Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Houseplant Primer for the College Student

As fall quarter at the University of Washington begins today, I'm reminded of my days as an undergraduate with a bit of regret that I never had an opportunity to live the dorm life. In many ways, I'm actually thrilled that I saved money and stayed out of serious trouble by not dorming, but I'm constantly approached by friends who have just moved into dorms or have new living arrangements where they're making an effort to liven up their surroundings.

Amidst the chaos within cramped quarters, untidy roommates, and multiple distractions, having a another living thing that's relatively low-maintenance, drama-free, and stays relatively quiet can be a welcomed addition. Being the plant geek I am, of course I'm talking about houseplants!!

Liven up a room, purify the air, bring part of the outdoors in: there are so many wonderful attributes to a simply potted plant in a room.

Like selecting plants for a garden, choosing houseplants is a similar process in that you have to first determine what sort of conditions you have:

1)How much light does it get during the day?

2)How often do you want/can water during the week?

3)How big does it get? Can I keep it small if it gets too big?

4)Will my pet or potential drunken roommate try to eat and/or destroy it?

With a diverse selection to choose from, here are some popular plants that require very little attention. There's no such thing as a NO MAINTENANCE plant. Think of it this way: a plant can be like a pet, or even a child. The bonus is plants don't yell and scream, can survive without food because it makes it own, and they don't poop everywhere and smell bad! Ok, some can smell bad, but just don't buy those! lol

Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant)
Part to Full Shade
Water once every 1.5 to 2 weeks.

Sansevieria (Snake Plant)
Full Sun to Part Shade
Water once every 1.5 to 2 weeks.

Draceana (Lucky Bamboo)
Part Sun
Can keep in standing water.

Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily)
Part Sun
Water once a week

Epipremnum (Pothos)
Part Sun
Water once a week

Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant)
Full to part sun or shade
Water once a week.

There is a remarkable selection to choose from and variations of the plants listed above. There is definitely something there for everyone.

"I might as well just grow a rock!" a friend of mine once complained. OK, look for this:

Those looking for something a little more exotic and not often readily available, check out this selection of easy to grow houseplants that are sure to make people's head turn!

Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid)
Orchids have long been the most ethereal and most coveted of all flowering houseplants, but they've also earned the reputation of being very expensive and difficult to grow. With orchids being churned out in "factories", they are readily available and affordable. Phals are probably the easiest of the orchids to grow because they like conditions that we humans like as well (moderate light and moderate temperatures). The flowers last a long time and if you cut the spent stem in half after all the blooms have gone to encourage another spike and buds to appear to flower yet again!

Tillandsia (Air Plant)
These fun plants are your quintessential epiphytes or "air plants" that naturally attach themselves to a tree in the forest to have access to light and nutrients from decaying leaves or "fertilizer" above from flying creatures. They live without soil and a simple dunk in water once a week is more than enough. You can hang them by your bed post, lap, or just anywhere they seem to fit just as long as they get bright light!

Clivias aren't often grown, but oh boy are they tough! They thrive on neglect and actually preferred to be root-bound in order to bloom. They're great in shade to part shade, but they need a rest period in order to flower, Check link here!

Musa zebrina (Bloodleaf Banana)
A most dramatic foliage plant with lush leaves that can get quite large, but it can easily be kept in a container in a relatively bright to semi-shaded location in the home. While it doesn't really produce fruit, there is a Dwarf Cavendish type that gets to be about 3 feet tall and this plant can reliably produce small, but edible fruits!! Read about it here.

So, keeping these tips in mind, head to a local grocery store, garden center, or home improvement store and pick out what you like and just give it a try. If you kill it, you kill it. No worries, mate! It's how you learn to grow plants and with a little patience and persistence, you can be quite successful.


Really, lots of plants really just like to be left alone. If you forget to water, you forget to water and there's a slight chance a plant can come back. If you drown the poor thing, nothing can come back from mush.

Probably best that I didn't dorm because knowing me, I would have brought home so many plants, my roommate would have to machete his way to get through to his side of the room OR wildlife could start inhabiting the ecosystem I'd be creating.

