Tag: succulent 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.

Succulent Gardening For the Future

Succulent Gardening – Is it more than just a fad?Echeveria at Succulence

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Glen Park Garden Club. They are a wonderful organization, filled with like-minded individuals who absolutely love to garden and have spent a lifetime growing a wide assortment of plants. When they asked me to talk at their meeting, I thought, “What better topic to discuss than the changing California landscape?”

As I considered our changing landscape, and the terrible situation we’re in with our vanishing water supply, and the worry and concern that this drought might last for much longer, and the drying and dying of the non-irrigated landscapes within San Francisco, and the photographic images and informational memes on the internet of the groundwater receding, and the water bills that appear to be growing exponentially, I began to wonder if there was more to using succulents in our landscapes than just being responsible and water-wise for the greater community.

It’s been easy for me to talk to people about using these plants to create xerophyte gardens. When soaring water bills hit our wallets, it helps us connect to the fact that there is a problem and that we would like to be part of the solution. Fundamentally, succulent plants can fill a yard and not need to be watered much, if at all. So if you are wanting to have plants in your yard, and you want them to be manageable, to not drop tons of detritus, to be elegant and architectural, colorful and sensual, to give you weird beautiful flowers that last a long time, and to not need much of that precious H2O, then succulents are going to provide you with a wonderful and passionate solution.

But if you are a different kind of gardener, such as the horticulturalists I met at the Glen Park Garden club; if you garden as a part of a lifetime of curious exploration of the world; if you garden as a peaceful means of meditation; if you garden to provide sustenance to yourself, your family or your community; if you garden as part of your personal mental health regimen, and to pack dirt under your fingernails for use as an anti-depressant; if you garden to nurture nature and receive nurturing from nature; if gardening is your way of sharing a deep communion with our earth; then succulent and other xerophytic gardening might be your best bet to continue gardening, even in the face of an actual lack of water. 

And, when you plant large agave and aloe near your home, you have the added bonus of having a whole aggregation of your own personal reservoirs, full of water, and ready to protect your home in case of fire!Enormous Agave Ruth Bancroft Gardens