Today we're visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG). Mary Pat
Matheson is the Executive Director of ABG and provides a little
background about this exceptional garden and tells us a little about
their world class exhibit, the Chihuly. Mary Pat feels the people and
plants at ABG are exceptional. The people have a deep abiding commitment
to plant collections and ABG has one of the most fully developed and
diverse plant collections in the United States. The Chihuly exhibition
is also unique. Dale Chihuly is the foremost glass artist in the world.
He has had fabulous exhibits at galleries and museums throughout the
world. Here at ABG this exhibit is both indoors and outdoors. Outside
they're almost all in the water features, making them a celebration of
the manmade garden environment. The Water Lily pool has Najima floats
which are round balls made of blown glass. These are the largest balls
of glass ever blown in the world. To see them next to Amazon Water
Lilies and other aquatic plants is wonderful. When entering the
Conservatory the exhibition changes. There it's about the glass
interacting with the plants and the glass for the most part is smaller,
but in clusters. Chihuly has taken the beauty of the plants and the
beauty of the glass and put them together in a compatible and elegant
manner. For example, in the Desert House most of the glass is Amethyst
and blue which blends beautifully with the dusty and light green of the
desert. People from across the United States, even the world, are coming
to see this exhibition, the largest of its' kind and the only exhibit of
glass outside in a garden setting.
Tom Harvey is a horticulturist with ABG and our visiting expert today.
We discuss with Tom, Tropical plants and he shares with us his tips for
caring for these wonderful plants. Tom, too feels that ABG has wonderful
outdoor gardens as well as one of the most outstanding Tropical
collections not only in this country but probably the world. ABG has a
high altitude house which simulates the growing conditions for plants
that typically grow in regions with altitudes of 4,000 to 10,000 feet.
As well, they have a low elevation house where Orchids and other
Tropical plants grow. Both of these have world class displays of
tropical plants and Orchids. This is the place to go to talk about
Tropical plants and Orchids are becoming more popular every day. Orchids
are now available in grocery stores and home improvement centers. These
plants make great indoor house plants and often are a better value than
cut flowers. As these plants become more popular it becomes increasingly
important to know how to care for them.
What is a Tropical? Where do they come from? Tropicals grow along the
equator, there moisture is very high. Tropicals can't take the cold.
Unless you live in an environment like Miami these plants won't survive
year round outside. Most can live outdoors in the summer but must be
brought indoors during winter.
Orchids are one of the most exquisite Tropicals, and are probably one of
the better flower values. They are now commonly available at affordable
prices. They will bloom for several months whereas cut flowers may last
a week or so, at the most.
Orchids are Epiphytes. An Epiphytic plant is one that attaches itself to
a structure in their native environment. Orchids, in the wild, attach
themselves to trees and limbs, this is what they use for support. They
don't take anything away from the plant, they use it to sit on, whereas
a parasite takes nutrients away form the host plant. Tropicals get their
nutrition from the environment and their water from water running down
the trunk. As well in a tropical environment much of their water comes
from the air. This is one of the reasons their leaves are so thick.
To grow one in your home, location is important. Place these plants in
an area that has humidity, a place like over or around the sink or in
the bathroom. Anyplace that has running water will produce moisture.
Another consideration is dappled light, they require dappled light.
Don't place these plants in an area that gets direct sunlight. Instead
place them in a north or west facing window, it is even better if this
window had shade from an outside tree.
These plants are low fertility plants. One of the worst things for them
is to be over fertilized. They get their fertility from organic matter
that washes off the trees where they grow. This is an environment that
isn't high in nitrogen. In a home environment they will need
fertilization but only 1/4 to 1/2 the strength of other household
plants. They don't grow in soil, they typically are potted in something
like charcoal or bark. This is because Orchids need their roots in
Everyone wants their Orchids to bloom, to come back year after year.
There are certain orchids that bloom once and that's it but there are
many Orchids that will bloom more frequently. Papyopetalum is one that
blooms more often. If cut at a node it will re-sprout and bloom again
and last for weeks at a time. Oftentimes it will bloom twice a year.
Don't be upset if it doesn't bloom continuously. The plant needs to
rest, to go into a period of dormancy to recapture its' bloom.