Or, he could simply ask: "C'mon Riz, which one's the good stuff?"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Red heads aren't usually my type, but this Crocosmia 'Little Red Head' was too darling not to pick up!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to a life I thought I knew

My sincere apologies for a lack of updates. The high season always seems to get away from me, but this past summer has been a difficult one as I had to take some time away from my usual activities to go back home to the Philippines and be with family.

Realizing that I may often share too many personal matters online, I gave it some thought and figured, "it's who I am and as long as I'm not intentionally trying to hurt someone or put myself in a exceedingly vulnerable position, I will be fine." Plus, I aim to try my best to relate and reach out to others they way many people have reached out to me.

On August 11, my father passed away at the age of 67 due to complications related to diabetes. Once we learned of the news, we made immediate plans to return to the Philippines where he had decided to stay and retire to look after the land that he developed as a homestead and a remarkable fruit plantation heavily planted with mango as a primary crop along with bananas, coconuts, and other tropical crops.

Mountain Views

Coming home was a remarkable experience and as hard as I tried not to think about work, I couldn't help but soak in and study the flora that I once crew up with as a kid. Being in my papa's plantation in Pampanga Province was probably my first exposure to nature and plants.

Riz Climbs Coconut 2 Crop

It was such a treat to be there with my siblings and my sister's family as it was their first time actually getting to experience how we grew up. Without the many amenities we're all used to now (ie, internet, cell phones, clean running water, reliable electricity, etc.), they learned to adapt and enjoyed the rewards of the hard work their grandfather put forth. From drinking fresh coconuts right off the tree to bathing in a river where my brother and sister and I used to play as kids, the activities seemed endless and Papa would have been so pleased.

Pao with Coconut Gretchen Papaya

Botanically, the Philippines is filled with plants that have sentimental value more than anything. Sadly, I never got to inhale the scent of fresh Sampanguita (Jasminum sambac) or Ilang Ilang (Cananga odorata), but I did get to savor the flavors of fresh fruit I haven't had in a very long time such as this chico (Manilkara zapota) picked from my cousin's tree:

Manilkara zapota Chico

After the funeral, we were treated to a trip further north to Aurora Province in the city of Baler, my brother-in-law's hometown. It was a long exhausting drive, but we were able to stay at a resort close by a beach and spent a day in the white sand beach where I sampled a delectable local delicacy, fiddle-head fronds known as "Pako". Gently sauteed with red onion, mango, garlic, crispy dried anchovies and lightly dressed with a vinaigrette. Served with deep fried pulled pork and steamed rice, it was amazingly good.

Beach Fiddle head ferns aka Pako

One of the last crops my father put in turns out to be something that caught my attention as a potential ornamental. The palmate foliage reminded me so much of Schefflera, but the striking foliage with bright red petioles of this plant turns out to be Cassava (Manihot esculenta). A member of the Euphorbiaceae, the thick wood-like tuberous roots are used as a starch and also used to make tapioca. I've actually grown the variegated form as an annual, but the large stature of the straight species was stunning to see. Though not hardy, I got a supposedly hardy species (M. grahamii) that's still in a pot that I might just baby over the winter and plant out next spring.


I'm not really sure what Papa would have thought about all this. Since I got back from the Philippines, it's been a long process of grieving, catching up with work and all, but I can't help but question everything nowadays. He always seemed concerned and worried that all the hard work and sacrifice to pursue my passion for gardens and plants at a young age wouldn't amount to a career that would support me financially and it felt like I've spent my whole life trying to convince him otherwise. One thing I wish he could have seen these past few years is the wonderfully supportive and encouraging community I'm surrounded by and that no matter what, there are people who truly care and love; people that follow and admire my accomplishments and wish for only the best for me.

I wish I could have said, "I'm going to continue to work hard and everything will be all right."

Flowers and Etched Logo

Sunday, September 5, 2010

It's A MIRACLE! a fruity one...

The so-called "Miracle Fruit" (Synsepalum dulcificum) is native to Africa. When eaten, sour foods become irresistably sweet and delectable. Don't believe me? Drats! If only someone were here and a lemon was available!