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Green Acre #459: Coloring the Great Indoors

For winter color, try (clockwise from top left) long-lasting orchids, psychedelic bromeliads, velvety cyclamen, fragrant jasmine, and heart-shaped anthurium. Plus, there are always citrus plants. / Photos from Calloway’s Nursery, Costa Farms, the Plants & Blooms Shop (Amazon), and the Kviter Store (Amazon).

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

I BELIEVE this is what’s called the dead of winter. The least favorite time of year for the garden lover, with nothing to do but flip through magazines, Internet pages, and books for spring inspiration and do nothing but take desultory notes, since, as I said, there’s nothing to do. 

This is also a time for SAD, Seasonal A-something Disorder,  a time when you’re too down in the dumps to look up what the “a” stands for. Affect? Affliction? Agony? 

It doesn’t help that the Christmas tree/Hanukkah bush is now lying on the sidewalk, anointed by passing dogs, waiting for the trashpersons. What a sorry end to something that brought such happiness just a few weeks ago. 

Except for the diehards who keep them lit until sometime in April (or never take them down at all), the outdoor holiday lights are stashed in the attic or basement or garage for another year.

We should really move the winter holidays to the end of January: They’re all too close to Thanksgiving anyway. 

What a dismal swamp January is. The New Year starts with a bang: fireworks, revelry, hangovers. Now what? At least a month of cold gray skies before the first bit of green bashes its way through the hard-packed earth. 

Have I cheered you up yet?

This is a zygopetalum maculatum, a deliciously fragrant orchid now blooming the U.S. Botanic Garden. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Thankfully, there are plenty of plants that do well inside, even with a dearth of sunshine, and a personal antipathy for fussing. There are the tried-and-true parlor palms and schefflera, which, given the occasional watering, will filter the air and liven up a corner or two. They can grow quite large and stand alone—or make a leafy backdrop, or a sidekick, for flowering plants that will make a heroic attempt to lighten your mood all winter long. They also filter the air 


Orchids. I have a love/hate relationship with these plants. Phalaenopsis, in particular, have become so associated with real-estate open houses that they’re rather a cliché. But beautiful and inexpensive they are, and the flowers can last a month or more. Then they look like hell until they bloom again—many months later. Toss them, unless you have a place to hide them. 

My little calamondin. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Citrus. Oranges, lemons, calamondin, limes, all do well indoors. Give them a drink of water every week or so and they’ll  blossom on and off several times over a winter with small white flowers and nose-delighting, room-filling scent.  

Jasmines. Again, small, white, rather insignificant flowers but with a powerful scent that will instantly transport you to the tropics. I have two in my rather dark dining room and they’re doing just fine with the extremely indirect light and my haphazard watering. 

(I could mention gardenias here, with their prettier flowers and fabulous scent, but in my care they quickly succumb to some malaise. Maybe you’ll have better luck.)

Cyclamen. Velvety petals in pinks, purples, and white softly rise from layers of green leaves. An enchanting plant to buy in bloom; the flowers will last a month or so. Nestle them among your leafy green plants to enhance the show. However, unless you’re compulsive, when the flowering stops, toss it. While the cyclamen will look dead, it’s just gone dormant, but the chances of reblooming are pffft

Bromeliads. In brilliantly psychedelic shades of orange, pink, purple, and yellow that you don’t have to be stoned to admire, these relatives of the pineapple are so insistently cheerful it’s difficult to be around one and remain in a sour mood. They also pull focus—so if the house isn’t particularly tidy, keep yours front and center and no one will notice. 

Anthurium.  The heart-shaped red, pink, or white flowers on this plant are almost always in bloom, spraying out from the center of the heart-shaped leaves at their base.  Mine bloomed all summer in the garden—and is still in bloom now, in a bright window but no direct sun. Consider gifting one for Valentine’s Day—heart-shaped flowers . . . subtle! 

Most of these should be available at big-box stores and supermarkets, though citrus and jasmine are harder to find at this time of year, though not impossible. Keep your nose primed. 

One thought on “Green Acre #459: Coloring the Great Indoors

  1. Nancy G says:

    I kinda have a black thumb; I’ve killed cactus plants. But I do long for some color in my house. I think I’ll find some of the ones mentioned that don’t need a lot of attention. Or water. Thanks for a funny, inspiring, column.

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