Bzzzz January 2nd, 2008

It seems that most of the gardening bloggers I’m reading these days have been lavishing attention on their houseplants.

Well, it’s probably about time the indoor plants get their share of attention. I know that at my house, it’s no small task to keep everyone looking good and healthy when there is so much to do outside in the warm weather.

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Philodendron and Bamboo by Reading Chair

I took a quick census of the houseplants here. All of the plants are in the most-frequented rooms so that I don’t forget them. Those also happen to be the rooms with the best light in our north-facing house.

Here are the plant numbers:

21 – family room

4 – kitchen

2 – music room

10 – office light garden

3 – my bedroom

1 – my son’s room

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Kitchen Succulent

I’m sure there are some folks out there who can best my numbers, but this seems a good balance for me since I feel claustrophobic with too much “stuff” crowding in a room and most of my plants are of an impressive size.

I have been in love with houseplants since I was a teenager and discovered Jerry Baker’s Happy, Healthy Houseplants. Published way back in 1985, it was one of the first and best books on houseplants at the time. I don’t have a copy anymore, but I believe this is the book that included an illustration of a fellow peaking from behind a shower curtain where he is bathing with bunches of houseplants. For some reason this made a big impression on me. To this day I regularly bathe my houseplants to remove the accumulated dust from the leaves and give them an at-home spa treatment—although I rarely get undressed to do it anymore.

One of the reasons I adore my houseplants is that it gets me a bit closer to my dream of living in a house that seamlessly blends indoors and outdoors. Given that I live in Zone 7 Maryland rather than in the British Virgin Islands, that isn’t an entirely feasible idea.

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Crown of Thorns

People who love plants might appreciate a few plant stories…

Years ago when Benjamin was quite small our lives were overly-full with travel, jobs and just surviving. We couldn’t seem to muster the energy for a proper Christmas tree so I re-purposed a good-sized Norfolk Island Pine for the job, decorating it with lights and ornaments. Unfortunately, the tree was then top heavy, so we had to anchor it with one of Harry’s heavy running shoes. Well, one morning around 3 a.m. it all came a-tumbling down, spreading dirt and broken ornaments everywhere. (Why is it things like this never happen in the daylight hours?) Happily, the tree survived, but the decorations did not.

Another plant story (sorta) comes to mind. We had a beautiful Belgian Malinois named Winifred. If you’re not sure what those are, they are the dogs you see bomb sniffing in airports. They look rather like small-ish German Shepherds. Well, Winifred was going through a spell of intense gastrointestinal distress. I had taken her to the veterinarian numerous times for exams, x-rays and bloodwork. I followed all of the veterinarian’s recommendations and still, she was having major difficulties. I had assured the veterinarian that, no, Winifred did not get outside and eat anything she shouldn’t have. Well, I was right about that.

One morning at the height of the gastrointestinal distress episode, I was outside with Winifred on her morning distress call of nature. At the risk of your concluding that I have a poo fetish like my brother, I was examining her poo and discovered the problem. It was absolutely FILLED with little pebbles! They were the very same pebbles that I had used in the bottom of a humidity tray for a boxwood topiary! Winifred was eating the plant’s rocks!

One more…

My son Benjamin is quite smart. But like many boys he doesn’t always do smart things. When he was 13 years old he accidentally broke off a small part of an absolutely gorgeous cactus that I had sitting on the kitchen counter. Fascinated by the milky substance oozing from the plant’s wound, Ben decided to give it a little taste.

I wasn’t home at the time, but Ben apparently discovered that the milky substance was very very very HOT. Water wouldn’t put out the heat on his tongue. Milk wouldn’t put out the heat on his tongue. Panting wouldn’t help. He suffered for quite a long time until the heat passed.

Really, we’re lucky the houseplant wasn’t poisonous. But we still warn Ben “Don’t eat it! Just say no!” whenever we see a cactus!

The plants you see here are a few of my favorites. I bought the Crown of Thorns for a centerpiece for our wedding anniversary about four years ago. (My husband didn’t see the humor.) It didn’t bloom much after dropping its blooms the first time. But once I repotted the plant it has bloomed every since.

I adore the philodendron and bamboo by the red reading chair in my bedroom. I bought the bamboo as a teeny tiny thing at Wal-Mart about two years ago. It’s amazing how the little $2 plant has grown. And the philodendron is amazingly healthy climbing up a piece of wood for support. (It’s on my list of things to do to re-pot this one as soon as I can find a nice pot.)

