Dendrobium Swallow: How can I say no to that face?

Moving is hard on plant addicts. Wherever we spend any amount of time, photosynthetic organisms just seem to gather around us. We gain a sense of purpose, of being needed, from caring for our leafy friends who have come to rely on us. But as humans are (sometimes) rather mobile creatures, there are times when we have to leave some of our green children behind.

Some of these children have been nurtured for years, with only a vague promise of reward to their caretakers. But our patience is not limitless, and while we wait for the promised flowers, fruits, foliage, or form of our ward to reveal their glory, we may find that there are negative features that grow to outweigh the promised reward, even once it arrives. So when, in a young, somewhat nomadic, gardener's life, it comes time to relocate yet again, who among his leafy friends will he choose to bring with him and who will be sent to a new home (or the great compost heap in the sky)?

We've all been here, whether moving or simply becoming disenchanted with a plant that we may have once found fascinating. But it's not something gardeners talk about often. People change, and sometimes they grow apart. There comes a time when a plant must make way for new passions, or maybe even an old flame rekindled by a chance encounter...

OK, That's enough melodrama for one post, I think. What was that about, anyway? Well, since I am moving home to Washington State at the end of March, I am having to evaluate the plants in my collection. It is as much about the performance of the plants themselves under my care as it is about discovering, or rediscovering, what I envision for my garden, indoors or out. I have so many treasured houseplants, not to mention all the hardy plants I've acquired from working at a nursery and botanic garden. I'm not sure which is harder. This periodic culling has become routine with my houseplants. Indoor space has always been limited, while I never had that problem with the outdoor garden, growing up on 5 acres. I'm not sure I know how to let go of hardy plants.

A plant that has been on the chopping block for months, even before I was sure I would be moving, is a Dendrobium nobile Swallow that was given to me by a fellow orchid enthusiast several years ago. I have been alternately fascinated and repulsed by this orchid. Dendrobium nobile is a deciduous orchid with fat, glossy canes and bright green leaves during the growing season. In fall, the leaves slowly (and not entirely) fall off and the stems wrinkle. This dormancy induces the formation of flower buds, and is a necessary period of ugliness to experience the beautiful blossoms. Many people find the charm of the flowers far outweighs any unfortunate appearance the plant may go through, but I've always been more of a fan of foliage and form. I admit my passion for orchids is also waning a bit. They require more frequent watering than most terrestrial plants, because the media (bark, coconut husk chips, perlite, etc.) dries faster than regular potting soil. Several have been hit with disease here in North Carolina (oh what a miserable, wet summer!), along with some of my other plants, and I simply don't want to expend the resources to rehabilitate them. I do still love orchids, but I no longer have the "gotta catch 'em all" mentality.

Even though I have chosen to part with Swallow, this little bird is still giving me a parting gift. This year she finally reached blooming size. The flowers are beautiful, if not fragrant (though that may develop once the flowers open fully). Unfortunately, they are not enough to convince me to take her across the country with me. It's hard when finally faced with such beautiful flowers, but for the last year or more I've been telling myself, "I just want to see it bloom once, then it's goodbye." But I can still share her beauty here for the world to see. Farewell, little Swallow, may you fly to a more loving nest.

BUT WAIT! These flowers are gorgeous! Am I really sure I want to give her away?! I'm so conflicted! The stems aren't necessarily ugly, per se. Maybe they could be described unique? Interesting? Alas, not for me. She will find someone who deserves her (now that I've done the hard part of growing her to blooming size. Haha.)

I do love the enchanting dark eye against the while lip and petals.

A bit of backlighting makes the throat glow. 

The whole plant. Interesting, and maybe even pretty to some people, but it just doesn't fit with my "vision" anymore. Doesn't that just sound snobbish?
 As I alluded to earlier, I have some new passions for which other plants are having to move aside. One of these is the tropical rhododendrons, known as vireyas. Rhododendrons are quite possibly my favorite genus, even if many other natives of the Pacific Northwest may find them dull or overused. (Certainly the standard hybrids are, but there are so many worthy species and hybrids.) I have ten plants, which were added to my collection about a year ago. A species, Rhododendron rubineiflorum, has several buds for the first time, and I hope to show off those flowers once they open. Rhododendron 'Periwinkle', pictured below, is blooming for the second time. I'm not happy with it's overall form, but I am a pruning addict (pruning, NOT shearing!) as well as a plant addict, so that will give me something to work on. The tiny, half-inch long leaves are a lovely, rich, glossy green, so once I fix it's balance and get it to fill in, it should be a beautiful little shrub for the house. And the flowers are such a bright, glowing orange! I have a thing for orange.

The flowers glow from across the room, but up close you can admire the contrast of the dark anthers. Not sure what the colorless patches on the corolla are. I may be able to fix that as I gain experience in vireya culture.

'Periwinkle' is a great beginner vireya. This is it's second time blooming in about a year, and it's loaded with many more buds!

I also happened across an old flame while perusing the personal adds online. Dracaena goldieana is one of those plants that I have lusted after since I first picked up my Dad's old plant books. As with Guzmania musaica, which launched the inaugural post of my blog, Dracaena goldieana attained a status of unattainable legend. I don't know what it is about these last couple years, but suddenly I'm finding all these plants that I've wanted for 5 or even 10 years and had never been able to locate before, not to mention all the new plants I've started salivating over after discovering nurseries like Cistus, Xera Plants, Far Reaches Farms, The Desert Northwest, and many others. What? Did you think I only liked houseplants? That addiction was triggered by wanting gardening space that was safe from deer and somehow grew into a monster that has traveled with me through several moves. I just haven't had the opportunity to plant a garden outside, so until that time, my houseplants are my garden.

Anyway, back to the lovely, the illusive, Dracaena goldieana. I finally found a source! Vintage Green Farms, run by Tom Piergrossi, offers this drop dead gorgeous plant. I haven't been paid off to say this or anything, but he has a wonderful selection of other beautiful and hard to find tropical plants, and even a handful of zone 7-8 hardy plants. It's going to be absolute torture, but I will wait until AFTER my move to buy this plant. I don't need ANOTHER plant to pack! My first order of business after settling back into Washington will be to send in an order for my long-searched-for Dracaena, and a few other goodies to keep her company on the trip from Hawaii!

Here she is, in all her beauty

Photo credit to Jardin Boricua
A little closer...
Photo credit to Puertorriqueno
So long, for now. It's late, and Dracaena goldieana is waiting for me in my dreams...


  1. That is a gorgeous Dracaena! I'm not a big fan of orchids, but some are charming when they flower. That said, that Dendrobium nobile is an ugly plant, even with a flower. Thanks for confirming what I thought about the pink plant not being a Tillandsia. The Miss Andrea Cordyline that I bought at Flower World was only $5.99.

    1. I've wanted that Dracaena since I was about 10. I think almost 15 years of lust merits buying it after finally finding it, don't you? Haha. Yes! Tell me the dendrobium is ugly! I need to hear it to stay strong! I am going to grow mostly Paphiopedilums from now on, as far as orchids are concerned. They are lovely foliage plants that do well indoors in the PNW and the blooms are a great bonus. Wow! $5.99! I may have to make a trip to Flower World when I move home to see if there are any left. The place I was looking at had them for $10. Thanks Alison!

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