Stewarts Office Plants

We supply many businesses across the South, from Sussex and Surrey, through Hampshire and Dorset to Wiltshire and Somerset. For more information about the services we offer visit our home page, or contact us here. In this blog you'll find news, interesting snippets, stories and pictures of our staff's adventures out on the road.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Feature plant: Monstera Deliciosa (Swiss Cheese Plant)

This feature plant post is as much about the vagaries of fashion and plant names than the actual plant.

When I started in interior landscaping twenty years ago, Monstera Deliciosa (commonly the Swiss Cheese Plant) was already deeply unfashionable, being one of those indelibly 1970s plants, all wild and shaggy with a tendency to get enormous.

Some old-timers also referred to it by the latin name Philodendron Pertusem, much to us young pups' bafflement.

I had a big line of them to look after in Heathrow Airport (where I began my career) and I hated them, as they did not do well there. 

For the intervening two decades the fashion has very much been for 'architectural' plants, though I've never quite worked out what that means. Spiky seems like a good synonym. Offices are getting more and more tightly packed, so plants that stay narrow (e.g. Dracaenas) are very popular.

Then all of  sudden a couple of years ago, the more hipster/interior designer clients I interacted with started to want lots of little plants rather a few large ones, but also wanted big, tropical broad-leaved plants... like the Monstera.

Laypersons will also notice that all of a sudden everything patterned has Monstera leaves on it: wallpaper, tea-towels, plates, you name it.

There is an obvious side effect to this: the price of Monsteras has absolutely skyrocketed. Up until a couple of years ago you would have been able to order a big, bushy 1.5m specimen grown up a mosspole from me for about £50.00 + VAT.

Now it would cost you about twice as much and - as the wholesalers are so desperate for stock - they are being delivered with growth only about 1.0-1.1m up the mosspole, like the rather puny effort shown on the left.

The smart money, if you really want to be a fashion victim, is to get a 'bush' plant like the one above right. Not as big, but at least they look better from the off.

Care advice, as far as I can remember? They are a low-medium light, medium water plant. They like
a warm, ideally humid location, where they aren't brushed against too much; that's what used to do for my row at Heathrow.

If you really want to spend some money there is a rare variegated type (Monstera Variegatum), with
gorgeous high-contrast white/green foliage. But prepare to spend a fortune; I have only ever ordered one 1.5m one about 15 years ago, and at today's prices it would be over £200.00. Incidentally: I know these are very hard to find, but I'm confident I can obtain one if you have stumbled on this post while searching in vain, so contact me at the address below if so.

Finally a postscript. As this post shows, everything comes round eventually. The price list I get sent by my Dutch supplier every week now refers to them as 'Philodendron Pertusem (Monstera)', so even the old name has come back in to fashion!


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Know about office plants? I wrote the book on them...

I try my best not to blow my own trumpet, but interior landscaping (office plants to you) is a small industry and I've been in it for a long time, so as per my whingy post from a few weeks ago, I know my stuff.

Last time I had a meeting with all my maintenance staff, one of the newer people suggested that it would be useful to have a definitive guide to all the plants that we use commercially, what conditions they like and what sizes are available.

I agreed that this would be very helpful, but that it would be a mammoth undertaking, as likely to happen as Stewarts buying me an air-conditioned van (sore point after a long traffic jam in Bristol yesterday). As things stand my staff are each given a copy of a small Dutch book which is very good for the Latin names, but not much else.

Shortly after that, I had a hospital appointment in Wincanton, so squarely in the middle of the day that (living nearer there than Stewarts Broomhill) it made no sense to come back to work, so I went home and for lack of anything else to do I sat down and wrote said book. In fact I ended up working on it for some hours after my allotted hours had finished.

On my return to work, I added images of each plant, ran it past a couple of key people, then pressed print on all FIFTY pages of it.

So far the reception has been very positive, and trust me: my staff would not hold back if they didn't like it.

So there you go: after twenty years in interior landscaping I actually have written the book on it. I have no intention of publishing it by the way, it's purely for internal use. Not sure how much market there is for it to be honest!


Friday, June 22, 2018

Heaven is...

... a well-stocked greenhouse.

We've just had a delivery so the main small plant bench is looking particularly lush. Just thought I'd drop a picture in.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Feature pest: Snow Scale

Now and then I focus on a pest that appears on office plants.

I've done the most common ones (Red Spider Mite, Mealy Bug), so now I am choosing one that is close to my heart due to the fact I played a small part in its identification in the UK.

Snow Scale looks to the untrained eye like Mealy Bug. In fact Mealy Bug is a kind of Scale too, and I'll discuss the common Scale in the future I hope.

So for a long time people just assumed a new kind of Mealy Bug was attacking very specific office plants. I became suspicious that it wasn't the same thing, and having a good friend who is a horticultural entomologist of some note (plant bug expert in plain English) I sent him a sample. He consulted colleagues, identified it as Snow Scale, and told me I was one of the first people to identify it in the UK, and the first in our industry.

