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Growing plants in sterile medium

Hi Everyone,

Long story short, following a lengthy (but successful) battle with cancer my mum has been advised that she can't garden for over 6 months, presumably to try to reduce the risk of infection whilst everything settles down. She is a very keen gardener and I know she will be missing being able to get in the garden! A

As it is her birthday coming up I had wondered whether it was possible to grow (relatively successfully) some houseplants in a sterile medium. I know (from a quick google) that they won't grow as well, but they can be transferred to proper soil at a later date. I thought it might be nice for her to be able to see some seeds germinate and at least feel like she is doing some gardened if that all makes sense?

I have assumed vermiculite is sterile, and was thinking about this (as it's easy to get hold of) but I don't know what would grow in the stuff. Whatever I get (if I can find anything) would either need to be a house plant, or at least something that can be started off in the warm before being transferred. What are my options? I was thinking (I have very limited knowledge) of maybe some kind of fruit tree like a lime or ideally something that flowers. I guess given the constraints and timescales something that at least looks interesting within 6 months would be a bonus. Of course it could be more than one plant! Would need to be grown from seed I think...

thank you for your help, apologies if this is the wrong section of the forum


  • WillDBWillDB Posts: 2,447

    I'm not sure about this one... any medium that you can grow a plant in can be made sterile - whether it's water, vermiculite or potting compost (which you can microwave to ensure it is sterile). But it won't remain sterile... bacteria will find a home anywhere where there is water and nutrients. Is standing water or damp vermiculite going to be worse than say, loam based compost? I don't know. Was your mum's doctor really worried about houseplants, or was the concern more about garden soil? Could you allow your mum to grow plants indoors in a way which is carefully managed to avoid direct contact with the soil/plants? Gloves, handwashing etc? Howabout growing them in a mini-greenhouse (Ikea have some sweet ones!) and getting you to hep her with anything that requires plant/soil contact?

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 61,236

    Hospital wards now don't allow patients to have vases of fresh flowers by their beds because the water in the vase can harbour bacteria, and I imagine that it's the danger of infection while her immune system is damaged due to chemo etc that the doctors are worried about. 

    While I understand that you want to cheer her up and help her get back to a normal life, as she's been so very poorly I'd really take the doctors' advice on board. 

    Maybe there's other ways of helping her enjoy plants etc. while she's getting her strength and immune system back - planning new planting schemes, looking at specialist seed catalogues, making a list of gardens to visit in the spring?

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,122

    I'd check to see how she'd feel about your idea. It's very thoughtful of you but in her position I don't think it's what I'd want. It would constantly remind me of what I couldn't do.image

  • Hi all,

    Taken on board - thanks for the advice/thoughts. I hadn't put two and two together and realised that the standing water would be the issue, and agree with the comments about accumulation of bacteria once started. Unless I'm prepared to also get her a clean room the idea isn't really going to work...


    thanks again

  • I wonder why the hospital are being so strict? My dad, my mum, my brother and myself have all had & currently have cancer and have never been told not to garden. Just to keep away from other people's pets!

    Interestingly found this on macmillans page and they actively encourage it!

    Pleased it's good news with your mum image

  • Dried flower arrangements may be acceptable and would give some pleasure perhaps ?  Or framed collages of pressed flowers/autumn leaves ?  I hope you manage to find something to brighten things up for your Mum Cisggyimage

  • WillDBWillDB Posts: 2,447
    Air plants (epiphytes) might be feasible. No growing medium at all to write about! Verdun's suggestion of orchids made me think of that!
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