The Chicago Flower and Garden Show

Mark your calendars! It's gonna be rad! Get ready for gardening demonstrations, garden-design exhibitions, houseplant competitions, and lots and lots of dip.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the "New Plant Varieties" event, which unveils the latest breeding improvements in popular plants. See you at Navy Pier, March 6-14.


Aggregate Freaks: The Orchid Show*

The 2010 Chicago Suburban Orchid Show was amazing to behold. Here's a slew of photographs. Click on the red links to see attributions.

This sexy-ass orchid is named Vuyl Melissa Brianne 'Shady Lady' (HCC/AOS) (Illowa Orchid Society). I'd take this orchid home in a heartbeat... and I don't care if she is a shady lady. She's damn fine.

If you would rate yourself as 10/10 on a scale of "I'm the kind of person who loves plethoras," you may enjoy this Tolumnia variegata (Wisconsin Orchid Society).

If you intend to use your orchid to communicate with Mars (Chuck Ingram - Paphiopedilum Esquirolei).

My personal favorite orchid: Paph. micranthum 'Pink Cloud'

A big prizewinner... the kind of tropical-looking orchid that will help you Forget Sarah Marshall. (Calanthe Granville 'Cranberry' x Calanthe St. Iberria)

Maybe you're more of a Mini-Orchid person...

This paphiopedilum is a throwback to a style that has been out of vogue for many years. Nowadays, double-blooming paphs are the rage, and the blossoms are mainly quite petite. But this may be about to change! According to the pros at the Batavia Orchid Society, orchid growers in Britain are bringing back the giant Paphiopedilum trend. I, for one, think the results are phenomenal. (Chuck Ingram again)

This show was hosted by the Batavia Orchid Society. For a full list of exhibitors, please visit their website.

*Of course by "freaks" I mean the plants (these orchids are all crazy-ass mutants) but lord knows that orchid people are a strange and wonderful clan too. As for the aggregate, this also has a double meaning. First, the attendees were diverse; second, clay granular has hit orchid gardening in a big way. Clay granular (or aggregate) is a growing medium made of balls of expanded neutral clay. The benefits of using clay granular include its porosity, longevity, drainage capabilities, and more. Orchid growers seem to be using aggregate more and more as an addition to their soil mixes; some people grow in pure aggregate. Of course, this is not a new practice; growing plants in only aggregate materials is known as hydroculture. It's a type of hydroponic gardening that is excellent for growing houseplants. If you're thinking of trying your hand at houseplant hydroculture, definitely visit the website Water Roots. And good luck!


Gallons of Fun

Today, boyfriend and I visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. What does this have to do with you, and your houseplants? Well, aside from the amazing aquatic plant life...

...there were plenty of tropical species on display. The same tropical species, in fact, that you can grow in your living room! From every continent, the Shedd Aquarium has brought in plants to compliment their animal life. It's a great opportunity to see your favorite home or office specimen in a recreation of its original habitat. This dart frog vivarium, for instance, houses several well-known decorative plants. Of course, some moron kid had to go and stand in my picture. I know what you're thinking... children at a fun and interactive museum?!? How revolting. Those were my sentiments as well.

Many of us who love tropical plants are familiar with the use of these specimens as vivarium subjects... herpetology-supply websites like Black Jungle are popular sources for exotic plants. But you know, you really don't have to be a reptile hobbyist to enjoy terrariums. As with the old-fashioned Wardian case, terrariums are perfect for displaying dazzling tropical plants that need high humidity levels.

The truly surprising thing about the vivariums at the Shedd Aquarium is the the simplicity of their construction. Straying from complex recipes, the Shedd uses a simple three-layer system to provide circulation and drainage. In my mind, this setup would need regular dismantling and cleaning, because it lacks certain ingredients that inhibit algae. The need for good hygiene is only increased by the fact that there is animal life in these vivaria. But hey, these guys have been doing this sort of thing WAY longer than I. So, here endeth my critique.

Plenty of other household favorites can be found amidst the fishy life...

... although certain species eluded me. Does anyone recognize the bronzy plant with the venation in this picture (just above the water line)? My guesses include caladium and syngonium, but beyond that I haven't a clue.

With such a sea of classic plants spread before me (no pun intended), it makes me realize why pond gardens are so very popular in the southern states. Given the right zone, it wouldn't be difficult to replicate the Amazon river or lake Malawi in your own backyard! Of course, this raises questions about the ethics of harboring invaders species... but that's a topic for another post.

