Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Houseplants a 2020 trend

2019-11 spring cactus

Published Nov. 17, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Houseplants: a top garden trend for 2020.”

By Barb Gorges

There is a publication that comes out every fall discussing trends in gardening, written primarily for those in the green industry: nurseries, landscapers, garden centers, etc. Garden Media Group listed eight hot topics for 2020 that commercial enterprises should pay attention to (http://grow.gardenmediagroup.com/2020-Garden-Trends-Report):

  • Increasing city greenscapes
  • Circular economy–waste becoming building materials
  •  Green collar jobs available, especially horticulture
  •  Soil microorganisms and regenerative gardening
  •  Attracting amphibians to backyards
  •  Mushrooms
  •  Indigo, the color and the natural dye
  •  Houseplants

Houseplants is a category I can most easily relate to as I write this on a snowy, 10-degree day at the end of October.

Houseplants have been rediscovered by millennials who yearn for green acres but make do with apartment square footage.

2019-11 220px-Echeveria_elegans_-_1 wikipedia 2

One of 150 varieties of Echeveria. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Succulents are the most popular plant type, according to the surveys Garden Media looked at. And cactus. Echeveria is most popular. There are 150 cultivated varieties of this succulent. All are basically rosettes of thick leaves. They grow slowly, occasionally produce baby rosettes and need less watering than typical houseplants. I’ll have to try one.

Garden Media recommends the astute retailer offer Houseplant 101 classes for the members of the new indoor gardening generation to help them become “Plant Parents.”

That makes me a Plant Grandparent, I guess. I still have an azalea I bought 30 years ago that blooms a couple times a year.

While some people may buy houseplants to clean the air like an air purifier or as interior decoration like other people buy books for the color of their spines, growing and propagating plants is much more fun than that.

My mother started me out with violets when I was in junior high. It’s so easy to cut off a leaf and stick the stem in potting soil and watch for the new plant to grow.

In college it was an avocado tree grown from a pit. And jade plants reproducing from stems cut and planted. For 40 years, I’ve had spider plants that send out shoots looking for a new foothold and I give it to them, sometimes in the same pot, sometimes in a new pot, anchoring the bottom of the shoot to the soil surface with an unbent paperclip until the roots develop.

Philodendron, pothos, ivy and geraniums can all be propagated from cuttings. Sometimes I put the stems in water until I see roots form and then plant them. Sometimes I just stick the stems in the potting soil I find in the garden centers. There are also potting soil recipes online. If you are working with succulents and cactus, you want something grittier than regular types.

A broken piece of my spring cactus (remotely related to Christmas cactus) is growing quickly using the same stick-it-in-potting-soil technique. The key to the method is controlling watering, keeping the cutting midway between wilting and rotting.

Three years ago, the kids gave me a big bouquet for my birthday. As the cut flowers wilted, I pulled them out, downsizing to smaller vases until only two sprigs of greenery remained. And then I noticed they’d sprouted roots. Today they are happily potted up and identified as Buddhist pine.

This summer’s experiment was a piece of ginger root showing green nubbins. I buried it halfway in potting soil and it has sprouted a stalk over a foot tall.

The amaryllises I’ve grown from seed, from a plant from a friend, are nearly old enough to bloom this winter. One I shared with my friend Bonnie bloomed this last summer—she has better windows than me.

And that’s the thing about houseplant propagation—it gets out of hand. You share or at least trade with others, or find new homes for plants that get too big for your house.

Garden Media encourages “Pub crawls or plant swaps” and says, “Meet & Greets with plantfluencers allow people to network with their favorite Insta-celebrity or find other plant buddies.” OK, that last statement makes no sense if you aren’t on Instagram. But plant swapping often happens here in Cheyenne at Master Gardener and Prairie Garden Club meetings.

Finding homes for your plant offspring is easier than finding homes for a litter of puppies or kittens because plants only require a little light, water, soil and far less attention. Just make sure the weather is above freezing when you transport them.

It’s up to you if you end up filling your basement with grow lights and orchids, which I’ve seen happen. What a great place to hang out for the winter!

2019-11 Fantasy Orchids-Barb Gorges

Phalaenopsis is an easy type of orchid to grow. These were for sale at Fantasy Orchids in Louisville, Colorado, when I bought my first one. See my column, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/orchid-adventure/.


