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Conservatory has done wonders for our mistreated old pot plants.

Our new house has one particular advantage over the old one - it is full of sunlight. The other place, for all its appeal, had only one window, a porch and a skylight that were bright enough to grow houseplants or bring on a batch of seedlings.

For 24 years I juggled pots and trays to the benefit of the plants most in need of light.

Now most of the windows catch plenty of light and the house backs south, providing the ideal position for a conservatory. My wife, Jackie, and I agreed a conservatory would be wonderful, though for different reasons - lifestyle and indoor horticulture respectively. In any case, we had one built, stipulating an opaque roof, a ceiling fan and good ventilation from double doors, a single door and four windows. "Aha," said friends, "you'll need blinds as well - you'll see."

They were wrong. Despite this fairly warm summer, we have needed to use the ceiling fan on only a couple of occasions.

Meanwhile, the plants have loved it. They deserved some consideration after their rough treatment following our move last year. Some were left in the garden, where their foliage was scorched by the sun, others squeezed into crannies, where they became covered by the debris of house renovation. Watering was rare and feeding non-existent.

However, by late summer the conservatory was finished and I was ready to rehabilitate the plants.

This involved pulling out dead and damaged leaves, then washing the foliage of smooth-leaved plants with a sponge and lukewarm water and removing dust from hairy-leaved varieties with a soft brush normally used for water-colour painting.

Several plants were pot-bound and needed moving into larger containers, for which I used sieved garden compost into which granules of slow-release fertiliser were mixed. I never use peat-based compost, not so much for conservation reasons as for the fact that it dries out easily and is too acidic for many plants.

For those, like azaleas, that like acid compost, leafmould is better - acidic but much better at retaining moisture.

All the plants were allocated conservatory places of varying brightness to suit their individual needs, on windowsills, the floor and on stands. They were watered whenever they needed it with a half-strength liquid feed on every occasion.

Even before Christmas, the results were spectacular - and not only from Christmas cactus.

The half-hardy jasmine, Jasminium polyantha, grew inches every day, sent stems winding in every direction and filled the conservatory with the sweet scent of massed white flowers. The display started in December and lasted for months.

Clivia miniata - nothing mini about it - had been one of the worst-treated plants because its huge pot was so inconvenient after the move.

Now it spread its long, fleshy leaves and in January produced heads of stunning, trumpet-shaped flowers, deep orange with underlying hues of bronze and salmon-pink and the centre and anthers in gold.

As spring approached, our streps - a collection of streptocarpus or Cape primroses - appreciated the lengthening days and bloomed for months at a time in numerous shades of blue, pink, yellow and white with delicate purple veining.

The most impressive were Moonlight, with luminous petals of light mauve and pale yellow, Bristol's Blackbird, deep purple, and the Crystal series, which blooms virtually non-stop in ideal conditions such as these. Crystal Ice is white with purple veining and Crystal Beauty pale blue-mauve with darker veins.

A little kalanchoe, with plump leaves and white flowers, finished blooming and, before it could be dead-headed, started again. It is still in flower six months later.

An even smaller succulent, with rosettes of shapely, pointed leaves, has been in the same pot for 20 years - since I bought it while helping on the garden stall at our parish church bazaar.

It once produced five flower stems but, after half a season in the conservatory, bloomed much more impressively, sprouting 12 stems topped with elegant, drooping white bells in May and June. Identifying this has not been easy. It appears to be a species of orostachys - but I am open to other ideas.

Meanwhile, I know there are many more plants out there that will love it in our conservatory. I'm on the lookout . . .
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2003
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