I’ve recently been dipping my toe into orhids. My first purchase looked like this when I bought it.

Well, strictly speaking not: It was flowering very nicely, but the flowers are gone now. But it did come in this undrained planter, which is not ideal.

It took me a while to get around to repotting it, but very amusingly, what I found when disassembling the planter today was this:

Each orchid stood in a transparent pot entirely fit for purpose, in the sort of bark cuttings recommended by experts. No actual repotting was necessary.

I recently got a second orchid which is currently flowering.

Again bought at the supermarket, so nothing special… but I do like the flowers very much. It’s presently quarantined for a while from the conservatory, as I don’t want to drag aphids and spider mites in if I can possibly avoid it.

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Codiaeum variegatum IV

It’ll be clear from several previous posts that I’m a great fan of Codiaeum variegatum.  I’ve got seven or eight in the conservatory, all of them different cultivars.  New leaves are a fresh shade of green, but they invariably become colourful — red and yellow — with a dark green, or even black, background as they mature.  

This little fellow isn’t actually in the conservatory, but inside the house on a windowsill.  I kept it in the conservatory last winter, but it was too cold for it and it nearly died.

I grew this plant myself from a cutting I obtained two years ago.  The mother plant was a big, bushy thing kept in a proper tropical greenhouse at 32 degrees, so it’s perhaps not surprising that my plant got unhappy at the puny 12 degrees our conservatory can muster during the winter. 

I’m rather fond of this plant, having grown it from scratch, so you can imagine my horror when it was attacked by spider mites in November.  The little rascals can destroy a plant in hours, and even with swift action it’s all too easy to lose he battle.  

However, on this occasion I did manage to halt the attack.  The plant still dropped a number of leaves and looked generally droopy, but wasn’t evidently about to die.  But the top of the stem, where new leaves appear on a Codiaeum, had withered, and a while ago I decided to cut it off. 

That was a month ago, and what you see here is what’s happened since then: There are two new shoots with four new leaves!  I’m overjoyed at this happy outcome for the plant which appears reinvigorated and ready for its spring growth spurt. 

Talking of spring, here’s another sign it’s already underway. 

The Musa basjoo took a break during the winter, but normal service has now resumed and what you see at the top is this year’s first new leaf.  Looking at the photo, I can suddenly see how much larger this specimen is than when we bought it two years ago.  It’s astonishing how fast it all grows; I wish I had more space!

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Fatsia japonica variegata

We bought our Fatsia japonica variegata in August 2012 when it looked like this. 

New growth appears at the top, and soon after we brought it home the plant extended its canopy with a bouquet of new leaves.  When they had reached full size, it was maybe October so I wasn’t too surprised that the plant went dormant.  

In 2013, however, I experienced increasing frustration as exactly nothing happened.  No new leaves, no dropped leaves, nothing…

This year I’d more or less given up hope when I realised that a major side shoot appeared to be underway. It was tricky to photograph, but I hope this picture gives an impression. 

As you can see, it’s taken from the top and shows some substantial leaves growing from a shoot very near the base of the stem.  

And then, just as I thought the plant had decided to abandon its main stem, this. 

A whole new layer of leaves emerging from the top.  I’m chuffed!  They grow to a good size in a short span of time, and it’ll soon be an impressive specimen. 

I’m still mystified about the way this has panned out.  I can’t imagine it’s normal for the plant to spend a whole growing season without new leaves on the main stem… so I’m not sure what to think.  But let me not look a gift horse in the mouth. 

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Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ II

The very first post on this blog was on our Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ which is probably my favourite among all our conservatory plants.  Here’s what it looked like in May 2013. 

It’s in the big pot on the table at the back; this was shortly after we repotted it.  The plant likes water and the pot has a water reservoir at the bottom; it’s what they call ‘self-watering’. 

This is a fast grower and here it is in November 2013. 

We’d had to move it to the floor (tricky because of its size and weight), but you may be able to tell that it had managed to reach the ceiling again from its new position!

In December 2013 it keeled over… it had become so top-heavy that it was impossible to stabilise, and after some agonising I decided to cut the stem.  

It made me unhappy to see such a proud specimen reduced to this, but there was no other option.  As I discovered while cutting, it wasn’t unstable merely because it had tall leaves; the stem itself was thick, saturated with water, and very heavy.  I cut it rather far down to lower the centre of gravity. 

After this shock, the Ensete spent a long while vegetating.  Had it been able to speak, I dare say it would’ve given me an earful!

However, in February this happened. 

A new leaf started shooting, tightly rolled up as always at the outset.  It soon picked up speed and began to unroll.

You can see precisely where it was when I cut the stem!  And now…

…another new leaf is following the first, this one intact.  The bets are on for when the plant reaches the ceiling again!  

I’m very happy that it’s decided to start growing again; I really felt it was missing from the conservatory where it adds a grand and exotic atmosphere.  But I do hope it’ll be a while before it keels over next time. 

