Trip Report: TLC Florist and Greenhouses

There aren’t a lot of great places to buy plants in my hometown of Norman, OK.  But I found a gem (actually 2 gems!) in northern Oklahoma City – just a 40 minute drive from home.  TLC Florist and Greenhouses has 2 locations in northern Oklahoma City and is everything I want in a plant store.

I first visited the north-central (Edmond) location in November and then visited the NW OKC location in early January.  The Edmond location is much larger, and has a wider selection of plants.  However, I found that the NW OKC location has plants in much more affordable sizes.  There were some really great Aglaonemas (specifically the species Lilliput) at the Edmond location that were in large pots and cost $35 a piece.  At the NW location they had some in 4″ pots for $5!  I’m all about the experience of watching the plant grow.  Besides, I already don’t have enough room in my house for all my plants.  So the 4″ size suited me well on all levels.

According to their website, TLC has been ranked in the top 100 of US Garden Centers for the past 12 years straight!  In addition to having high quality plants, they do a local Saturday morning TV show on Gardening during the Spring.  I haven’t seen it before, but I plan on tuning in some Saturday morning this Spring, now that I know it exists.  They also do free seminars on the weekends during the Spring and Summer.  They have posted the schedule to their website, for anyone in the central Oklahoma area who might be interested.

I took some pictures and posted the photo album here.  Enjoy!

Of course, I didn’t walk away from TLC empty handed.  I bought 5 plants:

  • Aglaonema ‘lilliput’ – This is a very attractive Aglaonema with lance-shaped leaves that are curly like those of ‘Royal Ripple’ and splotched in a unique variegation.
  • Aglaonema NOID – I’m not sure what this one is and it could quite possibly be a species I already have in my collection.  But at the price of $5, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add another Aglaonema.
  • Philodendron ‘Rojo’ – This is a beautiful self-heading Philodendron with deep purple, red and green leaves.  The leaves are thick and waxy like the burgundy rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’).  TLC had some really large plants that were way beyond my budget.  But they also some medium sized plants that were very healthy and pretty affordable.
  • Ctenanthe lubbersiana – These plants were literally bursting out of their pots.  I recognized them as being in the same family as Stromanthe, Calathea and Maranta – the Prayer Plants.  The leaves of this plant are light green with broad streaks of yellowy-white.  The plants weren’t marked but I was happy to see the price was minimal when I got to the checkout counter.  I have since divided and repotted this plants into two plants that look almost as large as the original.  How is that possible?
  • Platycerium bifurcatum (Staghorn Fern) – I have admired these plants for quite a while, but I have always seen HUGE specimens.  I was really excited when I saw this small specimen in a 4″ pot.  I’m looking forward to mounting him on bark this summer and watching him take off.  Maybe I will even hang him from the Magnolia tree in my backyard.  I always see this hanging from trees, it seems.

To see my plants, look at the photo album.  The pictures below the break are the plants that I purchased.


Keeping a plant journal

My Plant Journal

Since October 2008, I have been keeping a plant journal.  I have a thing for journals and little blank books, so I had a bookshelf full of them.  My intention was to fill them with my important thoughts over the years, be it a novel, lousy sketches or a journal.  I was thinking that I really needed to start keeping track of important events concerning my plants and decided that one of my little blank books was perfect for the job.

My current plant journal is a small earth-tones journal made by Paperblanks from their “embellished manuscript” collection.  I chose the Vincent van Gough journal because of the small garden scene drawn on the front.  They also make a couple of Mozart and Beethoven journals with music on the front, as well as Rembrandt sketches and even Shakespeare’s writing.  On my journal, the wrap over piece magnetically attaches to the front.  The journal measures 7″x9″ and has 144 lined pages.  The pages have just the right number of lines to be spaced correctly for my handwriting.  Paperblanks makes a bunch of really cool looking journals, including some with Asian art on the covers, while others are simple leather-bound books.  I purchased mine in the gift shop of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s house in New England.  But I have also seen them sold at several local book stores. 🙂

