Feb 25, 2012

THE TROPICAL GARDEN ...... in New York

It is February, unseasonably warm and scarily so. The cats in the garden are glad about it. Some annuals and other plants not usually hardy to this zone may survive the winter (along with plant pests, which is not a good thing). I should not complain since I generally do not like temperatures under 60 degrees unless I am outside doing fun winter activities with the boys, but this year I really miss the snow. It can transform a dreary day in the city into a magical arena, obscuring and highlighting structures,  create breath-taking monochromatic vistas and mesmerize us as it falls. I do not miss the icy sidewalks and melted snow that form deceptive pools around the intersections. But c'mon! This is February. Where is da snow?

I momentarily shrug off thoughts of global warming and make trips to the conservatory at the New York Botanical Gardens. There I am allowed to bask in the warmth of the tropical environments, worry-free. Those rooms with fluctuating temperatures, filled with lush foliage and exotic flowers are reminders that spring and summer would be far less special if we did not experience the cold and shorter days of winter, or look forward to cooler days when August heat is almost unbearable. Just as plants, insects and animals in North America need a certain temperature range to proliferate, so do tropical flora and fauna for their existence. It is the extremes and all that lie between that create the abundance of diversity that we enjoy today. Any sudden or gradual climate changes can be devastating to the balance necessary for survival of some species of animals and plants that depend on each other. May we continue to have access to the incredible variety and beauty that the earth has bestowed on us and increase our desire and awareness of the need to preserve our beautiful planet. These are photos  were taken at the conservatory. Let us hope that all these plants continue to flourish in their natural habitats around the world for eons to come and not only in controlled environments, like in New York, in February. Enjoy!

Feb 13, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day (Naturally)!

Orchids, Again and Again


My moth orchid is blooming. This is the second year in a row that it has re-flowered since my boys gave it as a present at the opening for a painting exhibit on November 2009. I sometimes wonder if plants flourish better or we care for them better if they carry sentimental value. It is wonderful to have this beautiful plant flower and,  as I say to my boys, it is blooming because it is happy.

Success at getting orchids to re-flower has not been great in the past. I finally threw out a speckled, chocolate-scented Oncidium Sharry Baby that I picked up a few years ago after the annual Orchid Show at NYBG; a light green Dendrobium that I found on a hillside in Maui and a large white Phalaenopsis orchid, all after years of waiting and hoping to get a single re-bloom. When I first got that lost Phalaenopsis it was a lovely specimen with three huge, healthy stems and multiple blossoms that lasted several months. Back then I thought that the sturdy plant would be with me forever. It sat on a north-facing windowsill nestled between my ten year-old Hoya bella and the coral-flowered Christmas cactus that my mom gave me many years ago. The large, plump green leaves gave me hope that a new flower stem would appear any day. I waited and waited and finally gave it away just days before I took a tropical plant class that provided instruction on orchid care. Ugh!

I've learned a bit about Phalaenopsis over the years. Houseplants do well if the environments created in the home replicates those of the environments where they are found growing naturally. Ideally, Phalaenopsis like warm days and cooler nights with bright to moderate indirect light and some air circulation. Re-blooming requires a daily drop in temperature of about 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit which coincides with fall temperatures. Winter months can be detrimental to houseplants not only because of the shorter days but because of the heat, dry air and lack of circulation that go with indoor heating and closed windows. The air in my apartment is dry in winter and I tend to lower the heat at bedtime and bump it up upon waking. Just as skin, hair and nostrils dry out during winter, houseplants suffer from decreased humidity. My plants sit on a tray lined with moist rocks to increase the much needed humidity, especially during the winter months.

                                      Phalaenopsis at the Enid Haupt Conservatory at NYBG

Home depot regularly stocks Phalaenopsis orchids in a variety of colors and at reasonable prices. Inspect and select the healthiest looking plants with firm leaves and multiple buds. Be fearless. Buy one or two to add drama and elegance to your home or office. Water sparingly during bloom time. When the last flower is spent, place in a sunny windowsill and water when potting mix is dry.  Fertilize at half-strength every two weeks as summer comes to an end. Re-pot plants every two years with a mixture of bark, charcoal and peat moss. Phalaenopsis are epiphytic plants which means they require little nourishment from the soil. Their roots are used to trap moisture from the air and act as anchors to hold them in place in natural habitats of forest floors and tree trunks. Wet peat moss can also be used to top dress pots, increasing humidity. This may also regulate overall moisture levels. Orchids should never have consistently wet roots. Where possible regulate temperature to accommodate cooler nights and use a fan in lieu of open windows. Temperature drops below 55 degrees Fahrenheit can cause buds to drop so beware of drafts. Be patient. Look for signs of a new flower stalk emerging a few weeks into fall or winter.  In winter or spring all your hard work and waiting will be rewarded with strikingly beautiful and exotic flowers for months to come like mine, nestled between my Hoya bella and the coral-flowered Christmas cactus that my mom gave me many years ago.


Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy. The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze ...