Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Orchid That Lives In My Bathroom

Some of you may have heard about The Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom. Here he is:

He is not much to look at. His two leaves are a breathe away from a dead wilt. Most of his roots are so crisp and dessicated they collapse with the slightest touch. He definitely isn't going to bloom any time soon.

Now you may think that none of the above is very surprising, since Phalaenopsis (aka Moth) orchids are so difficult to care for, right? Wrong! Orchids are easy to care for! They have this mystique about them because they are expensive and beautiful, but they aren't nearly as hard to care for as most people think. The Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom is concrete evidence of this. You see, I haven't watered him for over 14 months.

In addition to no water for over a year, The Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom has had barely any light. My bathroom has no windows. And since I tore out the shower several months ago, I barely go in there any more and turn on the lights.

Yup. He lived right up there on that cabinet for 14 months. I put him up there one day and then forgot about him.
So the Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom has lived for over a year with next to no light, no water, and Alaska-in-the-winter humidity, which, judging by the rate I go through lotion and chapstick, is pretty stinkin' dry. And the thing is still alive.

I've almost watered and/or moved him several times, since the poor guy was living in an orchid's version of Hell. And yet I had this perverse need to see how far he could go. He'd already made it three months, how about six? Nine? A year?

Well, after a year and two months I'm getting ready to paint the bathroom, and so need to take down the medicine cabinet. I brought the Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom into a room with better light so I could assess the damage. I didn't have much hope for the thing, even if it had somehow clung to life far longer than it should have.

You see that there, amongst the cobwebs? It's a new leaf!!

And those are new air roots!! So not only is the Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom still alive, it is actively growing!!

I sort of wanted the pot for another plant, but I just couldn't send this plucky guy to the Compost Heap in the Sky like I planned. Anything that endures those conditions for that long deserves to live!! The Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom is now The Orchid that Lives by the Best Window in the House (after a decent acclimation period, that is. You don't give a starving man a cheeseburger.) Since he is now surrounded by other plants he will have a decent level of humidity, and I will probably water him at least once a month out of horticultural guilt.

Moral of the story: if you are ever locked in a bathroom without food, water, or sunlight for a long period of time, hang in there! Be like the little orchid that could! You'll be rewarded in the end. Another moral is that phalaenopsis orchids are absurdly easy to take care of (although getting them to rebloom can be another story.) And finally, don't take a long time to remodel your bathroom. Lives could be at stake.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rex Begonias from leaf cuttings

Isn't leaf propagation exciting?!?! No? Well, keep reading...

So you have a plant that looks like this:

Begonia rex 'Stained Glass,' I think. If anyone knows the variety of this guy, let me know!

And it's awesome so you want more of them. While rex begonias (aka Begonia rex) make great houseplants, with leaves like these you will obviously want more of them to throw in your annual flower pots this summer. You can buy more, or you can grow your own by asking for (or snitching) a leaf from a friend's plant or municipal flower bed.

Step 1 - Select a healthy leaf or two.

Step 2 - Trim the leaf so that the veins are exposed. You can use one leaf to get multiple pieces, just as long as there are some veins in each piece.

Step 3 - Stick your little leaf piece in some soil. It doesn't really matter which end is up, as long as some of the veins are in the dirt.

If you look close, you'll see little baby leaves at the top. So cute!

Step 4 - Keep the soil moderately moist for a few weeks. You don't have to have perfect light; I put my begonia babies on an east-facing windowsill and they did fine. Just don't keep them too moist, or they may rot. It may also help to cover the pot with a clear plastic baggie or something to keep the humidity up.

I've read in several places that rex begonias can take up to 90 days to root and sprout, but mine took after about 3 weeks. I'm not sure if this is because I used a variety that roots more easily than others or if I just got lucky, but either way it's a good idea to start now if you want plants for this summer.

My baby rex after about a month and a half. I'm so proud!

There are gazillions of rex varieties out there, so you can swap leaves with your friends like baseball cards. Speaking of which, if anyone out there has a fine specimen of Begonia rex 'Escargot,' will you share a leaf with me?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Recent Acquisitions

Spring is still a good two months away here in Anchorage, and the "safe" planting date is another couple of weeks beyond that. Does this fact stop retailers from putting out all sorts of seeds and corms and tubers with seductive packaging? Nope. Does this fact stop me from buying them even though I know better? Nope.

Granted, I can and do start spring early with fluorescent lights. But every year I start things too early, and I plant too many, and I have a lot of fun trying to fit everything on a limited number of shelves. I usually make shopping lists to help limit the number of plants I bring home, but being a dedicated optimist I usually tell myself I can fit in a couple more flats of seedlings somewhere. Then into the cart go those kale seeds (even though I have six other varieties of kale at home.) Into the cart go twice the number of begonias I have on my garden plan. (The colors are all mouthwatering!) Into the cart go those cherry red lupine seeds. (I have no place for red lupine in in my yard. But it's red lupine! It belongs in my garden!)

Anyhoo, for any who are interested, here is my list of recently acquired plant goodies:

1. Tuberous begonias for hanging baskets, in hot pink, apricot, and red

2. Dinner plate dahlias 'Kalinka' and 'Aloha'

3. Shallots (I had shallots for the first time last year because of a friend's recommendations. At first I was inclined to believe they were just glorified onions until I sauteed them in butter and then broiled them on some halibut with parmesan. Holy freakin' yummy cow!!)

4. Onions (Which come in a bag of two billion bulbs. Who in the world needs that many onions? Sadly, shallots come in a bag of five.)

5. Mizuna seeds (What? You've never heard of Mizuna? Unbelievable.)

6. Impatiens 'Rose Bling' seeds (Anyone up here ever grow impatiens? How do they do for ya? Any secrets you want to share?)

7. Kale 'Lacinato,' aka dinosaur kale

8. Pea 'Progress no. 9,' which is a shelling variety. (It's a new one for me. Anyone ever try it? Is it any good?)

So there you have it. Has anyone else been lured into buying green things too early? If so, then what?

Monday, March 7, 2011

My first official post, and it's a doozy!

Coworker had a great idea! Begonias and lamium in pots together for shady areas! Brilliant! Love it! Gonna try it!