Episode 20: Margaret Roach

Margaret Roach's living room, with her  Bombax ellipticum  on the left. 

Margaret Roach's living room, with her Bombax ellipticum on the left. 

bowiea volubilis margaret roach.jpg

Fellow houseplant nut Margaret Roach of awaytogarden.com is my guest this week: although she's got a garden of two-plus acres in New York state, she still manages to find time for houseplants. A LOT of houseplants. (Sound familiar?)

We discuss the struggle to get all your houseplants inside at this time of year, find out about her obsession with caudiciform (or "fat") plants and compare notes on begonias and clivias. See below for a full list of plants we discuss.

We've done a bit of a double act this week, so I appeared on Margaret's own radio show too! You can hear me talking about my plants on her podcast, which is here

Plants we mention include:

  • Bombax ellipitcum (aka Pseudobombax ellipticum)
  • Bowiea volubilis, the climbing onion (pictured above)
  • Clivia miniata
  • Begonia rex vine, Cissus discolor
  • Begonia rex
  • Begonia luxurians
  • Begonia 'Marmaduke'
  • Begonia 'Little Brother Montgomery'

Question of the week

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Jenny Hulme, emailed with a question about that favourite ficus of the moment, The fiddle leaf fig, Ficus lyrata.

She writes:

"I have a fiddle leaf fig which I bought about a year ago. It has been very happy and growing well. My long term goal is to grow it into a tree form. Do you have any advice on how I can encourage it to branch and take on this new shape? I realise this will take a long time which I'm fine with!"

Now, by a tree form what I think Jenny is talking about is those amazing fiddle leaf figs you see on Pinterest and in glossy magazines about interiors. It’s what I’d call a standard. You can buy a Ficus lyrata that has already been trained into this shape, but they tend to be much more expensive than a bushy one - not surprisingly as they tend to be more mature plants. This shape is what I’d call a standard. But what’s a standard anyway? The simplest and clearest definition I found was on the Thompson and Morgan website - they’re a UK seed and plant supplier, which read A tree or shrub that has been trained to a certain height with a long bare stem and foliage at the top.

As Jenny suggests, it’s going to take time to turn a bushy Ficus lyrata into a standard one. Now it is probably a common mistake when embarking on this project to assume you can just clip the leaves off the trunk to the height you require and then - tada - you have a standard. The trouble with that is that you end up with a top heavy plant and a trunk that isn’t think enough to support the lollipop on top of it. First you need to get that trunk thickened up - looking at Jenny's picture, the fig's stem could do with at least doubling in girth before it gets turned into a standard. You also need to think about encouraging the top to branch and become more bushy, and you can do that by pinching out the top shoot of growth. Once and only once you have a nice thick stem and a bush top to your ficus would I recommend removing those lower leaves, and late winter is probably the best time to do this. I reckon you’re looking at a good two three or even four years for this project.

Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.

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Credits

This week's show included Hot Lips by Bill Brown and His Brownies and Government Funded Weed by Black Ant, licensed under Creative Commons. Thanks to talented voice artist Mark Hamilton for providing the extra voices you hear in this show.