Rhoeo discolor belongs to the diverse trades-cantia tribe (Commelinaceae), and anything less like the conventional image of a tradescantia would be difficult to conceive. It is also a rather more temperamental plant, needing a minimum temperature of about 18°C (65 F) and careful watering that and dry conditions. It prefers shade and should be fed once it is established in 5-in (13-cm) pots - larger pots are not usually necessary.
The leaves, which are about 10 in (25 cm) in length and arranged in a rosette, are unusual in colouring. The undersides are purple and the uppermost sides are brownish-green with attractive cream stripes. In spite of this rhoeo has never been a very popular house plant, although for the person looking for something different it is well worth seeking out.
The reason for the two common names. Moses-on-a-raft and three-men-in-a-boat, is an added interest. These relate to the way in which the typical tradescantia-typc flowers nestle in the boat-shaped bract that is borne low down on the plant.
To increase the plant take cuttings from firm young growth and insert them in John Innes potting compost No. 2 in warm conditions; the cuttings can be taken at any lime other than in winter.
Rhoicissus rhomboidea, grape ivy, is one plant which will frequently survive in what would seem like impossible conditions. It is an attractive climber with three-lobcd. glossy dark green leaves which can be used in conjunction with a trellis or similar support to divide one room from another, a dining room from a living room for example. For such a position it is much more satisfactory to select a tolerant plant that will thrive in rather inadequate light rather than pick those that in a short time will be hanging to the supports for dear life. And rhoicissus is just such a plant in that it will be little bother if given reasonable care. A minimum temperature of 7°C (45 F) is all that is required, although it is able to withstand central heating, and the plant is better out of strong sunlight but in a well ventilated room. Water freely in the summer and keep just moist in winter: feed when new growth is being produced. The ideal compost for all stages of potting is a mixture of two parts of John Innes potting compost No. 3 and one part of fresh peat. As the plants grow some pruning may be required to keep them in check.
Propagation is easy from cuttings of two leaves taken about half an inch (1 cm) below the lower leaf joint.
Ricinus communis, the true castor oil plant (once described to me as the castrol plant an understandable error perhaps), is a most accommodating subject as it may be grown to maturity in the same year as seed is sown. Prior to sowing, the seed should be soaked in tepid water to assist germination. Sowing should be done jn April and the resultant seedlings potted as soon as possible, and thereafter potting on should not be neglected until the plants are in 7-in (18-cm) pots of John Innes potting compost No. 3. Ricinus may be grown indoors, or they may become part of the patio display during the summer months.
The shape of the leaf is very similar to that of Aralia sieboldii, a plant with which it is often confused. The leaves tend to take on a reddish-bronze colour as they age and this makes the plant a most attractive member of a group arrangement.
Ricinus are useful plants for those who seek something with size and maturity for a summer display, yet do not have the facilities to house them during the winter. When grown as an annual ricinus will attain a height of4 ft (I -25 m) but if, instead of being discarded in the autumn, it is rehoused and grown on indoors as a perennial it will eventually reach 15 ft (4-5 m). Indoors ricinus will need good light if they are to retain their colouring, ample watering and feeding.
One seldom hears of plants being referred to as 'stove plants' these days - stove being an old gardening term that implied that the plants so defined were in need of very high greenhouse temperatures in excess of 20°C (68 F) and that they were among the most difficult of potted plants to care for. Personal experience suggests that the term has fallen out of favour and that many of the plants that were in the past treated as stove subjects could have been grown equally well, and with considerably less expense, at very much lower temperatures.
There are a number of ruellias. family Actmthuieae. which can be comfortably grown at temperatures in the region of I6°C (60 F) if the compost is kept a little on the dry side during the winter months when lower temperatures are likely to prevail. There are both annual and perennial species: the latter can be increased by means of cuttings taken in the spring, and seed is sown in February to provide annual plants. In both respects it is an advantage to use a heated propagating case or frame.
Either when growing indoors or in the greenhouse, it is essential that plants should enjoy a shaded position and that the compost be kept moist at all times, with just a little less water being given during the colder months of the year. The potting medium should be very light and peaty, so the heavier John Innes type compost should not be used unless a considerable amount of extra peal is added.
The flowers are mostly trumpet shaped, rosy purple, blooming from winter to spring in Ruellia macranilw and in summer or winter for R. amoena.
Old indestructible the reader who has difficulty in maintaining this plant really has got a problem, and the probable reason for failure is misguided kindness. Consideration may be all very well with the more tender plants, but Sansevieria Irifasciala laureniii. to give it its full name, will do very much better if it is forgotten rather than fussed over. Its main need is for reasonable warmth and good light in which to grow -there is no necessity for frequent watering, feeding and the usual fussing that other house plants appreciate.
