Helping out to make a greener earth

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Old Reliables - Some favorite landscape materials, Part 1

As a garden designer on-and-off-and-on again, the years of practice have made me realize that there are plants that I simply go back to again and again for many if not most projects that I have done for the last 20 years or so.

In hindsight, the feeling that I have whenever I work with these plants is very similar, though subtler, to meeting friends of long ago that once in a while I would bump into and whenever I do would give me this pleasurable lump in the gut. It is also like listening to Barbra Streisand singing "Somewhere" in Youtube a few nights ago after not having done so for more than five years.

Beyond the emotional tug, there are some very practical reasons why I keep going back to these reliables of mine. One of the most compelling is how these plants manage to survive less than adequate care and growing conditions, how they are able to tolerate environmental punishment. Another is their ability to remain neutral, providing mass and density to the planting while at the same time effectively highlighting the current "star" or "flavor of the month" that clients would be asking for or would expect to find given a type of garden that they have specified. Yet another is the relative affordability of these plants. Some of them are cheaply priced, some would cost more but all possess good value.

Philodendron Xanadu is one such plant. Originally discovered as a chance seedling in a Western Australia plant nursery, its beautiful form and growing characteristics have made it to be one of the world's most popular tropical landscape and interiorscape materials. It has a compact growth habit, is self-heading (does not climb up or trails quickly), can take full sun to bright shade and has an interesting leaf pattern.

A typical mature plant would measure anywhere from two to three feet in diameter with the height about a foot to a foot and half.

Small plants are readily available for less than a hundred pesos but well grown specimen plants, especially those with multiple heads (looks like it has several plants in one pot) can cost around a thousand pesos.

It appreciates moist growing medium and regular fertilization. A monthly application of organic compost would be well appreciated by your plant.

If kept indoors, make sure the area is bright otherwise the plant tends to lose its compact form as the leaves stretch out for the light. Keeping the leaves free of dust will also make for a healthier plant.

Propagation is usually through tissue culture where a specialized plant laboratory will produce clones of the plant in thousands. These are eventually grown by nurseries and distributed all over. Most regular plant lovers would have to rely on low-tech division of multi-headed plants to increase their collection. Single-stemmed plants may also be cut.

Very old, leggy plants may be cut and the head planted for a more compact look. Sometimes, the stub or base would send out small plants which may be separated later on. This is an exception rather than the rule though as most cut stubs end up dead.

There are mutants that have been discovered: some variegated, some with yellowish leaves. For now, these variants remain with the collectors still.

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