Like many apartments mine boasts poorly insulated windows and baseboard electric heating. Yep, it’s a keeper. With the weather being in the high My Ass is About to Fall Offs I’ve been scheming ingenious ways to keep the plants that are stuck enduring their fate on the cold windowsill warm and alive through these dark days.
With a little extra time and some spare wool on hand I recently crocheted some handy warmers that seem to be making a difference. The first is a cozy coaster that was ridiculously easy for a novice crocheter like me to cobble together. All I did was make your standard crocheted circle — there are lots of books and websites that show how this is done (see list below). However, for those with some basic crochet skills all it takes is to make a small circle by slip stitching a couple of chains, and then double crocheting into that circle on every round, inserting some extra double crochets here and there to keep the coaster sitting flat.
Keep crocheting new rounds until your circle is as large as your pot’s saucer. You can make it a little larger so some of the design peeks over the edges or you can fancy it up with decorative edging like I did. Being the Queen of Scallops I went for the shell stitch which is as simple as double crocheting 3 to 5 times into a stitch until you’ve got a fan shape. Attach each fan (or scallop) to the coaster with a slip stitch and then begin double crocheting into the next stitch. You can spread them out a little bit or keep them tight like I have to make them puff out and curl. Just be sure to set a saucer underneath your plant pot to avoid turning your coaster into a wet and stinky mess.
I’ll post about the other project in a few days so stayed tuned.
You know you’re suffering some major mid-winter gardening itch when you set out to spend a few minutes on a sunny Sunday morning bathing orchids and watering African violets… and then the next thing you know 4 HOURS have passed!! In a joyful haze you have repotted several plants, taken cuttings, showered tropicals, preened away dead leaves, moved plants around, and other basic acts of greenery groping.
It will have to do for now.
Loads of gardening articles and books proclaim that it is easy to grow herbs indoors however it is my experience, and I bet it’s yours too, that most herbs are fine during the summer months but many take a real beating towards the last half of winter. The conditions inside a typical apartment or house during the winter months are just not very conducive to picky plants. If you’re like me you’re probably doing most of your indoor gardening around south-facing windows that are cold and drafty above with the occasional blast of mega-hot and dry baseboard heating from below. Trying to keep finicky sweet basils and rosemary alive between these two extremes is too much for my self-esteem and my sanity so I’ve opted to accept that the tricker herbs are out until spring and have spent the last few years seeking out and experimenting with herbs that can hack these bipolar conditions.
I was given a cutting of Broadleaf thyme (Coleus amboinicus) last summer with the promise that it would root easily and grow like crazy. It has delivered and more! Broadleaf thyme is an unbelievably fragrant, low-growing herb with succulent, broad leaves and a soft, velvety texture. It goes under several names (more on that below) including Cuban oregano, Spanish oregano, and Indian borage but is unlike any thyme or oregano plant (or borage for that matter) you have ever seen. The plant is a tropical perennial and will not survive a cold winter outdoors, but taking a cutting or two to grow in a pot is as easy as snipping off a chunk with a pair of scissors and popping it into some water or moist soil. I offered mine nothing but neglect in the beginning, forgetting about it amidst a boatload of other gardening duties and it STILL grew and flourished. This plant is definitely a trooper!
Grow It: I have found that mine seems to do well in the sunniest spot available. The leaves are still a tad too pale which indicates that it can withstand more direct light. I’ve been growing mine in a standard tropical potting soil with a bit of sand thrown in for extra drainage and a touch of vermicompost at potting time for added nutrition. Like most herbs I add water only when the soil is just dry. Reduced winter light might cause the plant to grow leggy (tall and unhealthy) so be sure to pinch back the top set of leaves (you can use your fingers) every once and while to encourage a bushier growth. Unlike many herbs it will not go dormant so you can keep harvesting the leaves all year long.
Using: Broadleaf thyme has an exceptionally pungent flavor and smell. It is most commonly chopped up fresh and added to black beans or served with fish dishes and curries. I have also heard that it is commonly used in Jamaican jerk seasonings and salt cod. It is used to flavor beer and wine in India and some people put its antibacterial and fungicidal actions to work as a medicinal tea. I tried it this way and didn’t mind it although I found the boiling water brought out the stronger thyme flavor and reduced that hard-to-place fragrant smell that is so strong when you rub the leaves.
