Tag: gardening

Ken’s Interview With Banana Republic on Urban Gardening

Last month, our fearless leader Ken Shelf was thrilled to be interviewed by Banana Republic for an article about urban gardening and green California living. Check out the piece here, and find the full transcript of the interview below.

Taking Root

How much commitment do indoor plants require?
 They vary!  Some need a lot of attention, and some just a couple helpful words of encouragement every now and then.  Find the one that resonates with your style.

Where do plants thrive indoors? Under what conditions?  There are a lot of options for indoor plants.  All things living need a bit of light and water, and indoor plants are no different.  Just how much light and water they require is the most important detail. One thing is for certain, you can probably find something that will thrive in whatever conditions you have, which will brighten up your room and add some life to your environment.

What are the top three requirements for indoor plants?  Probably the most important thing is to know your environment.  Do you get a ton of sun? Not very much at all? That is crucial to picking a plant that will thrive in your home.  The next question might be one about your style. Are you a helicopter plant parent? Or are you more likely to leave something completely alone.  Another important consideration is the space. Do you have room for something that is going to get tall? Or are you looking for something small that will provide a bit of life to a small corner of your home.

What makes a good plant parent?  The same thing that makes a good human parent; attentiveness.  Check in with your plant. Is the soil dry? Are there new leaves?  Flower buds? Look how beautiful it is! The key to success with plants is paying attention to them.  Which is also the key to enjoying plants.

What plants are best for a frequent traveler?  Cactus don’t need a lot of attention, they may only get watered once a month.  If you have the light for them, they may be your best bet to having life in a space that you don’t spend a lot of time in.

The First Sprout

Best beginner plants?  Haworthia are a beautiful family of small, hearty succulents.  They make cute flowers that are sent out on a long stem. My first succulent was a haworthia fasciata given to me in December of 1994.  I still have it!

Best small indoor plants?  Aloe Vera is a terrific indoor plant friend.  It is hearty and easy to care for and has the added bonus of having medicinal properties, so you can break off a piece to treat a minor burn.  Some people even drink their juices.

Best big indoor plants?  Monstera deliciosa is a gorgeous and eye-catching plant.  It can get very large, and doesn’t need water much more than once a week (and even less in the winter).

Easiest indoor plants?  Pothos are simple.  They come in lots of color variations and if they are given steady water, they will grow steadily.  You can train them to trail around an entire room from a small pot.

Most rewarding (or fickle) indoor plants?  I am a huge fan of the succulent plant Senecio Rowleyanus, otherwise known as the String of Pearls.  Not only can they thrive indoors, sending their pearly stems 3’ and longer, but they have fascinating little Seussian fluffy flowers that smell deliciously!  They are one of the only succulent flowers that have a sweet smell.

Most perseverant plants for black thumbs?  Thick leaved succulents like gasterias are really hard to kill, especially in a bright indoor environment.  And they don’t need much water, which can help create confidence for a newbie plant parent.

In Full Bloom

What was your first plant?  Haworthia Fasciata, still going strong since 1994.

What plant made you want more? Tephrocactus articulates var. papyracanthus.  It is made up of loosely connected segments that are separated easily.  I got one, and soon after I had many. Now they are everywhere in my house.  And so cool looking! They need very little care, which helps!

What is your favorite plant?  I am a huge fan of the Ficus Lyrata, the Fiddleleaf Fig.  I wish I lived somewhere that I could have it outside, where it can be enormous!  But in chilly San Francisco, it is relegated to an indoor plant. Still, we have one at our shop with a 30-foot wingspan!  It is a truly beautiful tree, with gorgeous and gigantic leaves.

The secret to a thriving apartment jungle? Lots of microclimates!  That way you can have different families of plants everywhere.  A lot of sun will give you the most options. A nurturing personality will help as well.

What is most rewarding about being a plant owner?  I think having lots of plants around is relaxing.  The energy is great, and the health benefits are real.  Besides producing oxygen, the venation patterns in the leaves make your eyes send happy messages to your brain.

Full Sun? What does it mean?

Full Sun!

What does that mean? Why are my plants not thriving? I planted them in full sun, just like the plant tag said.

Well, funny thing about plant tags, and plant care instructions in general. They don’t know you, or where you live. Full sun is a perfect example of this. Full sun in San Francisco, CA means a completely different thing than full sun in El Paso, Texas. In fact, it means a completely different thing than full sun in Livermore, CA, a town just 90 minutes away.

How will that affect my plants?

Here is one way. Let’s say you just scored some beautiful Aeoniums (like the one in the picture above). These are plants that mostly come from the Canary Islands, a Mediterranean climate not unlike the SF Bay area.


Here in SF, they thrive like crazy! You don’t need to do much, as long as you are planting them outside here. The tag says full sun, so you plant them in full sun and away they go. Your 4 inch plant is a 2 foot monster in no time, with multiple offshoots and soon you are getting flowers from some of the offshoots (which probably spells the end of that portion of the plant – but that is a story for another blog). In the summer they may get a little stagnant, although if you are watering semi-regularly (I say “semi” because remember succulents want a little neglect – too much water can kill them) they may look great even though it is not their regular growing season. Then, once the winter rolls around, they may go sort of crazy, spreading their wide open faces to the sky and inspiring you to write poetry about their sunflower-esque beauty. Yes, full sun in the Mediterranean-like Bay Area is just perfect for Aeoniums.

However let’s say you live in Fresno, a hot southern California city southwest of the Sierra National Forrest where the summer temperature can easily be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You bought your plants in the spring and planted them in full sun, following instructions like the great gardener you are. Now it is July and your plants are disintegrating. The leaves curled up a bit first, and you were concerned so you gave them more water than you felt was appropriate, but you didn’t want them to die. Then the leaves began to burn and fall off, and soon your plant was looking smaller and smaller and very “leggy”. Not long after that, the leaves were all gone and even the stem was looking sad and falling over.

That is because all “full sun “was not created equally. So it is not enough to simply follow the instructions on the tag, a bit more research may be involved in buying the right plants for your area and keeping them healthy throughout the four seasons of the year.

If you are lucky enough to have four seasons.

Which sadly, in SF, we are not.