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Green Acre #36: Winter in the Greenhouse

Hanging in there on Capitol Hill, LittleBird Stephanie’s Meyer lemon. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh. On the front / iStock photo.

THE CHRISTMAS CACTUS bloomed the other day. I found it on the floor of my little greenhouse, probably tipped over by my adorable visiting granddog, Tallula. Its droopy, sickly-sweet pink flowers lay splayed against the black and white floor. Like a ballerina in her death throws.

So I retrieved it and stuck it in the urn that’s temporarily sitting atop a pedestal in a corner—I have yet to repot a palm that’s supposed to be therein ensconced (that’s probably some kind of grammatical misconstruction and if it is not it is certainly pretentious and . . . eh. Sometimes the way things dribble forth is the way they dribble forth).

The urn needed something, having lost its centerpiece twice this past summer, because I was too lazy to get off the porch in the blast-furnace heat and inspect the garden for drought-related disasters. So now a collection of various trailing greens and sprays of purple wandering jew embrace an insipidly hued focal point that has all the charm of a wet pink tissue. Better than nothing, I suppose.

Christmas cacti, botanically known as Schlumbergera or Zygocactus (should you wish to look like you know what you’re talking about), are not my cuppa. This was a gift plant from I forget who, as opposed to the apology plants that always come from My Prince after he’s irritated me in some fashion.

A little splint is holding these guys onto their branch. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

My mother used to have a windowsill lined with a collection of vaguely unpleasant-looking specimens. They’d sit looking droopy and a bit evil, with their needle-tipped, fleshy green leaves quivering at you most of the year, and then bloom, though never at Christmas, which is when they’re supposed to flower, and which is why they’re so named, for heaven’s sake. Some time after the holiday they’d deign to bud and by Easter they’d be covered with pendulous, less-than-impressive flowers. This would follow the considerably more impressive Valentine’s Day reflowering of the poinsettias that she also insisted on holding over. The same sort of poinsettias that right-minded people dumped in the trash after the previous holiday season, she’d nurse along—and they required considerable tsking and coaxing—until they once again set buds. Pretty much as she raised me, come to think of it.

I used to look forward to the Blooming of the Paperwhite narcissus (narcissi?).  As usual I started a dozen bulbs in early December, popping them in bare patches of soil surrounding other plants. (you don’t have to use pebbles, you know—they actually do like dirt).  Anyway, they have peaked, thankfully, and only their faintly scented dry heads remain, which is quite enough, thank you. I no longer love their smell; the honeyed perfume is overwhelming, nauseating even. One’s nose changes over time they say, correctly.

In more positive news.

Happy I am with six new additions. My baby sister, in a burst of inspired inspiration, ordered orange Bird of Paradise from a grower she found on Amazon.com. I’d tell you who, but all I can come up with on my mess of a desk are the instructions for the Roku and a business card from Mildred Baldwin, who crafts the most gorgeous leather bags and sells them at Eastern Market on weekends, which is clearly neither here nor there, but she’s worth searching out.

I’m glad of the bird bounty since, according to Wikipedia, they are pollinated by sunbirds, of which I think we have none, and therefore I’ll have no more. They arrived in beautiful condition, and will grow to either 2 ½ feet or 10 feet tall, depending on the species, and as I’ve lost the paperwork the end result will come as a surprise. In any event, they will be shorter than the white beauty I bought in a burst of insanity this past fall, which threatens to eventually dwarf the house.

Most blessedly, the Meyer lemon has given birth to two. Which is better than last year’s one.  As usual, one of the two is on a branch that broke two years ago (so many ones and twos! Do I get to use the word binary? And how should I use it?) and is/was plastered together with packing tape and some green plastic-wrapped wire that I managed to unearth in the garage. If I had pruned the damn branch I would have cut my fruit production this year by 50 percent.

It’s amazing, or dismaying, that doing nothing frequently triumphs over doing something.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie etc.

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