Thursday, July 30, 2020

10 Great Plants That Need A Good Home

Brightly colored drawing of plants in pots on a black background
If you are deep in the throes of Plant Parenting (or just a Plant Lover), you are probably always looking for a new plant to add to your collection. I would like to suggest the following 10 candidates. These plants aren’t wildly new; in fact, you’ve probably seen most of them before. But give them a second look anyway - even the smallest, scrawniest brown dog in the pound has untold stories to share with you.

These are not in any particular order and I have thrown in a mix of types to (hopefully) offer something for everyone. Additionally, they are all fairly-easy to very-easy to grow, for those people whose eyes are bigger than their
nurturing skills. With the exception of the Fiber Optic Grass, this selection consists of tropical plants and several of them are toxic to a degree. While that should not necessarily disqualify them, it is something to consider for many people. I have also included links to more information on caring for them, so you can get the low-down quickly.

A plant with long green leaves and dark red flower spikes-BRAZILIAN FIREWORKS (Porphytocoma pohliana)  BRAZILIAN FIREWORKS (Porphytocoma pohliana) – aka Rose Pine Cone, Purple Shrimp, South African Acanthus, Jade Magic, and more. This South American native is nearly as flashy as a Carnival night in Rio. It's an evergreen with deep green leaves laced prettily with silver veins. But it’s the flowers that steal the show – they have fuchsia-colored bracts that clash beautifully with its small purple true flowers. The fireworks name may come from this explosion of color, but this plant also forcefully shoots out its seeds when the time is right. For more insight into this exceptional plant, check out this blog.
A sampling of the different colors of the Nerve Plant leaves. NERVE PLANTS (Fittonia argyroneura)
NERVE PLANTS (Fittonia argyroneura) – aka Fittonia, Mosaic Plant, and Net Plant. This plant comes from deep in the rainforests of South America. The foliage has an olive green background contrasted with bright veins of pink, white or red – the color variations seem endless. These low-growing plants are perfectly suited for a wide range of growing situations from tabletops to cover crops. Nerve Plants are very forgiving should you forget to water them - they can bounce back quickly. Check it out on this time-lapse video. Read more about these tropical beauties here and see more here.

A collection of ferns mounted and hanging on a wall. STAGHORN FERNS (Platycerium spp) STAGHORN FERNS (Platycerium spp) – aka Elkhorn Ferns and Antelope Ears. This fern is native to the jungles of Java, New Guinea and parts of Australia. What makes this plant unique (besides its antler-like foliage) is that it is both an air plant and a fern. Since this plant grows on tree trunks and rocks in its native habitat, it’s commonly mounted on a surface and then displayed on a wall or fence. This presentation can amplify the resemblance to antlers. But it can also be grown in a traditional pot and enjoyed as a hanging plant. Here’s more on this cool plant and here’s a tutorial on how to mount it.

A green houseplant with orange-red spikes and blue-ish spikes in a white container.AECHMEA BLUE RAIN (Aechmea spp)  AECHMEA BLUE RAIN (Aechmea spp) – aka Blue Rain Bromeliad. This stunner has its roots in Brazil and is decidedly low maintenance (which is probably not the case with other Brazilian stunners). This bromeliad only flowers once, but the flamboyant blue-violet flowers on orange spikes will last for months. After blooming, pups will appear around the mother plant. These pups will feed off their mother plant until it has deteriorated and they are big enough to produce blooms. Nature can be hardcore. Here’s more on this beautiful plant and here’s something to watch.

A plant with pale green leaves striped in a burgundy color. BUTTERFLY PLANT (Christia obcordata) BUTTERFLY PLANT (Christia obcordata) – aka Swallowtail Plant. This herbaceous perennial is from East Asia and can grow up to 3 ft. tall. The exquisite triangular-shaped leaves with burgundy stripes are real show-stoppers. To some people, they look like the veining on a bird’s tail feathers, while others think they resemble butterflies at rest. However you see it, this is a spectacular addition to any plant collection. For more on the Christia obcordata, read this. For a little something on a different variety, Christia vespertilionis, check out this video.

