save time and buy tickets and parking in advance; members park for free. Share your photos: #CBGOrchidShow
©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
New England's rare, threatened, and endangered plants / by Garrett E. Crow in collaboration with the New England Botanical Club Endangered Species Committee ; illustrated by Tess Feltes ; prepared for the United States Department of the Interior, Fish...
Author: Crow, Garrett E., author.
Call Number: QK86.U6C76 1982
Author: Withner, Carl L. (Carl Leslie)
Call Number: QK495.O64W53 1974
Author: Millar, Andreé.
Call Number: QK495.O64M53 1978
Author: Sprunt, Alexander, 1898-1973.
Call Number: QH105.S6S67 1964
Author: Smith, Nell, author.
Call Number: SB408.S65 1986
The healthy house plant : a guide to the prevention, detection, and cure of pests and diseases / Jean F. Blashfield ; drawings by Suzanne Clee ; photos. by Marin Varbanov.
Author: Blashfield, Jean F., author.
Call Number: SB608.H84B53 1980
Author: Laird, Antonia B. (Antonia Bissell)
Call Number: PS3562.A35P3 1973
Author: Pratt, Verna E.
Call Number: QK146.P73 1989
Author: Kelman, Janet Harvey.
Call Number: SB407.K45
Author: Verey, Rosemary.
Call Number: SB455.V57 1991
Garden pests and diseases of flowers and shrubs / [by] Mogens Dahl and Thyge B. Thygesen. English editor: A.M. Toms. Illustrations by Verner Hancke.
Author: Dahl, Mogens H.
Call Number: SB603.5.D345 1974
Author: Bartram, William, 1739-1823.
Call Number: QK31.B3T7 1958