Being the Grumpy Gardener is no cakewalk, believe me. In my never-ending quest to keep YOU on the forefront of gardening’s newest trends, I must often leave behind my family and travel to distant lands where the skies are never gray and the air is never cold — for DAYS at a time. This past week’s epic voyage to the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area in an exotic country called south Florida was yet another prime example of self-deprivation for the sake of my loyal readers.
Grumpy’s mission to Florida was two-fold — to attend the Tropical Foliage Plant Industry Exposition (TPIE), the country’s finest show of tropical plants in order to discover great new plants for the insides of your home; and to visit the recently expanded trial gardens at Costa Farms to get a sneak-peek at the best new annual and perennial flowers for the outside of your home.
But before I could do any of that, I was forced to endure yet another hardship — hobnobbing with the movers and shakers of the tropical plant world at the Costa family home in Miami. Not only was I served mass quantities of very delicious food and a bottomless glass of expertly-made mojitos, but I was treated to the musical stylings of Costa Farms’ version of Gloria Estefan — the lovely and talented Marta Maria Garcia.
On With the Show
There is nothing timid about TPIE. Everything is bright, everything is gaudy. For example, how do you feel about these new orchids?
Now, sure, blue and purple moth orchids aren’t natural, but neither is lipstick, mascara, eye liner, blush, concealer, and glitter, and I don’t see women giving up THOSE any time soon. (Not that Grumpy’s complaining, you understand. He appreciates perfection.) In case you wonder how they do it, growers inject blue or purple dye into the roots of white orchids and the flowers absorb the pigment. Hmmm…..maybe that’s how the blue cat people on Avatar got that way.
New Indoor Plants to Look For
The first indoor plant to catch Grumpy’s jaundiced eye was a new miniature poinsettia hybrid that Costa will be test-marketing to select markets for Valentine’s Day sales this February. It’s only 8-10 inches tall and the profuse, deep-pink bracts nearly hide the foliage. I hope the test goes well, because I think it would make a great gift plant.
Easy-care houseplants are big with Grumpy, so I was excited to see the fantastic work that’s being done with Aglaonema. Yeah, yeah, I know. Aglaonema sounds like a painful medical condition involving boils. (“How is your Aglaonema this morning, dear?”)
But you’re probably already familiar with one species, Chinese evergreen (A. modestum). Chinese evergreen is one of the easiest of all houseplants, because it takes low light and doesn’t need much water. People buy it because of its silvery, mottled leaves, but comparing it to the new Aglaonemas coming out is like comparing a neon sign in Vegas with your neighbor’s yellow porch light. Here’s a new one simply called ‘Red.’
Costa simply must come up with a better name than ‘Red.’ I suggest ‘Caliente.’ (Yes, I’m multi-lingual.) It’s just as easy to grow as Chinese evergreen. And there are more new ones in the pipeline.
A third class of indoor plants I’d like you to consider for 2012 are succulents. Succulents include such plants as aloe, agave, cacti, hens & chicks, sedum, kalanchoe, and Jade plant. These plants require very little water or humidity, because they store water in their leaves and stems. All they really need is good, well-drained potting soil and bright light.
Many succulents grow slowly indoors, so they won’t quickly outgrow their space. For this reason, mixtures of succulents plants in a shallow dish container about 12 inches wide are becoming quite popular. But those masters of marketing at Costa Farms came up with a great idea — a single succulent in a small ceramic pot with a plastic handle attached (above), so you can carry it home without touching any spines it might have. What a great gift item.
Many younger gardeners think that growing African violets is kind of like putting on a Perry Como record — it marks you as an old fogey (not because of Perry Como — because you’re using a “record”).
But as Reinhold Holtkamp of Optimara, the world’s largest grower of African violets, told me, the plants they have today are not your Grandma’s violets. In addition to featuring a dazzling array of colors and sizes (like the miniature violets you see here), African violets no longer need a nap between blooming cycles. Given the right growing conditions (bright, indirect light being one), they pretty much bloom nonstop.
Miniature seemed to be the “in thing” at the show with growers displaying smaller versions of familiar indoor plants that need less space in the home and are also cheaper to buy. Like these here orchids:
Grumpy think these look pretty cool. Give me half a dozen.
Next Time — New Outdoor Plants on the Horizon
The new trial gardens at Costa Farm covers about two acres and tests flowers from the growers all over the world. See what flowers got Grumpy so excited he spilled his cup of Ovaltine.