So what's it like? It attacks a narrow range of plants: Aspidistras, some Dracaenas and has a go at Sansevierias.
The bad news is it does catastrophic damage to the plants if left untreated; it stays down at the soil level or in the joints of the leaves and can be quite stubborn to clean out. On some Dracaenas in particular it can be deadly.
The good news is that it doesn't seem to travel to adjacent plants (i.e. it comes in on new plants) and does respond to repeat treatment with pesticides like Provado, where use of same is permitted. I have successfully eradicated it on plants of my own, for sure.


Funny office sign... descriptive though

Another in my long running series of random funny signs from our clients' offices. Rather reminiscent of this one from five years ago. In case the photo isn't clear, this is a plant that someone has seen fit to label 'SHRUBBERY'.

There are three possible explanations:

1. Someone in the office is a bit OCD and likes labelling everything.

2. The firm is a bit OCD and everything they own has to have a label on it.

3. It was misidentified as something else with regrettable consequences, and someone decided a descriptive label was prudent.

No. 2 is probably most likely. Though of course I'm not sure a Philodendron Scandens creeper growing up a mosspole support counts as 'shrubbery', but to the layman it probably sounds as right as our maintenance staff frequently being referred to as "the flower man/woman". We take it in our stride.

 It's lucky - assuming I'm right - that I'm not in charge of such a labelling programme. My anarchic streak would have me misidentifying obvious things to see if anyone noticed... or cared.


Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Giant round pots

As you can tell, I am going through a reasonably quiet patch, so have time to post a few snippets.

This pot was one of a matching pair we recently installed outside a very swanky (enough to have a uniformed concierge) hair salon in the posh end of Poole.

The client asked for big black pots, and whatever I suggested they came back with "bigger!"

So I ended up supplying them these two Luna Slice planters which are an amazing 1.2m (or 4 feet) in diameter. I had my misgivings but they have had a very positive reception, and there have been one or two tentative enquiries from passers-by.

They look really good planted with Chamaerops Humilis palms (an old favourite of mine) and Ivy Leaf Geranium (which will hopefully be thriving by now).

Be warned though: they took 20 bags of compost and LECA (the drainage material we use) EACH to fill. To put it another way, our large delivery van was fully loaded and rather down on its haunches when we had loaded up everything we needed just to install these two pots. Though smaller versions are available, and as usual can be had in any colour you like!


Feature plant: Spathiphyllum Sensation

A quick 'feature plant' post to move my preceding rant down the post order a bit...

One of my maintenance staff - still fairly new - has a habit of ordering not quite the plants she intended. Usually I pull her up on it, but I think I did the last plant order in my sleep, so she managed to order three Spathiphyllum Sensations, when what she wanted was the usual small Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily), which you may be more familiar with.

The normal Spath comes in a 12-17cm diameter pot and is at most a foot high.

The S. Sensation is an entirely different proposition, being about 1.2m high. As you can see in this photo with a 10 litre watering can for scale. 

The question remains: what am I going to do with these? They require quite a lot of room as they to get fatter with age. I'm happy to sell them to people in our area for £40.00! 

Finally, care notes as usual. Spaths are one of the thirstiest indoor plants. The foliage will begin to sag obviously the moment they dry out, but don't panic as it quickly bounces back when watered. In fact they seem to do best in the long term if allowed to get to the point of sagging before being watered again, but for that you'll need to monitor them regularly.  

Monday, June 04, 2018

Please let us do our job

Very occasionally via the medium of this blog I have a little whinge about my job, though the incident that finally catalysed this post is now a few week's old. Grumbling is a dish best served cold...

Pictured here is a plant display I recently installed for a private client near Chichester. It's the perfect plant for its environment, in a pot that perfectly complements its surroundings.

That's because I chose it, and though it's hard to avoid a little bigheadedness, I've been doing this for years and I'm really good at it.


As the years have gone by in which I've been selling plant displays for Stewarts, and with a pronounced up-swing in the last couple of years, the trend is for people to pretty much tell me what they want.

The customer, I hasten to add, is always right... but when you are telling a houseplant expert what plants you want and he says they will not live in your office, or you have a particular plant pot in mind and he tells you they are simply not suitable (for example they have whopping great holes in the bottom so you'll be watering your carpet), the best thing would be to pay heed. Or you may as well cut me out of the loop entirely, and just go buy your own plants and pots!

If I am going to point fingers, the younger, more internet-savvy clients, especially those in the design industry seem to be the worst culprits here. My guess at the reason is the exponential growth in the availability of pictures through Google Images/Instagram/Pinterest etc.. Type "lovely indoor plants" and up pop thousands of wildly inappropriate plants for your office.

But again, just because you've found a picture of a plant in a blogger's house in America you like the look of doesn't mean that it will live here, or even that it's commercially available in the UK.

I'm entirely happy to be asked for anything, but what I would dearly love is for people to take 'no' for an answer, whereas the trend now seems to be to assume that (for goodness knows what reason!) I am part of a sinister conspiracy to deprive people of all the nice plants. Whereas the real reason is that after all these years I know that if you put the wrong plant in the wrong place, it won't look great for a while then drop dead, it will start to deteriorate from day one and never do its job: to make your workplace look nice! Whereas a safer choice will develop and prosper before your eyes.

Whinge over.

Oh, except to say that the lady who bought the pot in the image above has used Stewarts in her four spectacular houses over the last 13 years and is a very exacting customer, but here's the thing: if I tell her something won't work she takes my word for it!