Esprit de Isle

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Exotic House Plants

Did I mention that I live in the Pacific Northwest? Actually, I was born in Alaska and houseplants were the only form of greenery, excepting evergreen (fir, spruce, etc.) trees covered with snow, that we saw for months on end.

In those days, orchids were exotic gems only seen on the pages of National Geographic magazines. Hibiscus, cacti, coleus, crotons and many plants that are now common household words were neither known nor classified as houseplants - I never hoped to have a jasmine vine growing and blooming in my living room! Who knew you could even have a coffee tree?

GREEN THUMB, DIRTY THUMBNAIL

When we moved from Alaska to Washington, I went hog-wild. I was proud as a peacock when my sister-in-law remarked one day that visitors would soon have to use a machete to get into my living room!

I had a large philodendron vine filling one corner, a small hibiscus tree (probably 5 feet tall) in another, my coffee table was covered with "wandering Jew" in full bloom, the end tables, book cases and the TV covered with iron cross and blood leaf begonias, Christmas cactus, prayer plants, anything I could get my hands on.

Today, my pride and glory is still the lovely jade plant which I bought in a small container having just a few leaves, now three feet across and weighs a ton.

OUTDOORS OR INDOORS!

Plants that commonly grow outdoors in warmer climates become prized houseplants in northern parts of the country. Crown of Thorns is one that adapts easily - indoors or outdoors. Mine blooms constantly in a sunny window with eastern exposure. Click on link for easy care instructions.

GO WILD - GROW WILD!

Don't be afraid to experiment with new and novel species of plants. If you see something you like, buy it or (if it's in your friend's house) "pinch" it. I have a "night-blooming cereus" cactus that I acquired from a friend who pinched it off her plant. It blooms only once a year, about midnight. It has the most lovely smell and a beautiful white blossom, six inches across. Unless you stay up to watch, you'll find it bloomed and wilted in the morning.

E-BAY FOR ORCHIDS!

I've acquired some beautiful exotic plants from eBay. My kitchen garden window is full of orchids that are a real delight and easy to grow. Pansy-face orchids and vanda orchids are prolific bloomers and a real delight to behold. They bloom around November for me and last a long time.

I bought a plastic window-box planter with a fitted drip pan. It's a perfect fit for my four orchid plants in their red clay pots. I filled the pots with bark to which I added a few grains of water crystals. The pots sit inside the planter in water about 3 inches deep. That allows enough moisture around the leaves to create an atmosphere they like and avoids red spider mites, which are a common enemy of indoor plants. Spider mites hate humidity but other insects don't mind. Beware of ants in your plants!

By the way, my cat developed a taste for orchid leaves. I worried they might be poisonous and that Catzie might be in real trouble - more than she was from me for chewing on my orchids! I noticed she did a lot of salivating and drooling but, except for those symptoms, it didn't seem to bother her much and certainly the flavor wasn't a deterrent. I suspect they possess some toxicity and have the potential to cause stomach upset if actually ingested in larger quantities or more frequently. Unfortunately my Eden does have evil occupants - the coyotes were more harmful to Catzie than the orchids. (Watch for soon-to-be published "Catzie's Chat House"!)

LEAVE GARDENIAS TO THE EXPERTS

Over the years, the plant I've had the least success with is the gardenia. I still have one which I've had for about five years. But it hasn't bloomed since I bought it from the garden shop - even then, most of the buds fell off without opening. It got rangy and the leaves turned yellow. I've pruned it back and now the leaves are coming out all curled and deformed. If someone has advice, I'd love to hear it!