"On Houseplants" banner

One of the things one learns in retirement is that with a little more time now what was perceived as a lack of skill can get a dose of improvement. That’s how we feel about houseplants.  Over the years we’ve had a fair number of those silk fake plants around the house, testament to the reluctance we have toward killing living flora.

But with a repurposing of our exercise room (removal of our counter-current Endless Pool) we found a lot of free space and 14 windows of light coming in on three sides plus 2 roof windows--a nice environment for the real deal in plants.  Every home environment is different and we are very far from expert, but our experiences to date have been largely positive.

Exercise Room, looking north
Exercise Room, looking north

Our longest wall of 8 windows faces more or less east, so a morning sun area. The shorter south wall is shaded by some trees and that mutes any hard sunlight.  These are pretty good conditions for plants whose home towns are on the floors of pretty dense jungles, seems to us. In recognizing this, Sara had to turn loose of a few yens, for things like those miniature lemon trees that say they’re easy to grow, but aren’t, except in full sun.

But it takes more than light for successful plant tending. Experts say most houseplants die from being watered too much.  To help we got an inexpensive moisture meter that one sticks down into the dirt and gets a look at moisture.  We find that very helpful.    Watering that runs out of the bottom of the pot is another clue: duh.  So again Sara had to turn loose of the liking those cache-pots that are just one big container, with no outside saucer to show when there’s too much water.  

Just to be on safe side, our plants to date have been the common, pretty tough ones that have been around a long time.  Some examples: We have two spider plants in the east window. A lot of people hang these up, but our exercise room has a high ceiling, and falling off ladders isn’t part of our retirement planning. So we potted them in big ceramic pots and put the pots into ceramic bird baths that Sara found for sale at the grocery store. So each has its own sort of pedestal to flow out of with all those offspring. 

Spider plants along east window
Spider plants along east windows

Sara had a large split leaf philodendron when we got married, so it is over 30 and still going strong. It is away from the windows in an area with good light but almost no sun.  It sits in a mass with an arboricola, a variety of Schefflera, and a small fig tree we’ve had for many years.  That tree has been through a lot of neglect and mistreatment and is still doing well, although with a somewhat mangled shape. The mass of these three looks good to us.

Philodendron Etc
View of Exercise Room looking north, with philodendron/arboricola/fig tree mass

We have a peace lily also away from the windows on a table under the tv set we watch during exercising. It needs more water than most, but signals that pretty clearly and we appreciate that.  A small Christmas cactus is on a table near the south window. It seems to like it there.  When things seem to like it a given place we don’t mess with them in terms of placement. But we've still got to get going and do a cactus re-pot, since the current one is pretty ratty.

Peace Lily photo
Exercise Room peace lily.

Photo of cactus
cactus: basically happy, but needing a re-pot

In the Great Room we have another Christmas cactus and a begonia that we’ve had for years. Both flower there in front of the room's northwest corner windows, so again, we don’t mess with success.  We have also stuck a toe into the waters of the exotic. Sara brings home orchid plants from Sam’s Club. (There's a story connected with this. January 2013 was our 28th wedding anniversary, and we got to wondering what was the appropriate anniversary gift. Our best guesses - nothing, or string. Turned out that the modern 28th year gift is orchids. The next day, as Sara was heading for the Sam's Club paper towels section, she walked right by a display of $10.99 orchid plants. Deciding it was worth a $10+ flyer, she bought one. And has been buying them ever since.)

Photo of Great Room plants
Great Room plants: peace lily and begonia in corner, orchid on coffee table

Apparently someone has discovered a pretty tough variant and has idiot-proofed these things with instructions to water with 3 ice cubes per week.   Ours come in two forms.  One is those that are in bloom, which numbers one at a time. The others are formerly blooming orchids which we cut back and continue to water.  So far only a very few re-blooms but the leaves add an interesting texture to the mix in our exercise room.  Who knows? Maybe one of these months one of them will burst into full re-bloom. The bloomers stay nice for a month or more, which is pretty low rent at $10 to $15 each.

Discovering that one can have success with houseplants might not be in there with finding an untapped verve for writing poetry or doing plein air painting.  The point, though, for us is that with the free time of retirement any little shred of new self -discovery is a positive thing.