The Name Game: Here we go for another round of Name That Plant. I always try and check as many references as possible and cross-check for mistakes so I can give you the correct name but this one is going to take additional research. As mentioned above this plant is not short on common names and is regularly listed under two different Latin names, Coleus amboinicus and Plectranthus amboinicus. Some citations suggest that Coleus amboinicus is the old name, with all names, both Latin and common being interchangeable for the same plant. Others state that Coleus amboinicus is the Latin for broadleaf thyme which has larger leaves and that Plectranthus amboinicus is the Latin for Cuban oregano which has smaller leaves. I honestly can’t find any definitive answers and have decided to offer both options here. I personally lean towards the second option.
A constant stream of questions comes flooding through my inbox on a regular basis. I try and answer as many as I can but it’s quite an arduous task. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe I should start answering these questions publicly where everyone can benefit from the information or add their own thoughts and experiences to the mix. Please forgive me. I can be a little slow at times. This first question comes from an advice column I began writing last year for the now defunct and sorely lost Budget Living Magazine.
Question: I get orchids as gifts all the time but promptly kill them? How do I care for them?
Orchids have cultivated a reputation as difficult, but your plants are probably Phalaenopsis or moth orchids, a trendy gift-store variety that are surprisingly living room friendly.
The secret to indoor gardening is all about approximating a plant’s natural habitat in your home. Moth orchids are tree-dwelling jungle plants native to tropical regions where the air is steamy and warm. Setting up a tree in your living room is not necessary!
Grow It: Your plant will be comfortable away from direct light in a room with a steady temperature around 70º F. If you are comfortable so is your orchid. Grow your plant in a terra cotta pot with holes in the bottom and specially prepared orchid bark for good drainage. Give it a weekly 30 second dunk, pot and all, in a lukewarm bath. Allow the top of the soil to dry out between baths to avoid over-watering. Orchids thrive on lots of humidity. A simple humidity tray will do the job of fancy gadgetry. Line a leak-proof tray with an inch of aquarium gravel or river stones. Add water to just below the surface of the rocks and set the orchid pot on top without pushing the pot into the rocks. Constant “wet feet” can rot the roots — the trick is to provide a warm sauna rather than a long soak.
Go Further: Moth orchids are unique in that they can rebloom on the same spike. Most other orchids bloom only once per year. To encourage another round, cut dead flowers off just before the next joint on the stem. You should see new buds in 8-12 weeks. Once the flowers have gone, cut the entire stem off close to the plant base. Your plant will flower again before next spring. Enjoy!
For More Information
1. Wilma & Brian Tittershausen. Gardener’s Guide to Growing Orchids: A Complete Guide to Cultivation and Care, London: Anness Publishing Limited, 2001.
2. Orchid Lady
Living room gardeners needn’t be limited to corner-store variety orchids. Paphiopedilum, aka ‘slipper’ orchids (not to be confused with the cold hardy North American Lady’s Slipper) are an exotic tropical that produce a stunning, solo blossom sometime between late fall and spring. Each bloom lasts as long as 2-3 months and many varieties have dramatic, mottled foliage providing interest in between blooms.
Grow It: In the wild, Paphiopedilums (Paphs for short) grow underneath trees where they received indirect, filtered light, making them the perfect match for those of us cursed with small windowed apartments. Look for yellowing leaves as a sign of too much light. Repot your paph every two years with light and airy orchid bark. Give your plant a quick soak, pot and all, in room-temperature water. The bark mix should never dry out but should not be constantly soggy either. Choose a hardy hybrid variety like ‘Maudiae’, or ‘Gold Dollar’.
Check out The Orchid Mall to find a local vendor or The American Orchid Society for more information.
See more photos of my favourite paph: Paphiopedilum Maudiae ‘Claire de Lune’ x Minnie May – How’s that for a race horse name!