Plant with large green and white leaves in a white container. AFRICAN MASK PLANT (Alocasia Sanderiana) AFRICAN MASK PLANT (Alocasia Sanderiana) – aka Kris Plant and Elephant Ear. These tropical plants have no connection to Africa, they are native to the Philippines, but they look like African ceremonial masks to enough people to have the name stick. This plant brings the drama with forest green leaves that have wide, stripe-like veining. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Alocasia Sanderiana is critically endangered in its native environment, so in growing this plant you are literally helping to save a species. Here is more information and here is an interesting video.

Poofy fern-like plant in a black container in front of a black door. FIBER OPTIC GRASS (Isolepis cernua) FIBER OPTIC GRASS (Isolepis cernua) – aka Livewire, Live Wire of
Fairy Lights. This fun plant is reminiscent of those funky fiber optic lamps. It’s a clumping plant with small flower spikes on the end of thin, bright-green stalks. Not technically a grass (it’s part of the sedge family), one variety or another is native to wide areas of the globe. Fiber Optic Grass is a multi-purpose plant in that it does well in most areas indoors or outdoors, in the ground or in containers. And it makes a captivating hanging plant. More on this delightful plant here and, if you are interested in planting it outside, check this out.
Plant with green leaves and bright silver markings.ALUMINUM PLANT (Pilea cadierei)
ALUMINUM PLANT (Pilea cadierei) – aka Watermelon Pilea. This alluring plant is originally from China and Vietnam, but it has found a place in homes worldwide due to its non-demanding nature. This smallish (6”-12”) evergreen will grow out umbrella-fashion and produce deep green pointed leaves patterned with silver markings that shine like tinfoil. This plant is very desirable for its beauty and easy care. The ASPCA has endorsed this plant as a non-toxic choice for animal lovers. To learn more, go here or watch this video.

Plant with purple triangular leaves and little white flowers in a terracotta pot.PURPLE SHAMROCK (Oxalis triangularis) PURPLE SHAMROCK (Oxalis triangularis) – aka False Shamrock and Love Plant. This gorgeous Brazilian is more than just a pretty face – it has moves! It will turn its leaves to and follow the light during the day and then close them up when night falls. It can also retreat. Let me explain: The Oxalis triangularis grows from a group of bulbs and when conditions above the soil deteriorate enough, the plant will allow some die back and then wilt and pull back into its bulbs until conditions improve. Like the Butterfly Plant, many people think this purple stunner resembles a swarm of butterflies at rest. This plant is toxic, but it has a very bitter taste that works well as a deterrent for most nibbly pets. Here’s more on this beauteous plant and here’s a video.

A view looking down on a potted plant with wagon-wheeled shaped leaves,HARDY TAPIOCA (Manihot grahamii)
HARDY TAPIOCA (Manihot grahamii) – aka Graham’s Cassava, Graham’s Manihot, and Hardy Cassava. Pick this South American beauty if you have the space for a tall statement piece. It’s dramatic leaves and long, elegant shape will really pop in a sunny corner. It may come to you small, but it can easily grow several feet in a year and will eventually top out at around 10 feet. If you live in a warm climate you can turn it into an outside tree – the bees will appreciate it; they love the pale yellow flowers. The leaves and roots are poisonous, which will keep wild animals away if it’s outside but that may be a concern if you have pets. There’s more information here and a video on a different variety here.

South Park character talking to his plants.
As a reminder: We have great products to help keep your houseplants happy and healthy here.

I hope I have inspired you to commit to one of these delightful plants. If you already have amazing examples, send us pictures. If you plant some after this, send us pictures. Spread the beauty.

Submitted by Pam

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Plant Parenting 2020

A woman's hand touching a potted plant.Photo by Lauren Fersti on Unsplash.
In my last blog, I talked about what’s trendy in gardening this year. My subject today is not just “in” for 2020, it’s been building for several years, but this year it’s come into full flower. I’m talking about houseplants, or more specifically –plant parenting. This relatively new term reflects that collecting plants is all the rage with young adults. While anyone with a love for plants and/or nature can appreciate this popular movement, the driving forces behind it are complex, compelling, and (like so many other things) heightened in this year of the pandemic.