My plant journal - Paperblanks Vincent van Gough Embellished Manuscript Journal
My plant journal - Paperblanks Vincent van Gough "Embellished Manuscript" Journal

I have been using my journal to keep track of when I purchase new plants, where I got them and how much they cost me.  Then I track when they bloom, when I notice anything weird about my plants, when I bring them in, put them out, prune them, etc.  It has been a fun experience and I think it will prove valuable as I continue forward and wonder when certain things happened.  It is also a nice compliment to my blog.  I will write in my journal as things occur and then blog about them on a more regular (twice a week) schedule.  So, even though I took a trip to a wonderful greenhouse a couple of weeks ago, it’s not going to be on my blog for a couple more weeks.  In the meantime, my journal (and my camera) will hold all of the important information that I need to remember for my blog post.

My Gardening Sketchbook

One day I wanted to sketch up a little idea for a terrarium that I wanted to plant.  But I wanted to be kind of messy and my plant journal was much too neat for this activity.  So I grabbed another journal – one of those lab books with the black and white marbled covers and gridded pages for drawing plots easily.  This journal has become my sketchbook for when I want to be messy and make plans.

Sketch of my plans for a 10 gallon Anubias paludarium
Sketch of my plans for a 10 gallon Anubias paludarium

I have drawn up some plans for different terrarium and paludarium plantings, some sketches of my greenhouse plans and also made some lists of plants I would like to order.

Initial planning sketch for my greenhouse
Initial planning sketch for my greenhouse

These two journals are very separate things in my mind.  In my plant journal I use pencil and write pretty neatly.  In my sketchbook, I use a pen and scratch things out.  It’s much more messy.  It’s kind of like my two journals are for the two halves of my brain.

Do you keep a plant journal?


Desert Island Challenge

A fellow plant blogger (Shirl’s Gardenwatch) issued a challenge to other plant bloggers and many (43, so far) have tackled it.  I was slow to jump on the bandwagon, but I caught the caboose.  [Imagine a bandwagon that has a caboose.]

The challenge:  If I was stuck on a desert island and could take any 3 plants with me, which plants would they be?

The details:  Forget growing requirements – any plant will survive just fine on this desert island.  Also, you don’t need the plant for food or anything like that.  Just pick the plants you would want there with you.

In other words, if I could only see three plants for the rest of my days, which plants would I pick?

Of course, for anyone who likes plants this is a tough challenge.  I imagine even someone who doesn’t notice plants would have trouble devising a list.

I am trying to decide whether I would want to look at some of my favorites over and over again or something that I have never kept before…  Hmm…

First, I have to choose a plant from my favorite family (Aroids).  I would choose Scindapsus pictus.  It’s simply one of the most beautiful foliage plants I’ve ever seen – and I really like foliage plants.  I’m also a big fan of vining plants.  I’m picturing myself stuck on this island for the rest of my life, which could be a good 60-70 years, so it would be really great to see a Scindapsus pictus after 60 years of growth.

one of my small Scindapsus pictus
one of my small Scindapsus pictus

On the other hand, I have seen some very large Scindapsus pictus and nothing really changes about them.  Beyond the leaves getting a couple inches larger in width, the plant just keeps creeping and filling more space.  They do change growth habit a little bit when allowed to climb up the surface of a tree or rocks, so I think I would have to plant my Scindapsus pictus around a tree, allowing some to climb around on the ground and other vines to creep up the tree in the “shingling” habit.

The next plant on my list will need to be a little more dynamic and changing with time.  It will need to be something that blooms or changed leaf habit as it grows.  Potential candidates include other Aroids, like Monsteras or Philodendrons.  I think I could definitely spend a lot of time looking at plants from these two genera.  And I would enjoy watching the Monsteras produce new fenestrations as they matured.  But I have already picked an Aroid, and I have grown a lot of these.  I think I would choose a plant that I don’t have – a plant that would offer something new to me.