Language of Flowers for Valentine’s Day

2018-02 Language of Flowers by Barb Gorges (2)

In the Language of Flowers, this arrangement of flower seed packets means Delight (Gaillardia and Columbine), Faithfulness (Echinacea–coneflower), Interest (Rudbeckia–Black-eyed Susan), Virtue (Mint–Bee Balm), Always cheerful (Coreopsis–Tickseed), and Petition–Please give me your answer (Penstemon). The potted fern translates as Sincerity. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Also published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Feb. 4, 2018, and at Wyoming Network News.

Language of Flowers provides many options for Valentine sentiments

By Barb Gorges

With the florists’ largest holiday approaching, I thought we should look at getting floral messages right.

The most well-known floral message is red roses for love. But red roses also make an environmentally unfriendly statement. An article at inhabitat.com, https://inhabitat.com/100-million-roses-for-valentines-day-emit-9000-metric-tons-of-co2/, last year explained that the red rose-growing industry uses a lot of water, energy and an enormous amount of pesticides, and then more energy to get the roses from South America, where most are grown, to the U.S.

Here’s an idea: a bouquet of colorful seed packets—and the promise to help prepare a garden bed or container later when gardening season arrives. You can find seeds at:

High Country Gardens, https://www.highcountrygardens.com/wildflower-seeds;

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, http://www.johnnyseeds.com/perennial-seeds-plants; and

Botanical Interests, of Colorado, https://www.botanicalinterests.com/.

There are hundreds of kinds of flowers that have sentiments attached to them, especially by the Victorians, famous for “The Language of Flowers.” They were very fond of sending each other floral messages and apparently every home had a floral dictionary on the shelf next to the Bible.

Here are my favorite native perennials for Cheyenne and what the Language of Flowers has to say about them. Keep in mind there is often more than a single meaning for each. And yes, they do sound like the sentiments printed on candy hearts, often addressing the early stages of romance.

Columbine – Delight – I enjoy being in your company

Coneflower – Faithfulness – Fear not, I am true

Coreopsis – Always cheerful

Gaillardia – Delight – Being with you gives me great joy

Liatris (Gayfeather) – Joy – Your attention warms my heart

Mint (choose Monarda, beebalm) – Virtue

Penstemon – Petition – Please give me your answer

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan) – Interest – I would like to talk with you more

Yarrow – Everlasting love

Mid-February is the perfect time to plant those seeds using the winter sowing technique. Plant them in semi-covered containers left outdoors. See my previous column about it at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/.

Many of the most romantic sentiments may require a trip to the nursery if you can’t find seeds. Here in Cheyenne you may have to make do with an IOU accompanied by pictures from catalogs until planting season in late May.

The following definitions are from the floral dictionary included in the novel, The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Alyssum – Worth beyond beauty

Cactus (Opuntia) – Ardent love

Cosmos – Joy in love and life

Daylily – Coquetry

Dogwood – Love undiminished by adversity

Goldenrod – Careful encouragement

Lilac – First emotions of love

Morning glory – Coquetry

Nasturtium – Impetuous love

Pansy – Think of me

Peppermint – Warmth of feeling

Phlox – Our souls are united

Pink (Dianthus) – Pure love

Speedwell (Veronica) – Fidelity

Sweet William – Gallantry

If you want to plan for romance next spring, plant some bulbs next fall:

Crocus – Youthful gladness

Daffodil – New beginnings

Hyacinth, blue – Dedication – I shall devote my life to you

Hyacinth, white – Beauty

Jonquil – Desire

Tulip, red – Declaration of love

Vegetables, fruits and herbs can have good messages too, so you may want to include some of those seed packets:

Allium (onion) – Prosperity

Cabbage – Profit

Corn – Riches

Grapevine – Abundance

Oregano – Joy

Parsley – Festivity

Strawberry – Perfection

Wheat – Prosperity

Not all floral definitions express happy thoughts. Thistle, for example, means “Misanthropy” in one dictionary. Not surprisingly, bindweed and burdock translate as “Persistence” – most of us work hard trying to eradicate them.

