Friday, November 04, 2005

Tradescantia spathacea - a perfect houseplant for people with black thumbs

For an uncommon houseplant, T. spathacea has a lot of common names: oysterplant, boatlily, Moses-in-a-basket, Moses-in-a-boat, Moses-in-a cradle (sheesh - shouldn't Charlton Heston be around here somewhere? :-) ) I rarely see it for sale here in the Northwest, but I've seen it online occasionally.

I'm surprised it isn't sold more, because it's a great houseplant. It grows quickly with no pampering and offers both interesting flowers and beautiful leaves with rich purple undersides. It's a great houseplant for black thumbs, because it's very tolerant of abuse and benign neglect. It prefers medium to high light and moist soil, but it tolerates lower light and dryness well. It's also a great office plant. Mine thrives about 4 feet from a south-facing window here in cloudy Portland and looks none the worse for wear when I return from a week's vacation. A colleague of mine grows one with no natural light at all, only fluorescent light from ceiling fixtures about 7 feet away. It doesn't grow very fast or bloom, and it doesn't have the rich purple color under the leaves, but it looks OK and has survived these conditions for several years.

Propagation is easy. Stem cuttings root quickly in water or moist soil and soon grow into healthy-sized plants. The plants also produce lots of seeds, but I haven't tried starting any that way.

T. spathacea is hardy to zone 9. But if you live in zone 9 or above, please note that it is considered invasive in Florida and Louisiana, so you may want to keep it where it can't naturalize. For more information on T. spathacea, see

On a personal note, I got my first T. spathacea as a stem cutting from a friend; I brought it back to Portland from Georgia in my carry-on bag. My friend died several years ago of breast cancer, making my plant is a living memento of our friendship.

Posted by Janet to Rainy Day Gardening - Houseplants and Tropicals at 11/03/2005 07:44:00 PM

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Book Review: A Handbook of Community Gardening

Naimark, Susan (ed.). A Handbook of Community Gardening By Boston Community Gardeners. New York: Scribner's, 1982.

The Handbook of Community Gardening by Boston Urban Gardeners is a collection of chapters and essays on various aspects of community gardening. It contains 5 parts:
  • An Introduction to Community Gardening - covers what a community garden is and the history of community gardening
  • From Idea to Reality - how to organize a community garden and find the resources you need
  • Site Selection and Development - finding land, laying out the garden, soil, compost, water, fencing, and landscape planning
  • Tending the Garden - plants, maintenance, dealing with vandalism, and more
  • Beyond the Garden: Developing Local Food Systems - alternatives to owning land, farmers' markets, food co-ops, permaculture, and more
It also includes some great tables: Cost Estimates for a Community Garden (actual costs are out of date, but it's a great list of what you need to budget for), Recycling Resources (what kinds of recycled resources you can use and where to get them), Sources of Funding for Community Gardens, Guidelines for Proposal Writing, Common Natural Fertilizers (with nutrient content), and The Fifteen Most Nutritious Vegetables You Can Grow.

I'm preparing to organize my first community garden, and I found this book really helpful. It includes great practical information on issues to consider and steps to take, as well as some of the philosophy behind community gardening.

The book appears to be out of print. Try your library, or follow the link below to purchase a used copy from Amazon.

Posted by Janet to Rainy Day Gardening - Books at 10/26/2005 09:01:00 PM

Monday, October 17, 2005

My Greenhouse

In June I bought my first-ever greenhouse, which I got for super-cheap from a nursery that went out of business. It's 8x16', plastic with wood on the lower sides. It seemed huge when I first got it, but now it's full to bursting. Another nursery that's going out of business is selling tender perennials for $.10, and I bought way too many. I've decided to see which ones can be wintered over; .10 each is cheap enough to take some risks to further my horticultural education :-)

I plan to keep the greenhouse at a minimum of 45F, which shouldn't be too difficult given that Portland winters are usually mild.

I'll post updates from time to time. In the meantime, here's a partial list of what's in there:
Tender perennials - petunias, salvia, verbena, gazania, impatiens, coleus, and a few others usually sold as annuals
Citrus - several types of lemons, oranges, and limes
Elephant ears (taro)
Thunbergia (Black-Eyed Susan vine)

I have a wireless thermometer that records maximum and minimum temperatures each day. So far it averages 40-50 at night and 60-70 during the day. Outside temperatures at night are usually about 5 degrees lower than the temperature in the greenhouse. I haven't gotten a heater yet, but I plan to this weekend. Portland's average frost date is Oct. 15, so I'm on borrowed time.

I'd love to hear from other greenhouse gardeners in the Northwest.

Posted by Janet to Rainy Day Gardening - Greenhouse at 10/17/2005 08:11:00 PM

Cobaea scandens (a/k/a Cup and Saucer Vine or Cathedral Bells)

After seeing pictures of Cobaea scandens online last year, I decided I had to have one. I bought a second-year plant at a local farmers market and planted it this June. It grew amazingly fast once the weather finally warmed up in July, but it didn't bloom until mid-to-late September. Now, though, it's beautiful, just in time for frost season. The person I bought it from told me it's hardy to 26F, so I plan to mulch it heavily with straw and hope for the best. I've been trying to take cuttings from it as a bit of insurance, but so far I can't get any of them to root in either water or potting soil. If anyone knows how to root cuttings from this plant, please let me know.

This picture was taken this morning.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Welcome to Rainy Day Gardening!

In this very first post, I'll try to answer the who, what, where, and why questions, so you can decide if Rainy Day Gardening is for you.

Who and Where
My name is Janet, and I'm a plantaholic... oh, wait--wrong forum. But we'll start there. I've been gardening since I was a small child, helping my mother plant vegetables in Northern California. But I never really pursued gardening as a hobby until a few years ago, when I moved with my family to Portland, Oregon, and bought a big corner lot with a house, a creek, and not much else. Most of the landscaping was washed away in the floods of 1996, leaving me with a blank and very muddy slate. Time to take up gardening in earnest! My yard is still a mess (though no longer a blank slate), because I've made many mistakes along the way. In the last couple of years I've done more reading, which is considerably cheaper than my previous approach--buy lots of plants and wonder why they die. I feel like I'm finally making progress, and I'd like to share what I've learned.

What and Why
So, what will Rainy Day Gardening be? Why call it that? And why a blog?

I'm not just a plantaholic--I'm also a librarian. As a librarian, I'm trained to organize and share information so others can benefit. That's one purpose of Rainy Day Gardening. I do lots of reading and online research on gardening stuff, and the information I gather just sits on my laptop, helping no one but me. It's time to share the fruits of my labor (bad pun) with other gardeners. Eventually I hope this blog will become an online community of gardeners, a place where we can learn from each other's mistakes and become more informed about this wonderful hobby/lifestyle/irrational obsession.

Why Rainy Day Gardening? The obvious answer is that I live in the Maritime Northwest, where it rains a lot. Because I don't especially like to get wet (a side effect of growing up in California), I often indulge my passion for plants on rainy days by reading, researching, and surfing gardening sites. Maintaining this blog will join my list of rainy day gardening activities and, hopefully, reading it can become a rainy day activity for other gardeners.

And finally, why a blog? 1) Easy setup. I know basic HTML, but I have little time to spend doing web design. 2) Blogs can become communities, without a lot of programming to enable posts and comments.

That's it for now. If you found your way here, would you please post a comment and say hi? I love hearing from other gardeners. Thanks for reading.