I’m going to go for a Passion flower.  There are so many brilliantly colored Passion flowers – I don’t know which color I would choose.  I would probably pick one of the purple ones, but I recently saw a picture of a red one that was pretty amazing, too.

Passion flower
Passion flower - photo from herbal extracts plus

The last plant is one that just suddenly came to me.  It is a plant I have only seen a couple of times, but it was beautiful.  The Silver Russian Olive tree.  I saw a bunch of these in Boulder, Colorado when I was there last year for a conference.  I asked my coworker what they were, knowing that he had lived there a couple of years ago and must know.  He told me they were God’s curse to the world.  Well, he wasn’t quite that harsh, but he said they were somewhat invasive there and had spines on them.  He had volunteered to help a friend clean up their yard and remove a tree.  Apparently he came away from the experience with some wounds.

Anyway, it didn’t take anything away from their appearance if you ask me.  And I won’t be chopping down any trees on my desert island, so I don’t expect this tree to give me any problems.

Silver Russian Olive tree - photo from wascana greenhouses
Silver Russian Olive tree - photo from wascana greenhouses

The trees I saw on the side of the road in Boulder were large, with thick trunks almost black in color.  It was a great contrast with the silvery, almost white, leaves.

There’s my list.  It’s a weird one and the plants aren’t in any way a cohesive group, but who said they needed to be?  If I made a list tomorrow, it would probably be different.  There are simply too many plants that I would enjoy viewing for the rest of my days – desert island or not.

Book Review: Tempting Tropicals

Tempting Tropicals: 175 Irresistible Indoor Plants by Ellen Zachos is a book about tropical houseplants.  Unlike most books on houseplants, the species highlighted in this book are a little less common and some are rare or exotic.  But all of the plants can be grown indoors, they’re just not necessarily easy to find.

Tempting Tropicals by Ellen Zachos
Tempting Tropicals by Ellen Zachos

I really like the bold choices made by Zachos for this book.  She has apparently read her share of houseplant books that cover the same common species that you see in many houses.  She decided to pick out some odd balls from her years of experience growing tropical plants in a very non-tropical environment (apartment buildings in various parts of the northeast United States) and tell about her favorite plants from all of those little experiments.

Because the book does not focus on the typical houseplants, I would not recommend this book as a good reference for someone who doesn’t already have a general houseplant book or two.  But for someone who already has some of those books in their library, you won’t find a lot of repetition on these pages.  And if you are interested in growing something that you haven’t seen before or something that will surprise your peers, this would be a great book to reference.

The first quarter of the book covers the care of tropical plants in the home environment.  Chapter topics include classification, growth information, container choice, potting media, fertilization, light exposure, artificial lighting, humidity, pruning, repotting, propagation, pest profiles, pest management and diseases.  This front quarter of the book has generally good information from someone that obviously has a lot of experience.  Though I had read much of this advice before from a number of different sources, I picked up new tips and especially gained a lot of knowledge from the section about artificial lighting options.

The remaining three-quarters of the book is occupied with plant profiles for 175 different plants, many of which I was not familiar with.  The profile tells about the physical characteristics of the plants and how to care for them.  Additionally, each plant’s “winning attributes” are described.

I won’t list all of the great plants in the book, but here are a couple of highlights:

Climbing Onion – Boweia volubulis – This is a unique onion plant with very delicate foliage above the large, flaky onion bulbs that sit on the soil’s surface.

Peacock Plant – Calathea lancifolia – I am a lover of Calatheas anyway, and this is one of the less common ones, with lance-shaped leaves.  This plant is towards the top of my wish list.

Coconut Palm – Cocos nucifera – This is the common coconut palm tree, which looks really cool as a specimen tree, because the stalk of the tree grows directly out of the coconut.  I have twice tried growing this plant in my house and it simply will not survive in my low-light conditions.

Sealing Wax Palm – Cyrtostachys renda – This is a really intriguing plant.  It looks just like a palm tree with bright red stems that are waxy looking (as the name implies).

