December 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tanzania: Houseplants: Marriage: Albany Democrat Herald: Houseplant experts Kent and Trish Daniels met while in the Peace Corps in Tanzania in the 1960s, where Kent worked in road construction and Trish was a teacher

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tanzania: Peace Corps Tanzania: The Peace Corps in Tanzania: December 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tanzania: Houseplants: Marriage: Albany Democrat Herald: Houseplant experts Kent and Trish Daniels met while in the Peace Corps in Tanzania in the 1960s, where Kent worked in road construction and Trish was a teacher

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Houseplant experts Kent and Trish Daniels met while in the Peace Corps in Tanzania in the 1960s, where Kent worked in road construction and Trish was a teacher

Houseplant experts Kent and Trish Daniels met while in the Peace Corps in Tanzania in the 1960s, where Kent worked in road construction and Trish was a teacher

Houseplant experts Kent and Trish Daniels met while in the Peace Corps in Tanzania in the 1960s, where Kent worked in road construction and Trish was a teacher

It's a jungle in there

By Lynn Welp

When Corvallis residents Kent Daniels and his wife, Trish, moved to California from Washington, D.C., in 1979, they squeezed a menagerie of nearly 35 houseplants, three cats, a large dog and their two children into their two small cars.

This is no small feat considering it was mid December, and each night when they stopped they had to unload and reload the entire contents of these cars into a motel room.

In spite of plant inspections at the border, many of these same plants, or relatives thereof, still share space in their home today.

Their oldest houseplant is an arrowhead vine, Syngonium podophyllum, named for its shape like an arrowhead, which Kent says he got a start of from his mother in the 1950s. Related to the climbing philodendron, its lobed leaves are glossy green, deeply veined, and gracefully drape from a hanging pot.

"Houseplants are Kent's thing," Trish said. Like too many people in the kitchen can spoil the brew, the same can be said for the care and nurturing of houseplants. It's best if done consistently by the same person, so Trish readily concedes this duty.

Starting out with just one or two, today houseplants can be found in nearly every room of the couple's converted bungalow. Kent says he stopped counting at about 125 plants a couple of years ago. Former owners added on to the two-bedroom house, both up and out, with enough loft rooms and skylights to make this eclectic home truly plant friendly.

World travelers

Kent and Trish met while in the Peace Corps in the 1960s, where Kent worked in road construction and Trish was a teacher. Trish's love of traveling, perhaps sparked by her parents' career in the military, was enhanced by Kent's position as co-director of the Office of International Research & Development at Oregon State University. His career often took him to Africa and the Middle East, for periods of two or three weeks at a time, which became opportunities for the couple rather than inconveniences, as Trish could meet up with him in Paris or London afterwards at half the cost of a typical vacation.

Kent's collection of hats, hanging from the rafters of their loft bedroom, can attest to the traveling he's done over the years. Walking in the front door, you soon suspect he brought the jungle back with him as well.

Jades, spider plants, yuccas and bananas abound, not because he likes these best. "They're just the easiest to propagate," he said. In fact, all the yuccas originated from one "mother plant" given to the Daniels by friends who moved to Switzerland and couldn't take it with them.

He claims not to have a favorite houseplant. "I love them all," he said. And he even gets a sitter for them when the couple are away for any length of time.

Killing them with kindness

It takes a certain touch to care for and nurture houseplants properly. Some plants can be finicky. Too much water, not enough light and drafts cause many a would-be plant enthusiast to throw in the trowel, so to speak, when leaves turn brown, yellow and drop off. Even with good intentions, a hardy specimen can be killed with too much kindness.

Believe it or not, over-watering is the main culprit that will do in houseplants. The main reason is that most people think you should care for your plants the same in the winter as you do in the summer. This couldn't be more wrong.

Winter is the dormant time when houseplants don't require the same fertilizing and watering as they do in the summer when they are actively growing. On the average, Kent says he waters once every 10 days or so in the winter, as opposed to every five to seven days in the summer.

And not all plants have the same needs. "The key is to watch and water only when a plant dries out," he said.

Like renovating houses, Kent also enjoys renovating his houseplants now and then. That entails taking a cutting or rerooting a plantlet when it gets too leggy or scruffy looking. It's at this point he can choose to either replant the mother plant or throw it away and start over. When plants start to get root bound they go into larger pots with fresh potting soil. Whenever he looks upon a root-bound plant he ponders, "How does all that soil that was in the pot just disappear?"

Kent insists he very rarely fertilizes his houseplants because, as one can see, many of them have already reached the rafters without it.

Bringing the outdoors in

Perhaps Kent's houseplants grow to such enormous heights because they spend their summers on the patio and are brought indoors only when the temperatures threaten to dip below freezing, or maybe it's because they originally came from tropical environments. But chances are it is the light.

Plants need light to grow, and the brighter the better, which is not to say they can all tolerate direct light. Direct light can cause burning or yellowing of leaves. The key is to try to replicate the environment they are used to in the wild.

Upstairs in the loft tower of the home, light spills through the windows with abandon. Non-hardy hibiscus, bougainvillaea and a lemon tree with puckery fruit hanging from its branches all get moved here in winter.

Another bright room is the bathroom with its own skylights that bathe the plants there with light. A big-leafed philodendron, yuccas, spider plants, jades and seasonal cacti drink it up on shelves added high above your head just for this purpose.

A hardy-looking Norfolk Island pine, complete with Christmas lights and decorations that remain year round, stands front and center in the kitchen/sun room now that it is too big to be moved outdoors each summer. This room has the most plants, as it is an ideal space for them with humidity from cooking and one whole south-facing wall of skylights.

A tiny succulent, Haworthia tessellata, does well next to the window in this room — perhaps that's why its common name is ‘window plant.' Its unique network of bumpy white veins make it fun to touch as well as to look at. This type of plant performs best without fertilizer and when water is withheld during its dormant period, which may sound like neglect to some, but isn't.

A large-specimen jade plant, Crassula argentea, is obviously content in its niche nearby. Kent says this is the only jade that blooms each year, with delicate white blossoms. So do snake plants, better known as ‘Mother-in-law's tongue,' Sansevieria trifasciata. These two species make great houseplants because they tolerate low light, though they would prefer medium to high light, and are content to be root bound — who couldn't love that?

Kent says the banana that reaches clear to the roof came with the house. This year it has its first crop of tiny bananas. Small though they may be, he is as proud as any new poppa.

Retired but not tired

Retirement hasn't slowed Kent and Trish down much these days. They love the great outdoors, hiking and traveling, as well as being civic minded. Kent served on the Corvallis City Council from 1987 to 1990 and as a Benton County Commissioner from 1990 to 1997. He currently serves on the Corvallis Civic Beautification and Urban Forestry Board and is chair of the Parks Board. Trish has been on staff for Ron Wyden and has recently been elected to the Corvallis City Council.

They also love to work in their yard, where Kent says he tends to the flowers and plants while Trish maintains the vegetable garden. It's a veritable oasis nestled between campus apartments and a giant sequoia — a former Christmas tree planted by the home's original owner.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Albany Democrat Herald

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tanzania; Houseplants; Marriage



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