Monday, January 7, 2013

The Garden in the House

Take the house plants outdoors in the summer.
Bring them back indoors in the winter.
Generally, they grow a lot of new leaves when they're outdoors, given more light, moderate temperatures, much more water -- more natural conditions. I am speaking of house plants that have endured rough, substandard housing conditions for years. I don't fertilize them. I barely water them. I don't transplant them when they grow out of their old pots and their roots clump together in the plastic bottoms like the fingers of prisoners scratching at the walls, looking for a finger-hold to drag themselves under and out of their prison to seek the freedom of new soil. We don't have new soil in the house. Just air, furniture, the usual clutter, and a surprising amount of airborne dust. But not even our hard-scrabble house plants can survive on dust alone.
It's too much to say these plants prosper and flourish in our house, I have to admit. I don't mean to sound cold-hearted, but it's the simple truth. They endure. They survive. That's why they're still here.
Occasionally, OK, not that occasionally, I look up some winter day and find leaves yellowing, stems flopping, twiggy leafless branches extending bare, pleading fingers in my direction. I go into rescue mode then, apply water generously, spill it generously too because the root-bound soil has lost its natural absorbent power; and repeat this operation with some frequency while also twisting off the yellowed leaves and offering soft words of encouragement... and, almost always, save the plant.
Currently I have one plant, the sad remains of a once buoyant Swedish ivy drooping in a pot too large for its decayed root structure, in my study, waiting for extreme unction or some more practical intervention involving extensive surgery and a course of medication. Its more likely future is cold storage. I'd like to re-pot it in something small and cozy with better soil and leave it in a shady spot where I will remember to give it a little water whenever I walk by with a hose or can in my hands.
However this operation is about six months away, on account of winter.
Other plants in this holding tank of mine are in various stages of good or indifferent health. One is simply too big. It's strong and growing tall, as it does presumably in the rainforest it came from. But here it threatens the ceiling and reaches out to the closet door. (It will be disappointed. Nothing for plants in there.) As for what happens next, I'm awaiting inspiration. I do take it outdoors for summer vacation and it thickens a little, but still insists on growing up.
Others, old viney ones, including a couple of philodendrons, grow lush and happy in the summer, their color darkening handsomely. When they come back indoors, they tend to lose a lot of leaves that turn yellow and make autumn on the floor. One of the principal reasons for this is I do not water them nearly often as they get watered outdoors.
On the other hand, they would not like the outdoors alternative of sunbathing in January.
And lastly, as pictured above, I have another plant that someone gave us a few years ago, that produced beautiful brightly colored flowers in circular flower heads consisting of scores of tiny florets. I don't know what the plant is, something Mediterranean I'd guess, but the tag that came with it disappeared long ago. What the plant's done since that opening show, predictably, in a much less hospitable environment than the greenhouse which grew it, is grow long and leggy and stop flowering.
This plant got a summer vacation too last year, plus a fortunate re-potting.
And guess what? Flowers in January.
Seen in the photo taken a couple days ago by Anne, the first pink blossom appeared while the world was going white outdoors.