Knowing when to pot on is no problem as the plant should be left until it actually breaks the pot in which it is growing before finding a slightly larger clay pot and John Innes potting compost No. 2 in which to repot it. Clay pots are needed to provide reasonable anchorage for the top-heavy foliage that is of a succulent nature and stores considerable moisture, hence the need for giving the plant a good watering at infrequent intervals.
In different parts of the world the plant has different common names, two of them being descriptive while the common name in Britain of mother-in-law's tongue is less easy to understand. In America it is the snake plant, this for the obvious reason that the leaves have a snake-like pattern in them. A West Indian once informed me that in his part of the world it is commonly referred to as donkey's ears, again obvious when one isolates two leaves and sees the resemblance between them and the ears of the donkey.
New plants may be made by dividing the leaves into sections of about 3 in (8 cm) in length and rooting them in warm conditions unfortunately plants resulting from this form of propagation do not have the yellow margin of the parent plant and are much less attractive. To retain the margin plants should be propagated by taking the young shoots that grow up beside the larger ones and potting them individually. To do this the plant should be removed from its pot and the young shoot taken off with a piece of the rhizome and as much root as possible. It will also be beneficial to dust the cut mark with rooting powder to reduce the possibility of rotting.
Older plants of sansevieria will frequently produce lime-green flowers in the summer, these are pleasantly scented and quite
Sansevieria /.Hahnii and S. I. Golden Hahnii are extremely slow-growing rosette-forming plants, and are equally easy to care for. This also applies to S.gigantea which has broad mottled green leaves that grow to a height of some 18 in (45 cm).
Saxífraga sarmentosa is another of the friendship plants, also the sort of plant that will excite the curiosity of the child who may be showing an interest in plants. Easy propagation and reasonably quick growth are its attractions - ease of rooting making it simple to give plants to friends (hence the friendship angle), besides encouraging the younger gardener to take an interest.
The plants grow as small rosettes of almost indeterminate mottled colouring, and from the young plants similar small rosettes appear on slender stalks. These can be most attractive when hanging down from a well grown specimen. The best way of propagating numbers of plants is to place the plant pot in the centre of a box filled with John Innes potting compost No. 1 and then to peg the young plants into the compost as their stalks become long enough. When these have obviously rooted and begun to make new growth they may be snipped from the parent plant before being lifted and potted into individual containers of John Innes potting compost No. 2.
The trailing saxífraga will grow in most conditions but is seen at its best when suspended about eye level, either in pots or hanging baskets. When baskets are used for smaller-leaved plants of this kind it is important to use ones of small dimension that will be in keeping with the size of the plants being put in them. In this respect it may be wise to choose the more modern plastic baskets that have drip trays fitted on to their bases, so making it possible to use them indoors without getting a shower bath every 70 time the plant is watered.
The resilience of plants is something that many of us find difficult to understand, and we frequently hear of plants that suffer incredible hardship only to spring back to life when the conditions improve. One would not normally associate the tall and elegant schefflera with being the most durable of plants, although it is not by any means a problem. Yet a friend who manages a house-plant nursery has told me the following story of a very large schefflera that had been cut down and seemingly disposed of. From the wreckage he cut a piece of leafless stem some 3ft (I m) in length with the thought that it would make a good walking stick. This he used daily around the nursery for nearly two months: until, in fact, he pushed it into a large pot of compost with instructions to an astonished member of staff that it should remain there to see if it would root! Some weeks later, to everyone's amazement, leaf buds were seen swelling at the top of the stick - the plant is now a treasured possession of beautiful standard shape and is clearly very pleased to have a new lease of life.
The schefflera is very much an individual sort of plant that should stand on its own and have ample space in which to develop. Mature plants should be in pots at least 10 in (25 cm) in diameter, and the standard growing conditions of warmth, light, and moisture will suit them fine. The two species most often seen are Schefflera actlnophvlla and S.digitata. Propagation is from seed.
This is a potted plant that is very much of a temporary nature: a plant that will provide added colour for a limited period as opposed to the conventional house plant thai can be kept indoors throughout the year.
The ornate Victorian conservatory was a costly structure to heat and maintain and is now very much a thing of the past, but in recent years we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of garden rooms or sun lounges of both permanent and temporary nature. With the addition of comparatively few plants these garden rooms can take on a new dimension, and if the room is heated then so much the better. With just a little thought given to the selection of plants and furniture such rooms can enhance the appearance of both the garden and the home. And it goes without saying that as the light factor in the garden room is so much belter than indoors many plants can be grown that would otherwise present problems.
