I had a very specific vision of what motherhood would be like. We were traveling through Nice on our honeymoon and spent a few hours at the Matisse museum. There was a French mother there with her young daughter, probably just four or five years old. As the mom strolled around the sun filled room looking at artwork her daughter happily sketched in her little notebook. That moment was tattooed into my brain. I had imagined my time spent with our future child filled with hours of teaching them how to paint and draw, and of course learn a second language (French or Italian would be preferred). I have not thrown out that image, but right now we are at the phase of barricading off houseplants from Miss M’s curious little 13 month old hands and mouth. There’s a lot more dialect of “what did you put in your mouth,” than “Bonjour. Comment ça va?”
Just like my dream in one day sitting out in the garden happily sketching, I will continue to barricade the houseplants with the goal of one day setting them free.
With, or without a toddler, houseplants can be intimidating. People come into our store with the desire to add greenery to their space, but do not want to take on a project. There are some plants that are easier to care for than others that I typically steer the newbies towards.
Sansevieria (Snake Plant) - It’s time for a little plant admiration over the workhorse of the indoor plant world, Sansevieria. Commonly called a snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, most varieties have a shared characteristic of thick, sword like leaves that bunch together from the base. In tropical locations they can be grown outdoors but in the valley they have proven to be a very accommodating and tolerant indoor plant. We have had them located near windows with bright afternoon light, to shelves high up where they seldomly receive direct light or water. You will be surprised to pull them off of a neglected bookcase and see them happily propagating without any love or attention. I can safely say you have to really work at killing them.
Originating in tropical regions of Africa this species has been cultivated into over 250 varieties. The traditional Sansevieria trifasciata is the variety most commonly associated with the name. It has green muted two toned leaves that are two inches wide and reach two to three feet tall. Its vertical habit has made them desirable on narrow shelves, entry ways or corner tables where you do not have space for a mounding plant but need a little height and greenery. This species is a tried and true favorite and is always readily available to adorn your home.
Many think there is just one flavor of Sansevieria and are accustomed to finding the common place variety, if they are lucky enough to find a nursery who carries these terrific plants at all. Trying to create a more diverse network available to those in the valley I have been searching out great options to offer those who love these plants as much as I do. Next favorite on the menu is Sansevieria ‘Moonshine’. This variety is distinguished from the rest with its silvery light green foliage. Their leaves are wider than most, three to four inches that seem to whorl around each other from the base. Only reaching one to two feet tall this fills the void you are looking for to put something within a wall shelf, or line along a windowsill.
Care: Maintaining Sansevierias are easy, painfully easy. But since we are in the nursery business it is appropriate to give some directional advice instead of saying, you really don’t have to care for them. They do best in bright indirect light or low light. We have regularly kept them near a west facing window, but they do not propagate as quickly in this situation. Water them only when the soil is dry. This is the most difficult part for people growing Snake Plants or succulents. It seems to take a tremendous amount of restraint to not water a plant, but refrain and they will be happier. You can fertilize once a month if you want to during spring and fall. We use our airplant fertilizer and mix it into the water we are applying. They propagate by division. When you see new plants forming on the perimeter of the mother plant, wait for the new one to become about ¼ of the size of the mother plant and separate it at the roots and repot it. They like well-drained soil. We use our cactus and succulent potting blend which contains potting soil, sand and pumice. In our climate keep them indoors. Most varieties are temperamental below 32˚. In Hawaii we saw these growing as hedges, but unfortunately we cannot make that happen here.
Epiphytes - Epiphytes open up a fascinating world to gardening. Characterized by their ability to anchor themselves on a support system, their natural growing habit allows for unique design opportunities. Precariously mounted or suspended indoors, they add greenery and make a unique conversation piece in your home.
Epiphytes include a wide range of plants. We have come to know and love airplants. At our nursery we have been experimenting with a broader range of epiphytes that include ferns, mosses, orchids, and a few succulents. Their roots typically look wiry, only utilized as a support system. These plants use their roots to secure themselves onto other plants, but do not take any nutrients from the host plant. They simply utilize their host to gain a better location, where lighting and water are optimal for their living situation. Many can be planted in soil, but prefer to grow in their natural habitat, clinging to rough wood or bark surrounded by organic matter.
We are familiar with elegant moss hanging from tree canopies or dappling rocks and tree bark in forests. When traveling through rain forests of Central and South America, or parts of the southeast United States you are greeted with a more exotic, diverse group of epiphytes.
Tillandsias (air plants) make up one of the most diverse families of bromeliad epiphytes. Found in a wide array of colors, textures, sizes and flower colors, these have quickly won over many of our customers. Contrary to typical belief, air plants do need watered. I believe their name is misleading to many because they think they only need the air to survive. In their natural habitat they receive a sufficient amount of rainfall throughout the year and get plenty of moisture growing under the canopies of trees to supplement in between rainfall. In our dry climate you need to give them water. We submerge our air plants in water for a half hour several times a week in the summer months, and reduce it down to two times a week in fall and winter. Many of our customers will mist them daily instead of full submersion. It is important to remember that air plants do not use their roots to absorb water. If you simply set the roots in a dish of water, there may be enough evaporation up to the leaves to suffice, but this may not be sufficient during hot months. By placing them in bright indirect light in your home or on a patio mimic the sunlight they would receive protected under the canopy of the forest.
Many people love to simply suspend air plants in glass orbs or delicately situated on their wall to create nontraditional punch of greenery. Others like to fix them onto another object to encourage them to grow onto that surface. You can do this by layering sphagnum moss onto the object and securing the air plant with fishing line or Tillandsia adhesive. Aesthetically it looks best to cover the base of the plant with more moss to conceal it.
Staghorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) are one of my favorite exotic finds. In parts of Florida these grow into stately specimens reaching over six feet long, curiously cantilevering off of tree trunks. You can find these planted at nurseries in containers, but they prefer to be mounted onto an object. We have made wood plaques at our nursery and secured the staghorns to the wood with sphagnum moss and wire so they can be hung on the wall. The staghorn will eventually root onto the wood plaque and continue to propagate. Soon it will overgrow its little wood piece and need to be secured onto a larger object. During their growing season of spring and fall you can throw in a slow release fertilizer tablet into the center of the plant, or incorporate water soluble fertilizer into your irrigation.
Ficus lyrata (Fiddle Leaf Fig) – These are the most desirable indoor plants right now. Their tall stature, and large deep green leaves create a relaxed ambiance in your home. You can find these in small multi-trunk varieties that are 2’-3’ tall, or get a large scale appropriate piece from 6’-9’ tall. They are a hot commodity in the plant world, so when you find a desirable one snatch it up because they usually don’t last long.
Care: Fiddle leaf fig’s like bright indirect light. They seem to do best in rooms that are south or west facing. Do not put them directly in the window where their leaves will burn from sun exposure, a couple feet away is just right. Do not place them next to vents, near a fire place, or in front of fans that will dry out their leaves. Once you have their spot picked out leaved them be. It is very common for them to drop all of their leaves when they are moved from spot to spot. Watering. The plant likes to approach dryness between watering. Do not continually add water on a daily basis. Get on a schedule, one to two times a week, and water consistently.