A man with a dark beard hugging a potted plant and laughing with his head thrown backPhoto by Jason Edwards on Unsplash..Close up of two pots with small plants. One pot has the word grow on it.When I was first reading about this subject, I was somewhat taken aback by the term “plant parenting”. Not only had I never heard of it, but it seemed a bit childish. However, I quickly came to realize that it has more of a whiff of sadness than immaturity. The fact is that young adults nowadays are putting off having children and just not wanting them is only a tiny bit of why. Staggering student debt, archaic and discriminatory employment practices, and lack of affordable housing conspire to keep people from starting families and pursuing the mythical American dream. So, some are putting their nurturing and latent farming instincts into their plant babies. Plants can also be a first step towards the responsibility of pet ownership. If you aren’t ready to take care of a plant, you may not be ready to care for an animal. One more advantage to plants: you can make any parenting mistakes (up to and including killing them) without consequences, except perhaps a little guilt. While this may sound cold, it can be reassuring to the anxious and inexperienced.

Pictures, knickknacks and plants on little shelves.Apartments and other small-space quarters were once considered to be stepping stones to homes or, at least more spacious digs. Now that this is no longer a given, people are staying in these small places longer and making them as cozy as possible. This where plants come in. With plants, you generally do not need to worry about getting permission from or upsetting a landlord or paying additional deposits. They will not bark all day while you’re at work or pee wherever they want. This does not mean, of course, that you should turn your bathroom into a grow room – that could cause problems with more than the landlord. Here are some tips from a plant lover who has created an enviable oasis in an NYC apartment.

A plant-filled white room with a built-in white ladder going up to a loft.
The rise of plant parenting may be based on serious social and economic realities, but it is fueled by social media – especially Instagram. This brand of social media is visually driven and inundated with beautifully staged images. A person may see an Instagram model and aspire to look that good one day, but for most of us, it is not ever going to happen. However, when one sees an inviting space full of lush houseplants, it can seem realistically attainable. And so the obsession begins. If you find yourself on the verge of jumping into plant parenting, here are some things to consider before you leap. And remember, ARBICO has help for houseplants, should you need it.


A woman seated on a yellow bench-type seat at a table surrounded by plants.


For many people, the health advantages of houseplants may not be top of mind when it comes to picking plants; but for millennials (who have been called the “wellness generation”), it’s part of the draw. Plants can improve air quality, reduce allergens, provide aromatherapy, produce medicine, and have innumerable mental health benefits (more on all they can do from WebMd here). Growing a plant that can directly benefit you is an easy step to getting self-care under control and that is not lost on many eager plant parents out there.

As the houseplant-loving community has grown, it has developed its own social media celebrities and favored bloggers like the Urban Jungle Bloggers. This blog calls itself “A Global Tribe of Plant Lovers” and embraces houseplants as/with design. They offer visually interesting and timely insights that appeal to hipsters all over the world. In April, they launched a challenge called “Stay Home with Plants” that addressed the lockdowns affecting everyone. It’s interesting to read about now, and is still relevant three months on. You can find it easily on their site.

A group of people milling around hanging plants and plants on tables.In addition to social media influencers, more traditional communities of plant parents have appeared. Devotees can make actual human connections with like-minded people at a plant swap or a talk at a nursery. National conventions like the Tropical Plant International Expo have found a whole new and highly enthusiastic group of visitors with these young plant aficionados. I’ll bet they have changed the experience of convention-going for traditional attendees. All these events are an excellent avenue for someone to get out and make friends, and they are less sticky alternatives to online dating or meet-ups.

