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Green Acre #405: Winter Is Coming

Delicate jasmine, left, and magnificent mandevilla, must come indoors come freezing temps. / Photos from White Flower Farm (left) and Gardening KnowHow.com.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

THE FARMER’S ALMANAC is calling for “shivery, wet and slushy” weather in the Washington DC area this winter, more or less what it’s been for the past few years. 

It’s a roll of the dice, a crapshoot, anyone’s guess. Who the hell knows? In any event, the day has arrived to take in the tender and tropical plants or risk their demise. There’s a freeze due in the next few days, which would leave many of them a sad, sodden mess.

And I’ve yet to plant my bulbs, which go in the vacated spaces.

Sunday afternoon was spent with Picture This, my so-far-flawless plant app, double-checking the needs of the plants I normally nurture in my little greenhouse that must now live or die, sink or swim, do something or other this year, many of them right where I stuffed them into the ground last spring. How low can it go before my babies throw up their fronds and . . . expire.* 

The greenhouse is gone—or at least the walls. My Prince dismantled it last April, grand expansion plan in hand, and there it sits. On the upside, with no walls there’s plenty of air. 

Will it go below 30 degrees? 20? We haven’t gone lower in a while. Last year there was a dusting of snow that didn’t last a day. 

If that’s how it will be this winter, the banana, the dieffenbachia, even the Boston fern should make it through, maybe a little frazzled and black around the edges, but alive. The elephant ears will die back to the ground, but that’s normal. They should be fine.

However, the mandevilla and my two hibiscus, grown to mammoth scale, must come in. As must the jasmines, my poor denuded Meyer lemon, the birds of paradise—one of them 6 feet tall—and the plumeria, still a pole after four years but showing signs of branching, which might mean flowers, at last, next summer. 

When I lay it out like that I despair. Where can they go?

This is a dark house, happily so for winter. A place to gather in front of the fireplace, a book and a glass of merlot in hand, curtains drawn against the chill, Etta James in the background . . .

It is not a happy place for plants, though the palms and monstera don’t mind the moody lighting. Palms do add that Sherlockian atmosphere I’m so fond of, but everything else? We don’t do sun.

And where the hell do I move Cooper, the world’s most antisocial budgie? He now occupies the only possible spot for that big bird of paradise, next to the glass porch doors where a morning sunbeam might tickle its leaves.


*Here I picture a plant swooning with a little cry, like the Edward Gorey lady who introduces those “PBS Masterpiece” offerings. 



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