Musings, The Plants at Yours

The Plants at John Luke’s, Philadelphia

By Barbara-

This home has a rare plant on my plant wish list – the jewel orchid. Most of you probably have this on your wish list too. Lets take a quick peek. 

Name: John Luke Driessnack

Occupation: Addictions Therapist

I have had this ZZ plant for 3 years. It has tripled in size, despite being 12 feet from the nearest window and receiving water only 6 times per year. It is the hardiest indoor plant I have ever possessed and I highly recommend them for those low light spots where you want a plant but cannot imagine one surviving. They will grow slowly, buy surely.


Where you live: Philadelphia, USA

Number of plants you own: Approximately 40

How long you have been into plants and how did you get introduced: My mother gave me my first plant in college; it was a small dieffenbachia and it lasted about two years before being taken over by a pothos that was sharing the pot. Shortly after that I just began to load up on them.

Where are your plants located in your home?: I have a corner apartment that faces south-west, so it actually gets ideal light for just about any house plant. I have them in my bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and corridor.

Name any benefits you get from your plants: The benefits I get from my plants pertain mostly to décor. They are a beautiful, living project with which I can creatively interact. I cannot imagine living in a space without plants; the thought is actually frightening to me.

Phalaenopsis is much easier to grow and make flower than many expect. I usually manage to have at least two in flower at any point in the year. With at least an hour of direct, or 8 hours of very bright light daily, they will surely flower, and likely for months. Pot them in bark in clear contains so you can look at the roots. When roots are gray, they are dry. They will turn lime green when they get wet, indicating they have soaked up water. When they do flower, when the flowers die back, just cut a few inches of flower stem back, and wait for another node to sprout yet another flower spike. Sometimes I manage to keep that going all year.

What kind of plants do you like the most?: I like plants that grow quickly and do not require much other than proper watering and light. I like peperomias, hoyas, and orchids, especially phalaenopsis and brassias – these are all very rewarding plants. My absolutely favorite, however, and it is a medium-level of work kind-of-plant, is the terrestrial orchid, Ludisia discolor: the jewel orchid.

Can you share the biggest challenge you have had with your plants?: The biggest challenge is always real estate; the fact of the matter is, most indoor plants can handle much higher light levels than commercially or colloquially recommended. Many sellers and plant people recommend light levels that are basically enough to get by, but I try to place plants in optimal light levels, and even in a southwest facing apartment, this is challenging when you have a certain number of plants and limited space.

In this photo from left to right you can see anthurium superbum, jade plant, peperomia tricolor, and a yellow and green variegated peperomia. The anthurium superbum is a primitive fern-looking, medium light loving plant that looks like it belongs to the age of dinosaurs. It is partially epiphytic and if you are lucky enough to find one, ensure that it is planted in loose, loose soil. Jade, of course, requires AT LEAST three hours of direct sun to remain full. These two peperomias both require direct sun to maintain color, otherwise they will fade. And they love being pot-bound. Water jade and peperomia only when they are bone dry.

Can you share one mistake you made as an indoor gardener?: The biggest mistake I think many people make, and I used to, is believing the ‘constantly moist’ myth. I find that even thin-leaved tropical plants enjoy a touch of drought. I plant most of my green babies in very loose draining, cactus or epiphytic-type soils so that it is impossible to over-water – and when well established, I find that most of my tropicals like it that way.

If your plants were to be taken from you and you could only keep one, which one would it be and why? That would be the jewel orchid. It is an extremely low light plant, it is more drought tolerant than many give it credit for, and it is without comparison in ornateness and beauty. Just look at those pinstriped leaves. And it is easy as F to propagate.

The black and pinstriped leaves of this rarely sold terrestrial orchid are remarkable for their ability to photosynthesize in extremely low-light levels. They are native to southeast asia where they grow in the understory of thick jungles. I have seen them in botanical gardens growing beautifully underneath tropical shrubs. They will, however, reward you with higher light levels. They tend to get leggy and snake about, and they propagate via fleshy rhizomes that, if snapped off, will root with haste in a glass of water. DO NOT plant this in soil, but rather a fast-draining cactus mix or plain old phalaenopsis bark mixed with sphagnum moss. Be wary of over-watering this plant for it will rot as quickly as it grows. It prefers high temperatures, so keep things above 70F. If you prevent it from flowering by cutting them away (they aren’t much to look at) you can keep it from dying back, which it has a tendency to do before setting out new shoots.

Best advice you can give about any aspect in taking care of plants:  I recommend much higher light levels than generally thought acceptable. So long as temperatures and air flow is controlled, it is very difficult to give too much light. This is why most people fail to grow plants like yucca, fiddle-leaf, and peperomias and hoyas, they simply are not providing adequate light. These plants, to thrive, require about three hours of direct sun at a minimum. . Alternatively, the best low light plants I have experimented with, are definitively aglaonema and zz plant – so long as you water sparingly. 

Joker, destroyer of books and plants.

 Thank you so much for sharing John Luke. 

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Hi, I’m Barbara and I’m a little obsessed with house plants. I share my house plant adventures in the hopes of inspiring you to continue to enjoy the greens in your home. And if you have no plants (yet!) I hope this blog inspires you to add some green to your home. So go on! Try it! I think you might quite like it. And who knows? You may end up being … obsessed too.

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