Phalaenoposis is the Orchid most are familiar with, the one we see in
grocery stores. It is a long bloomer, it lasts a long time and continues
to bloom out as the spike grows. Once finished, cut it off at the node
and sometimes it will sprout and rebloom again. The cut should be made
about half way down, go to the last two sprouts and make the cut there.
Roots normally appear to be growing outside the pot, this is something
Orchids do. Many people at this point want to repot the plant. This
isn't necessary, the roots need to grow over the side of the pot. This
allows the roots to take up oxygen. It is a good idea to mist the roots,
however if they're in an environment where they get a lot of humidity
that isn't necessary.
We next look at some bread and butter exotics. The Slipper Orchid is
deep burgundy, almost black. The Jewel Orchid is a bullet proof plant.
It has velvety leaves with veination in them. This plant is a good
replacement for African Violets. It is easy to grow and grows
successfully in the same type environment. It is easy to propagate. Tom
broke off a stem and quickly roots have appeared. Barely put the stem in
soil, water it a little, a misting and another plant will take off.
Orchids can be one of the most fragrant plants. This is often how they
attract pollinators. There are Orchids that smell like chocolate or
vanilla, some smell like spices, cinnamon for example, others smell like
citrus - lemon or orange, others don't have a scent that is
identifiable. They're so complex that they're like a new perfume. In
fact some perfumes come from Orchids.
Often people tend to over-fertilize Orchids. A good tip is to not to
fertilize the plant when blooming. At that point it doesn't need
fertilization, it has plenty of stored energy and the blooms will last
longer if not fertilized. Don't over water these plants or other house
plants. If a plant is getting full sun and its' leaves are burning or
discoloring it may well be receiving too much sun. Don't be overly
protective, Orchids are tough plants and they're adaptable to the
In the Rotunda Tom has a lot of Orchids with fascinating foliage.
Colathyas, Peacock Plant is its' common name, has lovely green foliage
that thrives in a home environment. It's not an expensive plant and is
long lived. At night the leaves fold up. They react to light and open up
to photosynthesize, then at night, as day comes to an end, they close
back up to conserve heat and energy. This also helps keep water off the
leaves and protects against fungus and bacteria.
Tom shows us an everyday Angel Wing Begonia. There isn't a plant that's
a better house plant. They can withstand attacks by humans and animals
and still come back. The leaf on the top is green with a speckle, but
underneath it is a rich purple. When in bloom the bloom hangs down in
long tags of pink and white blossoms and they bloom for a long time. It
can be taken outside on a porch in the summer but when it gets cold
bring it inside and it will do well there as well. It is a vigorous
growing plant, over time it will get leggy with nothing but bare stems,
so every couple of years it will need to be cut back dramatically. Cut
it back to within 8-10 inches of the pot, it will fill out quickly in
Another group of plants that aren't cold hardy and problem free but are
good house plants are Succulents. Cactus is the most familiar variety.
It can take and give a lot of abuse. It doesn't need a lot of water,
thus is a no maintenance plant. The most common mistake with these
plants is to over water them. These plants can survive on several
tablespoons of water each month. In their natural environment they store
tremendous amounts of water when it rains, then they can go months with
Chlorosis means yellowing of the leaves, particularly the older leaves of
the plant. When present on older leaves it's possible the plant has a
Nitrogen deficiency and could indicate that it's a good time to
fertilize. If the same symptoms occur with younger leaves the most
likely problem is over watering.
It is important to understand that over watering tropical or house
plants is deadly. A plant can barely be killed by under watering. Tom
finds it ideal to create a situation where temporary wilt sets in. The
plant, in this instance, is not actually damaged but the roots are
completely dried out. To determine if your house plant needs water first
check the color of the soil. Beware, your plant may be dry on the
surface but wet below. Thus, pick up the plant, if it feels light that
is a good indication it may be dry. Stick your finger into the soil,
that will give an indication how wet the soil is at least as far as your
finger goes into the soil. A water meter is always effective. Move the
meter through the soil and see where it starts to register water. Also
check the angle of the leaf. If it has a good strong angle, it's
probably well watered. If the angle starts to drop that is an indication
it's going into temporary wilt. Look at the color of the leaf. If
turning a pale shade that indicates temporary wilt and it's time to water.
Tom, we thank you for taking time from your schedule and showing us and
enlightening us on tropical plants and Orchids. You have educated us and
hopefully given us confidence to try these wonderful house plants in our
Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Back to Top