Episode 87: conservatory love with Ruth Kassinger, plus #OTLsowalong part one

The conservatory at the US Botanical Garden in Washington DC, where Ruth Kassinger was inspired to create her own conservatory. Photograph:  John Menard  on  Flickr .

The conservatory at the US Botanical Garden in Washington DC, where Ruth Kassinger was inspired to create her own conservatory. Photograph: John Menard on Flickr.


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Do you remember that one key moment when you realised you wanted - or needed - to be surrounded by plants? In popular science writer Ruth Kassinger’s book Paradise Under Glass: The Education of an Indoor Gardener, she chronicles her transformation from very reluctant gardener to the keeping of a verdant conservatory - what she calls ‘her personal tropical paradise’.

I had the pleasure to chat to Ruth about her book, her plants and the many fascinating things she discovered in writing this book, which is more than just a personal memoir - it’s also a history of the conservatory itself. Keep reading for more information on the subjects I discuss with Ruth, plus images of some of the conservatories we talk about.

Ruth Kassinger’s green wall. Click on the image for a closer look.

On The Ledge sowalong is here!

Don’t forget to share your sowing progress by posting the hashtag #otlsowalong on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

In part one of my guide to the sowalong, this week I talk about where to source seeds. Here are some useful tips:

  • Not all seed suppliers are reliable! There are many stories of people getting cress seeds instead of a ‘blue-leaved Coleus’ or something equally impossibly rare! Be particularly careful with suppliers based in China.

  • Check suppliers’ feedback ratings and go on a personal recommendation if you can.

  • If you are not sure, do a ‘test order’ of just one packet to see if you get the seeds you have been promised.

  • Check out Unusual Seeds on Etsy (based in Serbia), Chiltern Seeds in the UK, seedman.com and Silverhill seeds in S Africa as a starting point.

  • Check out my US and UK houseplant buying guides for more seed buying suggestions.

  • Check out Facebook group Houseplant Fans of On The Ledge to compare notes on good suppliers with other listeners.

Question of the week

Lauren wanted to know whether she should worry about the white fluffy stuff that had turned up on the surface of the soil of her fiddle leaf fig. The good news for Lauren is the answer is no. Fungus is in pretty much all soils in one form or another, and fuzzy white mould found on the surface of houseplants is saprophytic fungus, which feeds on dead organic matter in the soil and is harmless. Some people with asthma find mould spores are a problem, in which case you can mulch pots with gravel or expanded clay pebbles to stop it forming.

It may be a sign that the FLF is holding a bit more water than it should, so I advised Lauren to check her compost to see if it was a bit waterlogged or maybe had slumped in the pot, reducing the air pockets available to the roots. Air pockets can be reintroduced by giving the soil a poke with a chopstick.

Want to ask me a question about your plant? Either way, tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.

Introducing this week’s sponsor…

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Help me hit my target of 100 - make that 200! - patrons…

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This week's show featured Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, Quasi Motion by Kevin Macleod, An Instrument the Boy Called Happy Day Gorkana by Samuel Corwin and Overthrown by Josh Woodward. Ad music was Dill Pickles by the Heftone Banjo Orchestra. All tracks licensed under Creative Commons.

Logo design by Jacqueline Colley.