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Plantgasm - I love plants too much. By Derek Powazek.

Up Close in the Conservatory of Flowers

I’ve visited the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers many times, but today I got a new vantage. Olloclip is an attachment for the iPhone that adds a macro lens to the camera. (There’s a wide-angle and a fisheye, too, but I mostly like it for the macro.) The lens allowed me to see the tiniest of flowers ultra close up.

My New Two-Tier Low-Water Triangle Planter

There’s an awkward corner at the front of my building. It’s a tight 90º turn where a planter would work so long as it kept out of the way. The perfect shape would be a triangle, but since I couldn’t find one (how hard it is to make triangular planter?), I decided to build one myself.

The final project came out quite well. It’s 2 feet tall, 3 feet wide, and has 2 tiers for planting in, and I only bled once. I even added a floor with holes for drainage. All it took was some wood (Poplar – more on that in a moment), a circular saw that could handle 45º cuts, a drill, a few screws, and as much of my high school geometry class as I could remember.


I’m quite proud of the way it came out. Yesterday I did the planting.


I think it looks pretty good!

What I didn’t know when I bought the wood is that Poplar is not very rot resistant. All wood planters rot eventually, it’s just a matter of when. (Mental note: Cedar and Redwood last the longest. Next time.) To help extend the life of the planter, I decided to use a cactus mix and plant only low-water plants, so that I could keep the container quite dry (which should keep it from rotting quickly).


For the bottom row, I selected succulents that should stay small: Echeveria, Kalanchoe, and Sedum. It’s planted pretty tight but I just wanted to put everything in and see how they do.


On top, I kept with the low-water requirement, but went in a different direction. Around the sides I planted Sempervivum, which will, in time, form a dense mat and spill over the edges. I needed something small because in the center I planted a giant.

The Giant Sea Squill, aka Drimia maritima, is the largest flowering bulb in the world! This bulb was about a foot across. This season, it should form a huge half-circle of spear-shaped, wavy leaves. And when it’s ready, it’ll shoot a spray of flowers up 3-5 feet.

The Sea Squill grows in sandy crevices in beachy areas, so it’s good in costal climates with arid sand. When I bought it, the salesman said, “plant it, water it, and then never water it again.’ Sounds like the perfect crown jewel for my new two-tier low-water triangle planter extravaganza.

Explosion in a Perfume Factory

No, this is not a Christmas decoration, but it is pretty festive. Can you guess what it is?


Step back and you can see the golfball-sized clusters of flowers. Got it yet?


Okay, here’s the big reveal. It’s the original Fred!


Longtime readers my know the story of my Dracaena fragrans, but the short version is, this guy’s a fighter. I’ve had him for twenty years. This is his third bloom. And this one is really driving home the “fragrans” in Dracaena fragrans. Dude smells like an explosion in a perfume factory, especially at night.

Plantgasm on Findery

Findery is a fun new site that lets you attach virtual notes to real places. I’ve been using it to note some of my favorite plants in San Francisco.

If you’re in San Francisco, you can visit them all!

First Bloom: Cirrhopetalum pulchellum

Cirrhopetalum pulchellum

I picked up this Cirrhopetalum pulchellum back in January from Norman’s. This is its first bloom. The flowers are much smaller than they look – the whole spread is about an inch across.

The Caladium Hour

Every day, just before sunset, the sun spends one of its last afternoon hours streaming into my living room window, falling on my dining table, and beaming right through the opaque, nearly transparent leaves of a Caladium growing there. And every day I think to myself, I should really photograph that. Today, I did.


Two Links Closer in the Chain of Dendrobium Ifs

Back in May, I wrote about A Dendrobium Seed Pod and the Long Chain of Ifs. Now we’re a couple links closer.

First, good news came from Troy Meyers, the flasking lab, last month. The seed embryos looked good under the microscope. Here they are, under transmitted and reflected light.

Photo by Amber Kost Photo by Amber Kost

Next, more good news from Troy Meyers, last week. The seeds have germinated! I asked for a photo and he sent me this.


It may not look like much now, but that layer of yellow blobs are all clusters of tiny, growing Dendrobium embryos. Sexy goop, eh?

So we’re two more links into the long chain of ifs. Now if they stay alive, and if they survive a reflasking or two, and if they survive the trip to me, and if I can get them transitioned to media, and if I can keep them alive another few years, and if I can get them to bloom … then we’ll finally see what the flowers look like.

Like I said, it’s a long chain of ifs, but still so exciting!

Dahlia Darling


I’d never grown a Dahlia before, but Heather picked out a few back in March and they went into the back corner of the yard after The Great Potato Bush Massacre. Little did I know that they’re the official flower of San Francisco. And now I know why – they love it here!


This is Dahlia ‘Vancouver’, the first to bloom. I can see a whole lot more Dahlia in my future.

Pollination By Post

Back in May, my friend Zach sent me some pollen from one of his Phalaenopsis orchids in the mail. I used it to pollenate one of mine that happened to be blooming.

I snapped a quick photo to remember the details. That’s the pollinia there in the plastic bag after the word “purple.”


The pollination took! Here’s the pod today.


Phalaenopsis orchid pods can take 8 months or so to mature, so we still have lots of time to wait. But if this pod produces viable seeds, the plants will be a mix of two different Phalaenopsis hybrids, both with white and purple blooms.

A Repotting Lesson from a Philodendron Cutting

Last year, my friend Leland sent me a cutting of Philodendron pinnatifidum x melinonii from his yard. The photo on the left below shows what it looked like when I received it. It was just a few inches wide. I planted it in a 5 inch pot.

By December, it had rooted and thrown out its first enormous leaf, which you can see in the photo below on the right. Magnificent!

Philodendron pinnatifidum x melinonii

What’s interesting (to me, anyway) is that it remained a one-leaf-wonder for months. In May, I noticed that the pot was going dry very quickly after watering. This is a good sign that the plant needed more room, so I repotted it into a gallon pot.

Philodendron pinnatifidum x melinonii

The plant immediately started putting out new leaves. It’s now up to four and I’m considering another repot soon. Lesson learned: some plants really need space below in order to thrive up top.


Plantgasm is where Derek Powazek chronicles his botanical antics and misadventures. More.