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Green Acre #215: Getting Ahead of Winter

Granddog Tallula finds the sunny greenhouse, off the author’s office, just the place for basking in nature–the sun outside, the wintering-over plants all around her. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

MY PRINCE is getting ahead of himself again.

Comes the first mild day in March and he’s bounding downstairs to shut off the boile—the big old contraption in the basement that the home inspector told us was on its last legs, 38 years ago.  “It’s spring!” he chirps.

But no. Another blast or two of cold comes and he sadly shuffles off to fire things up again. 

Now it’s fall and he’s itching to shut down the air conditioner and clean the chimneys. The other day he asked if we should start moving the tropical plants inside, where they winter in the little greenhouse off my second-floor office. 

No, I said, let’s wait. 

I said this in part because, being forced to agree with him is so disagreeable, but also because it’s merely cool out now and the plants are happy. The elephant ears are waggling, the ferns are lush, and the geraniums that sulked through the summer heat are shivery with pleasure, tossing off new blossoms like it’s the beginning of the season, not nearing Thanksgiving.

When Tallula’s not in residence, there’s even room in the greenhouse for the author to sit and procrastinate over her Green Acre columns. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Fall in Washington DC has a curious effect on the residents, who are rarely born here but hail from everywhere in the world, and every climate. Visit Capitol Hill’s historic Eastern Market on a Saturday morning and you’ll see some shoppers in T-shirts and sandals and others shivering in down jackets and gloves, all picking up their eggs and steaks and cheeses from the inside vendors and the farmers who line the sidewalk. For us, he from Pittsburgh and I Manhattan, sweaters will do until after frost strikes, and that’s rarely before December.

Anyway, I’m at sixes and sevens (what does that even mean?*) about the repotting, hauling and jostling that go into this annual transfer of plants to their winter quarters. Once the pots are inside, there’s figuring out how to stuff an arboretum into a space the size of a terrarium, though I’ll be happy enough once that is done. The scent of flowers in mid-winter is pure joy.  

But as soon as the plants come in, the constant nuisance of watering begins, a need fulfilled rather naturally when they’re lolling about in the garden.  

After years of schlepping one dripping watering can after another from the hall bathroom, through the office, and out to the greenhouse, My Prince rigged a hose that begins at the tap outside the basement, snakes up the house, and is hooked just outside the greenhouse door. In theory, all I have to do is reach out, take it in and spray. Except that there’s the going down two flights and climbing over junk to turn on that basement tap, climbing up to water, then climbing down to shut it off. While good exercise for the derriere, this is also tedious. 

Given that, leaving the plants outside until the last possible gasp of warmth seems desirable.

But he’s right, it pains me to say, that the leaves are turning on the kwanzan cherry and beginning to drop, a process that will speed up in the next few weeks or days. Then the next big rain will shake them free and they’ll land, sticking to the branches of the Meyer lemon and the hibiscus and . . . how is it I have so many jasmines? Anyway, it’s a very messy transfer. 

Equally messy is shuffling a sodden mess of leaves about to make space for the pansies and cabbages, which cheer the view from the kitchen windows when the weather fully turns to bluster, and the tulips and allium, which will be in full billow when the cherry is once again in bloom. Technically, these can be planted well into next month, but it’s easier to get them in now, with the soil still workable and I can see where to put them.   

But first, I think, a cocktail is in order. 

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” is guided by the phases of the moon, the length of our days and the call of her tropical plants yearning for the greenhouse right about this time of year.

*Calling it a state of confusion is just the beginning…


4 thoughts on “Green Acre #215: Getting Ahead of Winter

  1. Jean Gordon says:

    I like the watering hose your Prince rigged up for you……indoor plant watering can be a pain…
    schlepping back and forth to get the chore done is never ending…most flowering plants that I have are in the east den and the pots dry out quickly. Wish I could have one of those!!!!

  2. Carol says:

    Ah, this reality can cause one to wish for a trip to places afar. I do know, however, that your plants thank you all winter, for your office is a welcome home in the blustery season. Best!

  3. Claudia — when I wrote that I immediately realized that while I know what it means, or at least the intent, I hadn’t a clue about where the expression came from or why we say it (well, we don’t actually say it that often, do we? In fact, I’m not sure what century I was in when I last said it or if, in fact, I’ve ever said it before….). So if it interested me, I hoped it would interest you….and saved you an hour or so wandering the internet to find out.

  4. Claudia says:

    Thank you for sharing the definition of sixes and sevens. A lot, of which is going on in this country right now.

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