A room with large windows jammed pack with plants.All of this may seem positive; but, just as with real parenting, there can be dark corners hidden from public scrutiny. Those with compulsive tendencies may find themselves over-buying and over-paying. Sometimes the act of acquiring is more fulfilling than the actual caring for the plant. This can cause an endless circle of buying as purchases die from neglect and new ones are bought to replace them. There are also instances where chasing the latest and most popular “it” plant has led to financial and emotional ruin. If you find yourself broke and you can barely make your way through the foliage in your apartment, you may have a problem.
A sign with the words Plants Not Pants surrounded by small potted plants.Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash.
Like everything else in 2020, this plant parenting thing has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. But not in a bad way. Sure, there are no plant swap meets or flower shows, but the community has been enriched with more eager and active members in lockdown. And nurseries, for the most part, have remained open. So it’s been easy enough for many to slip out and pick up a new baby, take it home, and hit Instagram to share it. Others are just staying home and nurturing their plants as they grow and change. And sharing that. After all, in a social media world, it is all about sharing and social media is wide open even when it seems the world is shut down.

A man in a sleeveless undershirt and suspenders is holding a yellow spray bottle and spraying his houseplants.Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on succulents (which are also experiencing renewed popularity) and unique houseplants.

Submitted by Pam



Friday, July 10, 2020

Inside Out: 2020 Garden Trends

A daybed hanging in the shade of a tree.A black and white patio with tile floors, geometric print rug and egg chairsGardens, gardening, yards, porches, balconies with all types of plants and plantings are beyond
popular now. People have been driven by a variety of factors (social distancing, food and economic security, renewed interest in nature) to nurture and enjoy the plants around them, and as the home-bound populace moves out into the sun, they bring these interests with them. So what does this mean trend-wise? What do 2020 gardeners want to see and do now that warm weather is here? Create the ideal outdoor space, of course. A few unexpected trends have developed in response to this but many are a natural extension of the spring gardening craze.

Two Adirondack chairs with a red lantern on table between them. They also have two beers on a tray between them.According to this article, which used Google Trends to get their results, the following terms have seen huge increases in searches in the last 6 months: Adirondack chairs (up 303%), patio daybeds (up 275%), outdoor small space furniture (up 243%), hammocks (up 216%), outdoor bars (up 192%), Egg chairs (up189%), outdoor tiles (up 174%), fire pits (up 148%) and outdoor kitchens (up106%). While it’s not noteworthy that people are planning their summer outdoor life in the first 6 months of any year, there is an argument to be made that these searches are indicative of a desire for comfort and livability in our in the summer of 2020.  With so many of the customary summer activities curtailed by Covid-19, people are spending not just time, but money, on enjoying being outside while staying home.

A wooden table with mismatched chairs in an arbor full of flowers and twinkly lights.There are two styles of outdoor design that seem to be coming to the forefront this summer and, while they have some similarities and contain some of the trends mentioned previously, they are fundamentally quite different. One is the Boho/Bohemian style and the other is a more minimalist and sleekly contemporary look. Let’s look at each one:

A grey-tone couch on a tile floor with multiple pillows and blankets.Boho:  This look brings in fabrics and pillows (often
mismatched artfully), woven rugs, wood, twinkling lighting. The colors are generally muted or earth tones, but can be more vibrant. The idea is to mix textures for visual and tactile stimulation while maintaining a relaxed vibe. This design style harkens back to a groovier time in the 60s and early 70s. This look is ideal for someone on a limited budget as you can repurpose items you already have inside your home and simply drag them outside. Repurposing in this way is a huge trend on its own and this style is perfectly suited for it. Just a couple of words of caution, however: Mismatched does not mean clashing and mixing items does not mean adding clutter. Style icon Coco Chanel famously said (in regard to accessories): “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I believe that this is excellent advice when decorating a Boho garden: step away and take a good look, then remove one thing. Or not; you may have it just to your taste.

Long, low grey futon-like seating broken up with tall bushes.A narrow garden with white orbs and decorative trees in large urns.The seating area is to the rear past large white paving stones.Contemporary: This style is dominated by large objects and clean lines in white or muted tones relieved in places with pops of color. Think long, sleek bench or sofa-like furnishings surrounded by wow-factor trees or shrubs planted in dramatic urns. Concrete fits in well here – both the material and the color. It has become popular these days to mix this style with permeable pavers that allow you to add geometric shapes to your grass (see some cool driveways with this technique here). This makes a visually interesting contrast to the simple lines of the furnishings in the contemporary theme, but the effect can be appealing within many different design styles. Many people consider the premier example of this contemporary design aesthetic to be Belgian Design, which is described is as the ultimate in luxurious simplicity. While many aspects of these contemporary designs are clearly high-end, people are still embracing (those that can, anyway) it as a way to add high-quality and enduring design to their homes. Those without the designer budget can look to the concrete angle as a way to build pieces that fit into the scheme and find inexpensive or old pieces to rehab and update to get the look.