Elephant’s Foot – Dioscorea elephantipes – This plant reminds me a lot of the climbing onion (above).  It has a large above-ground base, in this case not a classic onion but more of a hard sphere of wood.  The upper growth of the plant has wandering branches with small roundish leaves.  It is a true oddball.  I hope to run across one of these someday.

Butterwort – Pinguicula ehlerserac x. P. oblingoloba – This little plant has bright lemony-green leaves with tall stalks of dainty magenta blooms.  Apparently this is a very easy plant that grows rapidly and likes a lot of water.

The plants are alphabetized by genus name and many times there are a couple of species covered under each genus.  At least one picture accompanies each genus in the profiles.  There is a lot of variation in plants described in the book – from colorful, showy blooms to beautiful foliage plants to spiky cacti.

There is a final, short section with some miscellaneous topics, including traveling with plants, bark mounting and summering plants outdoors.

As I said, this book is for the person who already has some experience with growing the typical houseplants (and already has a couple of books in that department).  It is for someone who is ready to try something new and maybe venture in to the world of ordering something rare, exotic and outlandish (maybe even from a foreign country) and growing it in your own home.


Hypertufa pots

About a year and a half ago, I bought some supplies for making my own potting soil and I also bought a bag of cement so that I could try my hand at making some hypertufa pots.  There is quite a bit of information on making hypertufa pots out there on the internet.  And there are quite a few recipes, as well.

Why make your own pots?
Let me count the reasons…  There are quite a few reasons for making your own pots.
1. They aren’t expensive to make.  And pots can be expensive to buy.
2.  It’s a fun project, if you have the time.
3.  Hypertufa pots act a little differently than clay or plastic.  They can soak up water from a tray.  Also, if you want, you can get moss and lichen to grow on the pot, itself.

I took on the hypertufa pots for the fun of the project.

What do you need?
There are three main ingredients: (Sphagnum) Peat Moss, Vermiculite and (Portland) Cement.  I use approximately equal parts of each to make my pots.  I use a little more cement than the other ingredients.  [For those who might already have peat moss and cement on hand, but don’t want to go and buy vermiculite, I’ve heard that sand is a good substitute.]  And you will need some sort of container for mixing your ingredients.  I use an empty 5 gallon paint bucket and a paint stir stick for mixing.

You will also need some items for making molds for your pots.  Here is where you can be very creative – or not.  I have heard that cardboard boxes of varying sizes make good molds.  [Make sure that you use a sturdy cardboard, not the thin paperboard that is used for items like cereal boxes.]  You can place one cardboard box inside of another one and fill the space between to make your pot.  Or you can use pots of varying sizes.  Another method is to fill some large container with sand and make a mold with the sand.  Then you can pour your mixture into the sand, using some other container (maybe a bowl or pot) to act as the inner barrier.  Sounds rather vague, doesn’t it?  Hopefully you get the idea.

Sometimes it is hard to remove the finished product from the mold, so I suggest using materials that you don’t mind cutting apart when all is said and done, in order to retrieve your pot.  This is one of the reasons for using the sand mold method.  Also the sand mold gives you much more flexibility in shape and size of the pot you want to make.

Shapes and sizes
Most of the hypertufa containers I have seen are normal small to medium pot sizes.  However, I have seen some larger planters and in one case a sort of fountain that had attached pots.  I have considered sculpting some interesting shapes, and I have tried one very ambitious project – but it failed miserably.  That will probably be the subject of a future post.  If you need inspiration, do a google search on “hypertufa pots” and you are likely to find quite a few pictures.