But if you don’t like one definition, look for another. Peony means “Anger” in one book and “Contrition – Forgive my thoughtlessness” in another. In a third collection, peony stands for “Happy life, happy marriage.” Maybe the last two definitions are related after all.

The houseplant option recommends itself over cut roses that droop within a week, if you want something that will remind your true love of you for awhile (providing they have the palest of green thumbs):

Ivy – Fidelity

Orchid – Luxury – I shall make your life a sweet one

Maybe roses are still your best bet. Think about planting a bush that will last a long time. Rose growers in Cheyenne look to High Country Roses, http://www.highcountryroses.com/, in Colorado for hardy varieties. Each color has a meaning:

Burgundy – Unconscious beauty

Orange – Fascination

Pale peach – Modesty

Pink – Grace

Purple – Enchantment

Red – Love

White – A heart unacquainted with love

Yellow – Infidelity

Yikes! I like the old yellow climbing roses. Guess I better find a different dictionary.

Obviously, the recipient of your floral expression might be oblivious to or not speak the same floral language you do. Be sure to provide the definition you intend your flowers to speak.


Orchid adventure

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-Phalaenopsis1-by Barb Gorges

Phalaenopsis orchids were in bloom at the Fantasy Orchids greenhouse in Louisville, Colo., in early December. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  • Denver Orchid Society show and sale, March 14, 2016, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and March 15, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at Tagawa Garden Center, 7711 S. Parker Rd., Centennial, Colo., http://denverorchidsociety.org
  • Fantasy Orchids, www.fantasyorchids.com, 830 W. Cherry St., Louisville, Colo.

Published Jan. 17, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “The wide world of orchids.”

By Barb Gorges

There is nothing in the middle of winter quite like the feel of Hawaiian humidity–that gentle touch on the cheek. And there’s a bit of it close by, in Louisville, Colorado, at Fantasy Orchids.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-greenhouse center-by Barb Gorges.JPG            A look at the outside of the greenhouse, set between a residential neighborhood and a shopping mall, doesn’t prepare you for the view inside from the doorway. Beyond the doors is a vast expanse–10,000 square feet–of nothing but 30,000 to 50,000 orchids, accompanied by Hawaiian music.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids gardener Hannah Leigh Myers with prize-winning orchid-courtesy

Hannah Leigh Myers provided this photo of her and her prize-winning orchid.

Upon entry, I was lucky to find gardener Hannah Leigh Myers working, and willing to be my guide, teaching me about growing orchids at home.

Orchids can be an obsession. Myers brought home her first one five years ago and now has 50. Seeing all the new varieties coming in the greenhouse must make them hard to resist. She still has that first plant though. It won a blue ribbon at a recent Denver Orchid Society show.

No one is going to be able to collect all the orchids—there are 27,000 species. That doesn’t include the brisk orchid hybridization industry has produced 100,000 varieties.

Some people run out of room and build additions to their houses. Other people board their non-blooming orchids at Fantasy Orchids, waiting for a call to pick them up when they are in bloom again. They can also board them while away on vacation.

Orchid collectors can be another breed altogether. Susan Orlean’s book, “The Orchid Thief,” touches on the stories of murder and mayhem committed in the historical pursuit of rare orchids. Collecting them in the wild has since been banned by the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Cheyenne’s most notable orchid grower was the late Judge Clarence Brimmer. You can see some of his orchids at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens greenhouse.

The orchids Myers showed me are propagated by cloning in flasks. Once out of the flask, an orchid can take 3 to 5 years to bloom. Fantasy Orchids general manager Kent Gordon visits Hawaii and selects varieties that will appeal to his customers, and provide a succession of blooms throughout the year.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-greenhouse-by Barb Gorges

This is a view of less than half of Fantasy Orchid’s greenhouse, where young orchids may take a few years to grow to flowering age. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The day I visited, the center isle was overhung with gorgeous colors, but the majority of the plants were green, just busy growing. The bigger they get, the more valuable they are. You won’t find any tossed out because they are finished blooming.

It was tough choosing just one orchid. I liked the Cattleyas, the classic corsage orchids that can fill the house with perfume. They can bloom several times a year. There was Sharry Baby, an Oncidium with a scent of chocolate. Whole tables were filled with Dendrobium species and hybrids.