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Considering that we’ve got four Abutilons, it’s surprising I haven’t written about them until now. The RHS classifies them as hardiness zone H1b which means not hardy at all. It’s recommended to keep them in a heated greenhouse, so our conservatory fits the bill.

There are many, many species of Abutilon, and it’s not clear to me which ones we have. I do know two of the cultivars: ‘Julia’ and ‘Souvenir de Bonn’. The latter doesn’t produce many flowers, but spectacular ones.

They are large, perhaps two inches, and exquisitely veined in shades of orange.

There seems to be no particular time of year when this cultivar flowers. We have two of them, and the smaller one has flowered several times since March and is about to do so again.

It always has a small number of flowers: only one when it first started in March, and never more than four at a time.

‘Julia’ is different! The flowers are yellow, smaller, more open, and there are more of them.

Unlike ‘Souvenir de Bonn’, it appears ‘Julia’ has a flowering season, lasting perhaps from July to September which is when this photo was taken. I find the individual flowers slightly less fascinating than on the ‘Souvenir’, perhaps because they’re more monochrome, but they’re still very beautiful.

It may not even be clear that this isn’t a buttercup, but the flower is much larger than one, though slightly smaller than the flowers on ‘Souvenir de Bonn’.

In terms of sheer numbers of flowers, our third Abutilon cultivar eclipses both ‘Souvenir’ and ‘Julia’. Here’s a photo which is a few weeks old, and the small tree has even more flowers now!

I’m now exactly sure when it’ll stop. We bought it at the start of May, and it’s had literally hundreds of beautiful red flowers since then, continuously through the summer and autumn. An stunning display!

I don’t know which cultivar it is, but its willingness to flower is second to none.

It’s so intent on it that one has to keep a close eye on cuttings taken from this plant. Abutilons are easy to propagate by cuttings: take the end off a branch and put it in water, and within a month or two it’ll grow roots and you can plant it. However, cuttings from this last plant keep growing flower buds, and permitting them to flower is bad as it saps the plant of energy. So one has to nip them, sometimes several times a week.

Another thing to watch out for is watering. All our Abutilons are prone to drying out, and they don’t react well to it at all. Our small ‘Souvenir de Bonn’ is one of two plants made by cuttings, but the other one died after drying out while we were travelling. In consequence, we’ve moved our two largest Abutilons to self-watering pots — the sort with a large water reservoir at the bottom — and that seems to work well.

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Dieffenbachia II

We have two Dieffenbachias in the conservatory, both variegated. I wrote a post about the larger one in December last year. I’m not quite sure which cultivar it is (the other one is a Leopard lily according to the shop where we bought it).

In December I wrote that Dieffenbachias don’t flower when grown indoors, since that was what I’d read. The problem with such a statement is that it’s hard to verify! It can, however, be falsified, and I’m happy to report that our larger Dieffenbachia did just that around 1 August. (It takes me a while to write these blog posts!)

As you can see, it was a flower in the same style as Spathiphyllum, the venerable Peace Lily: there was a sheath surrounding an inflorescence, although the shape and relative proportions were different from Spathiphyllum.

Here’s a close up of the inflorescence which only began peeking out after a long while.

Until that happened, it wasn’t even clear to me that the strange green tube growing on the plant must be a flower! Green isn’t the first colour I expect in a flower… and in any event, as I wrote, I didn’t think the plant would flower at all.

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Lantana camara

L. camara is a tropical plant whose name my iPad is insistent on changing to L. camera!

It’s apparently known as a dreadful pest in the US, being resistant to various weed killers, and poisonous so you can’t control it by letting animals eat it. But it does have marvellous flowers, as you can see here, so we have four of these plants in the conservatory.

This is the largest one and it now needs a bit of pruning! It had been pruned when we bought it and had a nice crown, but I don’t want to prune it right now because it’s flowering like mad. It’s been flowering on and off since May, and I don’t want to remove any branches before it stops.

I don’t know which cultivar it is. For a while I thought it might be Miss Huff which also has yellow flowers, but one of our other plants is a genuine Miss Huff and looks like this.

The flowers change their colour dramatically as they age. They start out yellow, become orange, then eventually pink! It’s quite striking; I don’t think we have any other plants with flowers of three different colours at the same time, and it’s evident that the big L. camara can’t be Miss Huff.

We also have a Silver mound which we bought at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show in July. Had I been a more diligent blogger, then I would’ve written a long post about the show, which was a major event that led us to buy about a dozen plants for which we have no room…

Anyway, the Silver mound had lots of flowers when we bought it.

It stopped flowering when we brought it home, perhaps because it didn’t get enough light. We don’t put new plants in the conservatory right away, as they may be infected with who knows what, and that makes it hard to find a sufficiently bright spot for newcomers.

However, we decided that enough was enough a couple of weeks ago, and as you can see, Silver mound has acknowledged its new, better position by growing another delicately coloured inflorescence.

Apart from the flowers, a striking aspect of L. camara is the strong scent they give off when one touches them. It’s richly botanical, slightly sour, and quite unmistakable.

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