When I talk about gesneriads, most people think of their grandmother's African Violets. In all honesty, I used to think that way too. Then I moved to Florida, and was introduced to some outstanding gesneriads for landscaping and container culture. Naturally there is a gesneriad society, and like many plant societies they are ready and willing to help with your questions about gesneriads. As with so many plant groups, there are sizes and colors to match any growing need.
One of the many surprises in this group was Gloxinia perennis , which grows just beautifully as a landscape plant here, even in fairly hostile conditions. There are many gesneriads which grow well as hanging baskets, some are suited to terrarium culture, and some are great for wet-wall usage. I skipped African Violets in this column, since there is a huge amount of information available about growing African Violets, and not so much on the other gesneriads. One of the local growers here, Tim Anderson from Palm Hammock Orchid Estate, grows many gesneriads really well under begonia culture regimes. I tried Chirita hybrids outdoors here for several years with great success, and I have a number of other gesneriads to trial in the coming years.
Gesneriads for the most part can be treated like ferns, meaning that they like a well-drained but moisture-retentive mix like Pro-Mix BX or Fafard 3, even and frequent irrigation, and slow-release fertilizers like Osmocote or Dynamite mixed into the soil. In our area in South Florida, I've grown them very well in slatted baskets, lined with sphagnum moss, into which I put the soil mix and plants. Kept moist and in a bright / filtered light environment without wind, the plants grow beautifully. I park the plants next to basketed ferns, and they get along great.
People have an idea in their minds that gesneriads are fussy plants, suitable for conservatories or botanical garden glasshouses. As with so many plants, a little knowledge, some new hybrids, and a renewed look at growing plants a new way or trying them again will yield success. Once again I will make the pitch for you to contact a gesneriad society, and they will definitely help. In looking for these plants via mail-order, be sure to let the vendor know your growing conditions ( indoor, outdoor, greenhouse, etc). and you'll have a better chance at success. Once you tap into the information pool about almost any plant, you'll find that you will know more about both the plants and your growing abilities.