In this respect we could well consider the poor man's orchid or butterfly flower as the schizanthus is commonly known. They are available in a brilliant array of colours, are no great problem to manage and. a considerable asset, they will do perfectly well in cool conditions. For the few plants required for the garden room it is probably better to purchase young plants than to grow them from seed only to find that there are many more than can be adequately handled having too many invariably leads to few of the plants doing as well as they would if there was less of them. When purchasing, to give some variation, try to select some from
Senecio the taller strains and some of the dwarf varieties. Plants can be raised from seed simply by following the directions on the packet in which the seed is bought.
To spread the flowering period it is possible to have plants which will flower in the spring from seed thai was sown in September. and a further batch from spring-sown seed that will flower in late summer. Plants should be potted on as they fill their existing pots with roots, using John Innes potting compost No. 2; the final potting should be into 7- or 8-in (18- to 20-cm) pots. Thereafter feeding should not be neglected if yellowing of the foliage is to be prevented. Young plants must have their growing points removed to producc full and compact specimens. The growing atmosphere should be buoyant, so stuffy and hot conditions should be avoided by regular ventilation : even on colder days this will do no harm if the temperature does not drop below TC (45°F).
It is important to ensure that as plants develop they are provided with cane supports and larger plants will need several canes around the edge of the pot. Following flowering plants are of no further value and should be discarded.
There are two of these that the house-plant grower is likely to come across, one dark green and somewhat coarse and the other with variegated glossy leaves that are pleasantly colourful. Both occasionally produce attractive daisy-like flowers.
The green one is Senecio mikanioides. commonly named German ivy, which is deceptive as it is not an ivy. However, it is a most useful plant indoors and in its way is probably far more practical as a trailing plant on the wall of the living room than any of the ivies are ever likely to be. Where ivies abhor hot, dry conditions the senecios will be much more at home and will provide an equally good effect and grow at twice the pace of the ivies. I frequently wonder why there are not more compact trailing plants on the market, especially as there is a keen demand for them and lots of wall brackets and pot holders about for putting them in. However, it must be added that when choosing plants for wall positions only the more durable ones should be selected.
The variegated form is S.macroglossus variegatus, Cape ivy. This is a pretty little plant that roots like a weed when put in almost any compost as a cutting, and naturally climbs any support that may be available. If all the growing points.are removed when young it can be used as a trailing plant, but the tendency is for it to climb. Pot in John Innes potting compost No. 2 with a little extra peat, and keep a careful watch for greenfly on the young
Setcreasea striata and S. purpurea belong to the tradescantia tribe, and are as little trouble to raise from cuttings as are most of the smaller-leaved tradescantias. The first, as the name suggests, has green leaves with prominent while stripes, whilst the second has unusual purple colouring which gives ii the common name of purple heart. Both can be raised from cuttings a few inches in length, but better looking plants will be produced if several cuttings are put in each pot and the growing points of each cutting removed when it has rooted and begun to grow away.
Both are easy plants for a position in good light but away from strong sunlight. They need watering fairly freely in summer and should also be given regular applications of fertilizer then. Keep the compost only just moist in the winter.
The flowers of S. striata are white, those of S. purpurea lilac, and all are produced in the summer. The flowers are. however, very insignificant and these plants must be regarded primarily as foliage plants.
The winter cherry. Solanum lapsicastrum. is one of those plants that is normally purchased in late autumn and winter, its bright orange-red berries doing much to cheer the winter scene both in the greenhouse and indoors. Although the plants may be kept from one year to the next it is much better to start with fresh ones annually by sowing seed in February or March, or by taking cuttings in spring from plants saved from the previous year. The seed may be saved from berries which have been allowed to ripen fully.
Seed should be sown in the conventional manner in a temperature around 18"C (65°F) and the seedlings pricked out and potted on as they become large enough. The tip growth and subsequent sideshoots of young plants should be pinched out to encourage a more bushy habit. During the summer months the plants in their pots may be placed out of doors in a sheltered spot, to be brought in again about mid-Septem-ber. To assist pollination it is important that the plants should be sprayed over daily with water while they are in flower - failure to do this may result in a much less satisfying crop of berries.
While solanums are indoors it is most essential that they should enjoy the lightest possible location. This is particularly important once the berries have developed as poor light may result in them being shed.
