By Stephanie Cavanaugh
ANOTHER FALL begins without my greenhouse.
For years I had one, a glassed-in porch off of my second-floor office. Each year we’d move tender garden plants from earth to pots then schlep them to their winter digs. This was heavy and exhausting work, though one (that would be me) kept focused on calories burned—and what use said calories could be put to when the work was done.
Candy. Cake. Steak. Fries. Oh, I could go on . . .
The plants were happy in their glass house, perhaps happier than in the garden because they got more sunlight in that aerie, away from the limbs of the cherry tree and the shade cast by the garden walls. The Meyer lemon, jasmines, Birds of Paradise and so forth grew fat, the scents filled my office, drifting about the house. The parakeets loved it too—winging about freely, pooping as they flew.
Pause here to imagine. Sniff the jasmine. Heaven.
And then, in a burst of enthusiasm, My Prince took the glass walls down. The 100-and- something year-old floor couldn’t take the weight, or was it the beams that held the porch in place? It was something, anyway, and the greenhouse was no more.
In its stead was to rise a new and enlarged greenhouse, double the length. An architect created the plans. Huge vintage windows were bought at the salvage place and, as there’s no room left in our garage, stored in our neighbor’s garage—thank you, Pat, for putting up with us.
And that’s where we . . . stop.
I had no hope for my most tender plants as the fall chill set in. This house is dark. So dark, a realtor once described it, sneeringly, as a funeral parlor. I consider it moody, interesting, a little exotic. If you don’t know what corner of the world you’re in when you enter, that pleases me. A few houseplants do well—parlor palms, schefflera and such—adding to the Anne Rice ambience.
But what to do with my treasured tropical plants? Some were carted off to overwinter in Baby’s house in Virginia (this house is not just dark, it’s small). Shockingly, the rest did just fine in our dining room. Those sitting on the floor got a boost from a grow light trained up into their foliage. But even my jasmines did well, sitting atop the china cupboard and the bar. I took cuttings of several plants that had grown too damn big to move, stuck them in water in a collection of small vases—and lo! The roots grew and they were returned to the garden this past summer.
So. Triumph in adversity.
I do have something new to report.
Having read somewhere or other about a book by brilliant gardener Tovah Martin, titled The Unexpected Houseplant, I ordered a copy from Amazon. It is exactly what it says it is, 316 pages of plants you’ve probably never considered growing indoors, such as coleus, begonias and passion flowers (which I hate with a passion, but—yeah, you can grow them if you want).
Most stunning to me was her suggestion to grow calla lilies indoors. She reports a problem similar to mine; that these plants sometime fail to flower in the garden. They throw up green spear-like leaves and then sit there doing nothing all summer. If you have one that’s disappointed you, dig it up, stick it in a pot, and ”whack it back to the base,” she says. “Without fail, the plant begins to sprout up again, immediately after cutting back and the blooming sequence is not dissuaded, although it might be delayed slightly.”
Give it a little fish emulsion—but don’t fertilize too heavily, the foliage will get floppy. Give it in an east or west exposure, and keep it away from kids and pets —it’s poisonous —though that particular trait might come in handy if I go through another year without a greenhouse.