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Green Acre #85: Indoors It Can Be Spring

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“My outdoor landscaping plants thrive, while my indoor plants seem to be doomed the moment they pass the threshold into my house.

I water them, give them plant food, talk to them. I’ve even resorted to buying them a fake friend, ready at attention to boost plant morale, pose as an example of shining health and counter the disheartening effects of a slowly dying plant… Maybe indoor plants are just not for everyone?”

—Natalie Lebleu, on Houzz.com

SOMETIMES I COME ACROSS something I could have, should have, written, but didn’t. So, thank you,  Natalie, I hadn’t thought of buying fake friends for my leafy pets. I would like you as my friend, so this is for you.

As, possibly, the worst gardening writer in existence I have laid bare my many disasters—with more to come, I assure you—and the rare successes, or at least semi-successes. Among these few happy surprises are a handful of tips and tricks that have weathered the winters and brought cheery color and scent into the gloom.

Time was, and this was years ago, I read that to winter over geraniums they should be yanked before frost, up-ended and tied in a bundle that should be suspended in a cool dark spot, the basement perhaps, or the garage. Come spring they could be replanted and quickly coaxed back to life.

This does work.

What also works is to leave the geraniums in their pots and take them inside to as sunny a spot as you can find. You can make more of them all winter long by breaking off a leg (or whatever you call it—a stem?), dusting it with growth hormone, or not, and sticking the stem in the pot next to its mommy. It will grow! It will flower!

I haven’t bought a geranium in years, such cheery things on a gray day.

Scent is also a delicious thing to have around, though not the atomized version, unless you’re desperate. A happy find at Trader Joe’s the other day, hyacinth bulbs in charming little glass carafes (later for individual wine servings at table?). Already in heavy bud, they will blast out their perfume in about a week, I expect. One will do, elsewise the house will stink of the funeral parlor.

Paperwhite narcissus are also a bargain right now, findable at hardware stores and in bins at the garden center, most likely throwing off leaves and roots, and at bargain prices. These are stupidly simple bulbs to bring into flower. No need to fuss with the dish and the pebbles you usually see them displayed in (for too much money, I think). Just plunk them into any existing pot of dirt, next to the aspidistra or whatnot, water, and watch them take off. The scent of paperwhites makes me deliriously happy.

I’m not particularly good with directions, instructions, orders, etc. So when things are not working, as they’re too often not, I disregard edicts and try the verboten. Which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t and sometimes, what the hell.

Like fertilizing my citrus plants in January. This works very handily for me, I’ve found. This turns a gasping,  choking Meyer lemon (which truth be told doesn’t do diddly in the garden all summer) into a mass of little pinkish-white buddies about to burst and knock me dead with their fragrance. Also doing well thanks to a touch of fertilizer: my African gardenia, the key lime, the jasmine and my hibiscus. All in heavy bud.

I keep the tropical theme going with philodendron cuttings; there are several of the big-leaved variety in my little greenhouse—though they grow as easily in a living room with a puddle of light. Snip off a few of their platter-sized leaves for display in dreary spots. They last for months. Parlor palms are also desirable for their frothy winter foliage—as long as they’re watered occasionally, they’ll weather whatever.

While I rarely buy flowers in the winter (that hyacinth was too cheap to pass up—plus the little vase), I do buy curly willow. There are few things that so delight me as a bunch—maybe six or eight branches—in a vase on my dining-room table or on the sideboard. They arrive as charmingly coiled and twisted bare stems, but put them in a vase and within a week, even in a darkened room, they’ll begin to poke out tiny leaves that will grow and grow and suddenly KABOOM you have a virtual tree. All of that drama and excitement for weeks for 20 bucks or less.

Make sure you specify fresh branches, not dried. You can dry them yourself, though this depresses me (I don’t know why), by withholding water. But if you want them to sprout, they must be fresh.

If all fails, Natalie, my advice is to buy a flowered throw pillow, grab a good mystery and take a long winter’s snooze under the rubber palm.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” writes about all things botanical, real or fake, every Thursday.

3 thoughts on “Green Acre #85: Indoors It Can Be Spring

  1. Thank you Staci, I find us hysterical as well. So glad you agree. Yes, I chat with my plants, doesn’t everyone? Actually, I’m really chatty with anything inanimate, come to think of it.

    And Nancy — Gregorian chants, heh. Did you know you can create a Gregorian chant station on Pandora? It’s really, really depressing.

  2. Staci Weiss says:

    I absolutely love all the content on this site, you ladies are hysterical and I want to be friends with all of you – and your plants fake or real! Do you ever coo/chat with your plants and imagine they perk up in response, or am I the only one?

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      I’ll ask “Stephanie Gardens,” who is recovering from surgery at the moment, but I’m quite sure she entertains her plants (at least the live ones) with entire arias–when the Gregorian chant doesn’t seem to be getting results. And to return the sentiment, we love you too, and now we’re officially friends!

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