The succulent is one I keep in the kitchen because I think it looks nice in contrast with our farmhouse table. The pot is one I found at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix last year and had shipped home. When she saw it, a family friend asked “What? They don’t have vases in Maryland?”

So there you have it…some of my houseplants and plant stories! They’re not much to look at right now but once my orchids are all blooming at the same time again I’ll share those too.

Happy indoor gardening!

Posted In: House Plants

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Bzzzz June 22nd, 2007

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I want to believe in miracles. I want BADLY to believe in miracles. Especially the kind that help you lose weight while eating everything you want, “turn back the hands of time” and be more productive “than you ever dreamed.” Heck, I would settle for a miracle plant food!

So when I read about SUPERThrive and the extravagant, if unrealistic claims, of making plants grow seemingly overnight, I had to give it a try.

But then, there’s the heavily marketed Miracle Gro. (I spent MANY YEARS working in a multitude of advertising agencies and grew to HATE cute spellings and words that are JammedTogether with an ExtraCapital. But I have made every effort to overlook that shortcoming of these products.)

SO I PUT THEM TO THE TEST. THE CHALLENGE:

–Three identical plants from the same grower.

–Raised in identical conditions of light, soil, pot and equal amounts of nurturing and neglect for 12 weeks.

–The difference: The water. One plant would be given only plain spring water from our well. One plant would be watered with water spiked with Miracle Gro. The third watered with water spiked with SuperThrive.

I first read about SuperThrive in James Dodson’s Beautiful Madness (a review of which you can read here). Although he was a skeptic, he reported on an extremely successful grower who SWEARS by the stuff and buys it by the barrel full.

On looking into it further, it seemed a bit of a modern aged snake oil. The product label is full or verbose claims. There are some good ones:

–Used by thousands of governments, state universities, leading arboretums, botanical gardens, park systems, U.S. States and cities in multiple drum lots. –Lifts the world!! –Added to 21 fertilizers by 21 growers.

And my favorite…

–Used by FIVE U.S. Departments to help win World War II.

As you can see, it’s difficult to take a product like this seriously since the claims are so outrageous and wholly unsubstantiated.

Nevertheless, in the interest of science, I will suspend disbelief.

The company is fairly vague as to the ingredients. The label claims that it includes “unique, normalizing vitamins-hormones.” In fact, when I embarked on this experiment I happened on a website that had conducted a chemical analysis of the product and confirmed that it does, indeed, have vitamins. It was unclear whether the vitamins were ones that plants need and, alas, I can’t find the website any longer.

The typical application of SuperThrive, according to the crowded label, is about a teaspoon per gallon, which can be added to other fertilizer.

Miracle Gro, on the other hand, simply states that it is a “Liquid Plant Food.” It states that the composition is 8-7-6 and offers a guaranteed analysis of the nitrogen, phosphate, potash and iron content. Application is 10 – 20 drops per quart of water for this particular Miracle Gro Product.

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On the left is the plant only given spring water from our well. In the middle is the plant fed with Miracle Gro. On the right is the plant fed with SuperThrive.

THE RESULTS:

As you can see from the photo, the plant that was given only spring water from our well did not fare nearly as well as either the Miracle Gro or the SuperThrive plants. The plant is smaller, there is less new growth and overall the color is less green. The plant is clearly less vigorous than the other miracle food plants.

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Left to right: Plain water plant, Miracle Gro plant, SuperThrive plant

After that, the judging becomes somewhat more difficult. My impartial (because he doesn’t give a hoot) observer, Benjamin, says that the SuperThrive plant appears to be bigger, healthier and more vigorous.

Yes, the SuperThrive plant has more new growth, more leaves and is a bit greener. On the other hand, the Miracle Gro plant is also vigorous and the growth is more mature and leaves are larger.

In the end, the SuperThrive plant is probably a bit more vigorous.

But is it a miracle? Sadly, no. Clearly, something in that outrageous bottle works, but it’s no more a miracle than Miracle Gro. And the price is outrageously higher. On Amazon the price was about $32 for a PINT. The 8 oz. bottle or Miracle Gro still has a tag on it from the local nursery for $2.49.

So, in the end, I vote for Miracle Gro. It has a good result with a value price. And you don’t have to feel entirely taken with their marketing pitch either.

My next question: Is that Alaskan fish fertilizer better than either one? Frankly, the only reason I didn’t include it in this test is that the local nursery didn’t have FOUR plants. But I have seen some amazing new growth in the weeks following when I pour on the stinky stuff. (And boy, does that stuff STINK.)

Ciao!

Posted In: Gardening, House Plants

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