There are other trends that weave through all the design styles. These include:

A lounge chair with green cushions on a patio surrounded by vegetation.
Garden Nooks: After being locked down with the family for so long, having a nearby and comfy place to escape them is high on many people’s wish list. Even if you live alone, having a spot to sit and read, meditate, or just doze can be incredibly rejuvenating to body and spirit. There are lots of ways to create a place for alone-ness without a lot of space or money. The internet is full of ways to DIY privacy walls. In addition to, or instead of, walls there are plenty of plants that grow into beautiful barriers. You could try bamboo, it is a prolific grower and would look good in almost any garden. Or go for a time-honored perennial like a rhododendron, which will give you low-maintenance and year-round privacy for many years to come. So be comfy amongst your pillows or stripped-down and zen on a platform, just get out there.
An outdoor kitchen made of concrete with a green barbecue grill.
Outdoor Kitchens: Whether you have $50,000 or $50 to spend, an outdoor kitchen is just the ticket after being stuck in your inside kitchen for so long. Every outdoor space can contain an eating/preparing food space. Your challenge is to find a way to make it fit your needs and budget. Here are some DIY projects that may give you some ideas.

A soft-focus close-up of  a purple flower with bees around it.Wildlife, Pollinators and Native Plants:  It is one thing to have beautifully wonderful plants around you, but your garden goes to another level when you can use native plants and give sustenance and succor to pollinators and other wild creatures. Happily, this idea is now mainstream and on-trend. For more on how you can make your garden pollinator-friendly, read my blog on it here.

Outdoor Tiles: Decking and concrete are perennial favorites for gardens and patios, but tiling has emerged as a trend that is a stylish and easy-care alternative. And it fits any look that you are going for from homey to stark to vividly patterned to a natural-looking neutral. This site has more on this beautiful option.

Betty Boop relaxing in a hammock. The words "Self Care" and "Self Quarantine" are pooping up in a yellow heart. What about those people who do not have a yard to create a garden in? What are the trends there? The answer is that there is a lot going on there and next week I will delve into that large group of garden-space lovers.

Submitted by Pam

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Watermelon for the 4th of July

A piece of watermelon with stars cut out of it and spread around
An hand extended out and holding a piece of watermelon. There is a beach and water in the background.As I write this, we are heading into the 4th of July weekend. Because it’s 2020 and everything is different this year, for many of us the celebrations will be diminished. Here in the Tucson metro area, the only thing skyrocketing is Covid19 cases; fireworks displays have been canceled due to extreme fire danger (and, of course, the virus). But, there is one thing that almost everyone can enjoy this 4th of July and it is as appropriate as any American apple pie: I’m talking watermelon. If you can’t go to the beach, have some watermelon and imagine you’re there. If you aren’t attending a party, make some gorgeous cocktails and sit in the kids’ wading pool. Read a watermelon-themed book while wearing a watermelon hat. You get the idea – just enjoy the summer deliciousness that is watermelon.

A carving of a big cat's snarling face carved from a watermelon.If you are unsure of your commitment to watermelon, here is a fun video extolling its virtues that features the watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher. If you are interested in random facts and deeper information about watermelons, this site has plenty to keep you entertained and informed – and it shows square watermelons.

Many of you may be enjoying, or anticipating the enjoyment to come, of eating your own watermelon. Savoring the fruits of a carefully tended garden is beyond satisfying. If you are still in the how-to-grow-them phase, here is a concise yet thorough guide to growing watermelons. There’s a man in Alabama who clearly does not need growing help, he’s expecting around 15,000 watermelons this year! For more on what that’s all about, go here.

