Home & Design

Green Acre #358: Seasonal Shock

Atop a curio cabinet in the far right corner of the Cavanaugh dining room, a pair of Philodendron Monstera leaves will last for weeks, as will the enormous leaves of the Colocasia gigantea elephant ears, seen at the rear of the picture, in a vase behind the living-room sofa. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

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By Stephanie Cavanaugh

WINTER’S coming on.

Save for a handful of hyacinth bulbs, the garden is planted for spring. Denuded of plants, it’s just so . . .  naked.

I don’t know what I’m doing with those hyacinth bulbs, which is why they’re sitting on the wrought-iron table on the back porch, loose and glaring at me. Last spring I passed a patch of hyacinths in a neighbor’s yard and bent over to sniff, my head filled with their overwhelmingly sweet scent, and I said to myself, Well. That’s quite enough hyacinth for this year, thank you. One sniff is delightful, a second is rather disgusting. The least-subtle scent in the panoply of garden scents, methinks.

So I’m wondering why I bought them and where I’m going to stick them. Somewhere where someone else can bend over and say, That does it for hyacinth this year, my nose has drunk its fill, thank you very much.

Returning to the now naked garden: The transition from summer to winter is always a shock, much like the transition to and from daylight savings time, which has us now in the dark at five o’clock. Doesn’t it seem that dark has come faster this year? Didn’t full-on night once fall in December? Discuss.

Just days ago the elephant ears were monstrous in size, dwarfing my hand, and the single fruit on the Meyer lemon (for all the fuss and fertilizer my only yield) was continuing its growth quite happily despite the chill, well on its way to becoming the size of a baseball. With the still-balmy air, it could have been midsummer.

But yesterday, I grabbed the secateurs and in a brutal attack, deaf to their howls of protest, hacked the enormous ears off my Colocasia gigantea, my most fabulous elephant ear. The bulb I’ll tenderly store.

I had been procrastinating about this. The plant filled a quarter of one of the two back borders, a fantastical reminder of summer and tropics and so forth. But a freeze warning had been issued, not that we’ve ever had a freeze so early in this part of town, and a nastier than usual winter predicted. More snow and ice than we’ve seen in years, they say. I can’t trust the soil to keep my bulb from freezing. But it’s too big now for the solarium. It needs a gigantic pot and a ton of soil . . . and so.

Small sop that the leaves are so dramatic inside in vases, lasting weeks and weeks.* Tip: Put a spotlight at the base of the pot and give the night ceiling a fabulous shadow show.

The lemon, the jasmines, the hibiscus, the geraniums, the philodendrons and parlor palms, the birds of paradise and their siblings and extended family are now in the house. Those content with gloom are in the living and dining rooms with their layers of rugs and heavy drapes and fireplace—our night rooms. Those demanding sun are in the solarium, that handy little glassed-in porch off my office where the feral parakeets flit about. They appear to like nesting in the bridal veil that  hangs in a tangle from a ceiling hook.

We’ve turned the place outside in.

I forget how much I love this house when it becomes the garden.

*Elephant ears. There are several varieties that are grouped under the name. All are tropicals grown from bulbs and have large to enormous leaves. The ones that have leaves that droop, like limp wrists, do well in the garden but not so well inside in vases, lasting only a handful of days. The ones that appear to be lifting their faces to the light, or palms up, can last for many weeks with just a change of water.



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