One of the other great things about visiting a garden conservatory is that you have the opportunity to see older or larger specimens of some of your own plants, or plants you may have considered buying. Think of my excitement, for example, when the Garfield Conservatory desert house yielded mature specimens of three plants I recently brought home.
Agave funkiana (here labeled A. lopantha poselgeri)
And these are my new plants. In the back is the Agave funkiana, which I now know will get bigger, but not nearly as big as A. americana. Which is fine.... I don't have much room for giant spiny plants, and I'm glad to see that A. funkianas retain their beautiful blue hue into maturity.
On the left is my Crassula "Babies Necklace." This variety won't get as tall as the C. perforata at the conservatory, but at least I have a better idea of what to expect. In fact, I think I'm happier, because a dwarf variety like mine should retain the lovely colors, but stay more densely clothed with leaves. Compact plants are usually more attractive than leggy ones.
Finally, the Aeonium arboreum atropurpurea on the right is teeny-weeny compared to the specimen at the conservatory, which really puts the "arbor" in "arboreum." I can't wait for mine to get that big... although it will certainly require some waiting. These guys aren't exactly sprinters when it comes to growth indoors.
Other comparison photos...
My C. tomentosa at home. So I guess that I can expect C. tomentosa to get taller and leggier with time, eventually becoming a shrubby clump. Not the prettiest thing for indoor display, but it could be worse. Take, for example, Kalanchoe tomentosa...
Yuck! I knew there was a reason why I always pass these up. Yes, they're furry and soft, and like many succulents they are adorable in their young age. But give them time and care, and they will reward you by turning into a bunch of ragged sticks! This also applies to Chamaedorea metallica...
I keep almost buying on of these palms (come on, it has "Metallica" right there in the name) but then I hesitate. Now, after visiting the Garfield Conservatory, I'm glad I waited. Pretty though the foliage may be, the passage of time does not improve the attractiveness of the growth habit. It looks... sort of boring and unstable. I think I'll shift my desires for a palm tree onto a variety that develops a bigger trunk.
Of course, if you are curious about how your plants will look when they mature, there are easier ways. Google is expedient (if often wrong) and Dave's Garden has a pretty comprehensive database of facts and pictures. But actually standing in the presence of an old, vigorous specimen... well it's kind of like standing in front of a painting that you've only ever seen in photographs, isn't it? There's a kind of mesmerizing quality to being thrown into the shade of a towering Bird of Paradise or Coconut palm and realizing that this is what your houseplants were born to do. When I come home, it makes me pat my little plants reassuringly and say, "that'll do, palm."
But not you, Kalanchoe tomentosa. You got NO kinda potential.