A map in a white shirt sitting amongst piles of watermelons.
For the rest of us who are not watermelon-growing wizards and are harvesting from the supermarket, here are a few quick tests to help pick the perfect one.

2 fruit-filled glasses of pinkish liquid sitting on a cutting board surrounded by pieces of watermelon.Let’s get to the eating and drinking part: If your feast-preparing ritual begins with a frosty alcoholic beverage (yes, please), you have almost endless choices with watermelon-centric drinks. How about a watermelon jalapeño Bloody Mary, watermelon sangria, watermelon margarita, beer-lemonade-watermelon shandy, watermelon Piña Colada, watermelon mimosa or watermelon Jell-O shot? The recipes for some of these are here, while the rest (and so much more!) can be found easily online.

A multi-layered red, white and blue cake with sparkler-like blue decorations coming off the top.Now that you have established your watermelon drink (or at least the first one to try), it’s time to get to eating. You can have watermelon wrapped in bacon or prosciutto, watermelon-feta guacamole, grilled chicken-watermelon tacos, watermelon jerky, watermelon bbq sauce for your chicken or ribs, watermelon pudding or watermelon sorbet. The Barbecued Seafood & Watermelon Salad sounds especially wonderful to me. The choices are extensive; Good Housekeeping alone has 50 tempting recipes for watermelon here.

A salad with shrimp, seafood, watermelon and cucumber - the Barbecued Seafood & Watermelon Salad.
Barbecued Seafood & Watermelon Salad
While researching recipes for this blog, all the watermelon recipes sounded irresistible, but I found myself most entranced by the grilled watermelon recipes. I have never tried grilling watermelon, but since the grill apparently changes the flavor in delightful ways, it will definitely be on the menu this weekend. Southern Living has a good basic recipe here while Grilled Avocado and Watermelon Salad with Lime and Feta Cheese, Grilled Watermelon Pizza, Charred Vandouvan Octopus with Grilled Watermelon and Salsa Verde, Grilled Watermelon Burgers and Grilled Watermelon Sundaes cover all the courses in new and interesting ways. I am looking forward to trying at least one of these grilled treats, although I’m pretty sure my family will think the idea is weird.
Red & white checked high heels with a watermelon graphic on the soles.
While you are eating and drinking watermelon, you could continue the theme (and keep various members of your group entertained) by indulging in some watermelon-centric arts and crafts. This page has links to other blogs and artsy sites with lots of fun-sounding activities. You could extend (probably overextend) the watermelon theme by wearing watermelon-inspired clothing or making watermelon tie-dye to wear at your next watermelon fest.

A hand holding a piece of watermelon in front of a picture of a girl so that it looks like she is wearing a piece of watermelon as a dress.
If you have a teenager in the family, you know that very little of what I have written will interest them. But, you can (perhaps) rope them into the watermelon world by having them use their phones to create “watermelon clothes” pictures. This is where a person takes a picture while holding slices of watermelon to make it look like the person in the picture is wearing clothes made out of watermelon. More on that here. Granted, this was a social media thing 3 years ago, but it may still keep a teenager engaged for a bit.

Looking from behind at a woman with dark hair wearing a white hat and clothes sitting in a white chair while reading a book on a beach.If your idea of a good day is to kick back with a good book, (yes, we do still exist), you can still watermelon it up by choosing a book with watermelon in the title. Here is a list of 34 books with "watermelon" in the title. As trite as it sounds, there really is something for everybody on it. From a dreamy love-child favorite of the late ’60s to non-fiction and international stories, these books reflect how watermelons play a beloved part in myriad cultures. Just don’t forget your watermelon cocktail when you settle down to read.

Images of a watermelon pizza disappearing bite by bite.Some of my happiest childhood memories are of my grandmother’s porch. I remember joyously eating watermelon there with my siblings and cousins. It was the only time spitting was permitted and we would compete to see who could spit their seeds farthest. With very little effort, such homey pleasures can still be had in 2020.

If you didn't read this in time to make your 4th a watermelon one, no worries - National Watermelon Day is August 3rd.

Have a happy and safe Happy 4th of July.

Submitted by Pam

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