All told, the Shedd Aquarium is freaking awesome. Take a day trip whenever you can, to see your favorite houseplants in action! As active as they get, in any case.


Plant Surgery, Part Deux

Well, the air-layering experiment (as described in a previous post) was a success. Within about six weeks of its procedure, our little patient produced a profusion of roots in mid-air. Severing the main stem just below these roots, I repotted the whole mess and crossed my fingers. Here you can see the schefflera several months post-op; things are progressing marvelously.

No more non elective surgery, kay lady?

Because the main stem was bent, I installed a rudimentary staking system. I realize that it looks ugly, but cheer up Scheffie! Only a few more months before your braces come off, and then you'll definitely get a date for the prom. Well, probably anyway. In the meantime, shut up and focus on your schoolwork.

The roots must have established themselves pretty solidly, because new growth is already on its way. This propagation procedure is a simple way to give rebirth to any beloved non-herbaceous houseplant. DO IT, I DARE YOU.


Breakfast Assassin

Dear Rabid Fans;

Check me out today at the Chicago Brunch Blog. And see you this weekend at the Chicago Suburban Orchid Show and Sale, from 10-6 at the DuPage County Fairgrounds!



Cute cactus, Ugly cactus

Ooooooh. Ahhhh. Astrophytum myriostigma, a.k.a. Star cactus.

This slow-growing cactus lives to a ripe old age, as far as houseplants are concerned. Happily for me, it tends to stay round and adorable rather than becoming columnar like many cacti; I prefer the rotund habit. Though some cultivars (and some members of the genus in general) may grow better when grafted, the Plain Jane species (A. myriostigma) is a tough cookie. Other common names include "Monk's Hood" and "Bishop's Miter," but let's face it: this little cactus is way too cute to be associated with clergy. Check out Cactus Art Nursery for more of this amazing species.

What else in cactus news? My
Opuntia articulata has sprouted a new segment! It split right through the skin and sprang forth fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus! I'm really not being histrionic; it was already a freaky cactus before this happened.

Ew. Cool, but Ew.



Let me solve some commonly asked houseplant questions.

Q: Falling leaves, bare stems, no flowers... what's wrong with my goldfish plant (Nematanthus gregarius)?

A: The problem with your goldfish plant is that it is a goldfish plant. This problem can easily be resolved by never owning another goldfish plant.

Q: Why does my corn plant (Dracaena massangea) have brown tips?

A: Because you're using plain tap water instead of filtered/distilled water. Flush the soil to purge excess salts, and don't give it any more tap water.

RIP D. massangea

Q: I just bought a mother fern (Asplenium bulbiferum). Does it have any special care requirements?

A: Caring for your mother fern is easy. First, take your mother fern to the garbage. Then, throw it away. This treatment has a high test-retest reliability; it works every time.

RIP A. Bulbiferum

Q: Why do my cuttings keep failing?

A: The three most likely culprits are low humidity, low bottom heat, or unsterile media.

Q: My hoya has never been lush. It is sparse and ugly near the top of the pot, and it bothers me. What can I do?

A: The secret trick with hoyas is beer. The brand is irrelevant, so choose what you like. Secure a very large quantity; around 100 beers should do. Judiciously apply the beer to yourself, and you will find that you are no longer bothered by your ugly-ass hoya. This procedure can be repeated as necessary with ugly-ass hoyas.

Q: There's a moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) on the receptionist's desk at my salon/spa/gallery/doctor's office. It's not flowering anymore, and it seems soft and limp. What's wrong?

A: Overwatering. In such settings, decorative orchids tend to get watered too frequently and by too many people. It was probably planted in a dense or "slow" medium when it was purchased, meaning it has poor drainage. Excess water plus poor drainage equals overwatering and root rot, hence the soft leaves. Throw it away and buy a new one... this time give it better light and less water. Also, if you get your orchid from a reputable greenhouse instead of a big chain store, chances are good that it will be planted in a quality medium.

Q: My ivy (Hedera helix) looks a little crispy, and the leaves keep falling...

A: Spider mites.

Q: Really? Couldn't it be a watering problem?

A: It could be, but it's not. It's spider mites.

Q: But I don't see anything tha-


RIP H. helix NOID