The African wind flower, Sparmannia africana, has lime-green colouring, is a vigorous-growing plant and. in my humble opinion, very beautiful when well grown. Being a vigorous grower it can well do with potting on annually into John Innes potting compost No. 3 until such time as it is in a 10-in (25-cm) pot, thereafter it should be sustained by regular feeding. After two or three years it will show signs of deterioration and may have to be replaced by a new plant grown from easily rooted cuttings. Alternatively, take the plant from its pot and with a sharp knife remove a good proportion of the root system before replacing in the same pot with fresh compost - once potted give a thorough watering.
This is a plant for average indoor conditions, although it does best in the slightly cooler temperature range and will tolerate a minimum temperature of 7°C (45'F). Keep the compost moist at all times.
The while flowers are produced in May and June, the pistils in the centre of the flowers open outwards in the slightest movement of air and give the plant its
Strelitzia reginae. bird of paradise flower, has a fantastic exotic-looking flower which it takes in the region of five years to produce from the time the seed is sown, and there seems to be no short cut to success. Seeds are not difficult to germinate in a high temperature in the region of 21 °C (70"F). Once the plants have got under way they can be transferred to small pots to grow on, but avoid the temptation of putting them into pots that are of excessive size. Let them become well established in their existing pots before moving them on to the next size up. Do not be tempted into thinking that the larger the pot the plant is growing in then the better the growth must be: the reverse is often the case as a small amount of root in a great bulk of soil leads to waterlogged compost and indifferent results.
Strelitzias will require the lightest possible position indoors, and will not come to any harm out of doors during the warmer summer months. Moderate temperature is needed once plants are in pots of the 7-in (18-cm) size and there they should remain as they flower very much better when pot bound. Water freely in summer, less often in winter. Increase older plants by division
Besides being agreeably attractive as potted plants there is also a keen demand for strelitzias as cut flowers both in the amateur and professional sector. Indeed, if flower production is the most important requirement it is often better if the plant is removed from its pot and planted in the ground. In this event a healed greenhouse offering the conditions described earlier
will be an essential requirement. Rather than putting a single plant in an odd corner where it will almost inevitably suffer indifferent treatment, it is very much better to plant a small group of about six plants in soil which has been well dug and fertilized. Mature plants will give much better results than tiny ones that will take much longer to develop.
Having taken some care with the planting. strelitzias can be left for many years with only the occasional attention of cleaning them over and giving them a dressing of bonemeal in the winter. They will not be harmed if the greenhouse glass is lightly shaded in the summer, but in winter it is important that the glass should be absolutely clean in order to obtain the best
Strelitzia reginae is the more compact species and better suited to the limited height of the average small greenhouse. There are taller, much bolder types such as S.augustifolia. which attains a height of some 15 ft (4-5 m) and takes as many years to produce its first flower.
Although much work has been done in recent years on developing new varieties of this plant, varieties which are very free blooming and with a much wider colour range, my preference is still for the old established Streptocarpus Constant Nymph. This has spear-shaped leaves and beautiful violet-blue flowers.
AH the streptocarpus flower throughout the spring and summer months: in fact, with reasonable warmth in a small greenhouse some flowers are produced at almost any lime of the year.
Indoors they require ample light, needing shade from strong sunlight only. An airy position that offers a reasonable temperature will also be an advantage. The compost should be moist all the time, with slightly less water being given during the winter months. Regular feeding will be the order of the day during the spring and summer months once the plants have become established in their pots.
Plants may be propagated from seed sown in February or midsummer to provide plants at different times of the year for seed sowing a temperature of about I8°C (65°F) will be required. Plants may also be increased by dividing larger clumps in the spring of the year and potting them up individually.
Should a greater number of plants be needed then individual leaves may be removed and inserted in a peat and sand mixture at a temperature similar to that suggested for seed raising. Small clumps of new leaves will form at the point of insertion and when these are large enough to handle they should be potted up individually.
Apart from the well established Constant Nymph, there is a range of new varieties that I mentioned earlier. These have been bred from S x hybridus and S.johannis and they are all known by girls' names - Tina, Helen, Louise, etc. They are notable for massed displays of bloom in shades of pink, rose, mauve, blue, purple, and white.
Although streptocarpus. commonly known as Cape primroses, make fine plants for indoor decoration they are also superb plants for the small greenhouse that is moderately heated. The cost of heating a small greenhouse or garden room is often frowned upon as being extravagant, but when compared to the cost of other hobbies and pastimes it is not such an expensive item considering the amount of pleasure that the enthusiast can derive from growing the things he likes.
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