How do you do it?
First, you’ll want to make sure you have the 3 necessary ingredients, a container for mixing them (I suggest a 5 gallon bucket), a mixing stick (paint stir stick will do) and your mold containers.  Also, most people would tell you to use gloves.  If you don’t use gloves the cement will prune your fingers in a matter of seconds and you’ll be rather dried out when you’re finished.  I have also had some peeling fingers a couple of days after working with hypertufa, which my wife finally linked to not using gloves.  I don’t really mind it and I mind gloves a lot more, so I don’t use gloves.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Combine the ingredients and be sure the peat moss is broken up before adding water.  Add water and mix to a smooth but not runny consistency.  The amount of water is pretty easy to gauge.  If the consistency is crumbly, add water.  If the mixture is really runny, you’ve got too much water and need to add some more of each of the 3 ingredients (or just let it sit and dry out for a little bit).  Then you can just go for it, pressing or pouring your mixture into the mold.  Make sure that there are no air pockets.

Leave your project in the sun to dry for at least a day.  The curing process actually takes a couple of days, but it will be firm enough after about a day to remove the moldings around the pot and allow better air circulation to all surfaces.  If you are not able to easily remove the moldings by hand, carefully cut them away so that you don’t put much stress on the newly created pot.  It will need to sit outside of the mold for another day to dry out a little more and become more solid.  IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to make some drainage holes in your pot.  For a couple of mine, I was using pots as molds, so I was able to create drainage holes by poking through the drainage holes of my molds while my hypertufa was still in the mold.  For other projects, just carefully create the holes as soon as you remove the pot from its mold.  It should still be soft enough to use a toothpick.  If you forget, you can always use a drill later – carefully.  Whether a toothpick or a drill, be careful not to shatter your creation!

My Pots

small hypertufa pot I made
small hypertufa pot I made

For the small pot above, I used two “disposable” square plastic pots that I had on hand.  I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to remove the pot once it was dry, so I lined the inside of the larger pot with a plastic grocery bag first.  It turns out, that step was very helpful when it comes to removing the pot from the mold.  However, the drawback is that you can see all the little wrinkles from the sack on the side of the pot.  I guess it could be considered an artistic touch – if I said that I had intended the effect.  You decide whether you like it or not.

slightly larger hypertufa pot - and David
slightly larger hypertufa pot - and David

You might notice the pot above has considerably smoother sides than my first pot.  For this one, I just used two square pots and did not do any lining.  Unfortunately I actually had to cut the outer pot into pieces to remove it from my finished pot.  I “broke the mold.”  I guess if I ever wanted to make a matching pot it wouldn’t be hard to find an identical mold.

My round hypertufa pot with pebbled edge
My round hypertufa pot with pebbled edge

The most creative I got in my original batch of hypertufa pots was to add some pebbles to the edge of this round pot.  It’s kind of sloppy looking, but it has character, so I like it.

And beyond…

My future plans include a rectangular planter (maybe 20″ by 30″ and 12-15″ high).  These are often called “troughs.”  I will probably use two cardboard boxes as the mold for this.

It seems that there are a lot of creative plant people.  And the really creative ones have done all sorts of neat things with hypertufa.

I have heard that you can get moss and/or lichen to grow on the side of your hypertufa pots by coating them in a mixture of one ground moss and one of the following: beer, buttermilk or yogurt.  Before you try too hard, consider whether moss grows in your area of the country at all.  If it doesn’t you’re going to have a hard time getting moss to grow on your hypertufa.   If you really want to do this, it can happen.  If you live in the Pacific Northwest, it will happen – whether you want it to or not.  (so I’m told)

Another cool thing you can do with hypertufa is imprint the side of your pots with leaves (or other objects of your choosing).  To make this work, a fine mixture of hypertufa is needed.  You probably need to use sand in place of vermiculite and also really strain the peat moss so that no chunks make it into the mixture.  Before water is added the mixture should be powder-like.  And it helps to use leaves with big veins, which will show up clearly in an imprint.  I think I’m going to have to try this soon!

Want more information on hypertufa?  There is an entire forum dedicated to Hypertufa on GardenWeb.  There are people that frequent that forum with a lot of experience and helpful advice.  Also, doing a google search on “hypertufa” will result in about 75,000 hits!  That should give you enough to read for a while.