 

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-slipper orchid-by Barb Gorges

One kind of slipper orchid may bloom only once every seven years. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Myers brought out a slipper orchid, with its big pouch, related to some of the 27 native, terrestrial (grows in soil) orchids in Wyoming. Some slippers bloom once every seven years.

The butterfly orchids were intriguing as well, but only one fantastical flower opens at a time.

I decided on Phalaenopsis, one of the moth orchids. They are most forgiving, most likely to find my not so bright house favorable. They can be expected to bloom for months at a time.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-Phalaenopsis2-by Barb Gorges

Phalaenopsis orchids, the “moth” orchids, are recommended for beginners. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Dendrobium orchids have different “faces.” Photos above by Barb Gorges.

            Most orchids in the trade are tropical epiphytes. They need no soil, usually growing on trees in their native habitat. Several fine specimens were growing on a tree in the middle of the greenhouse including a 20-year-old Vanda that has bloomed five times this year with giant flowers, a Volcano Trick with a large spray of small orange and red flowers blooming seasonally and a particular Dendrobium that has been blooming continuously for nine years. Myers assured me they are all fine in our homes, even in our dry climate.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-Volcano Trick orchid-by Barb Gorges

“Volcano Trick” grows on a tree in the Fantasy Orchids greenhouse, just the way epiphytic orchids would in the tropics. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to take care of an orchid

My new orchid came, as many at Fantasy Orchids do, in a clear plastic pot, with the merest hint of a bottom, filled with a mix of fir bark, horticultural charcoal and sponge rock, mainly meant to support the plant and retain a little moisture, rather than nourish it. The thick aerial roots often climb outside pots and are even photosynthetic.

But when watering it, I need to imitate a tropical rain shower. I’ll know when to water, maybe in 5 to 7 days or 2 weeks, when the roots turn whitish or the pot feels much lighter.

One expert suggests watering in the morning so water accidentally sitting in a leaf axil has more time to evaporate in warmer daytime temperatures, than at night, when it might cause rotting.

Myers said to set the orchid in the sink and let lukewarm water run over the roots for 1 to 2 minutes. When the roots turn green it means they have opened their pores. Once the roots are open, I can treat them with the recommended general fertilizer solution as directed.

Fantasy Orchids sells its own fertilizer concoctions and since they are what they use, I picked up some. They’ll also be suitable for some of my other flowering plants.

I also picked out a ceramic orchid pot. The special design is full of holes, so roots can breathe, but Myers said to just put the clear pot inside it. At least the ceramic pot is heavy enough to keep the plant from toppling over. It will be awhile before it needs repotting as orchids need to be somewhat root-bound.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-wood mounted-by Barb Gorges

Epiphytic orchids can be grown on slabs of wood. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Alternately, you can mount your orchid on a slab of wood, though that seems messy—especially for watering.

The flowering stems of orchids mainly want to hang down, as they would from trees. But if my orchid is in a pot, I want to see the little flower faces. Orchids have bilateral symmetry, just like human faces. So to lift them, orchid flower stems are staked. Little clips hold them to simple wooden bamboo sticks dyed green to blend in.

Different kinds of orchids have different light needs at different times in their growing cycle. Phalaenopsis flowers have been known to last 6 to 9 months if night temperatures are 50-60 degrees and they are kept away from heat vents, cold drafts and rapid temperature changes. They need only indirect light.

When flowering is finished, I will move my plant to a brighter spot. For Phalaenopsis, the preferred exposure is within 2 feet of an east-facing or southeast facing window, or shaded in a south or west window. If the plant won’t re-flower, it probably needs more light, or fertilizer. I might have to augment natural with fluorescent light. Also, a 10-20 degree temperature difference between day and night is necessary next fall to encourage re-blooming.

Fantasy Orchids offers repotting services and, surprisingly, a trade-in promotion that includes plants bought at the grocery store. It’s a way to introduce you to the wider world of orchids. And give you the confidence you need to grow your own.

“There’s something really wonderful about tropical flowers when there’s snow outside,” said Myers. “And orchids can out-live us. They get better and better.”

Cattleyas are the orchids for classic corsages, and they smell nice, but they also make good house plants. Fantasy Orchids carries a number of varieties. Photos below by Barb Gorges.