Houseplants: old friends and new

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy houseplants receive minimal care – sometimes  neglect – while I’m preoccupied with outdoor gardening. But almost without fail, they thrive. They seem to know that my attention will again focus their way when cold nights turn to cold days and forces the bulk of my gardening attention inside. My houseplants understand that they  – not the showy iris or the ripening tomatoes – sooth my gardening urges when most everything on the outside of the glass is winter brown or covered with glistening snow.

Like old friends, my houseplants age with me. Some came as gifts or as throw-aways from another gardener tired of their care. Others I chose for their shape or leaf color or robust reputation.

Many have been with me for a decade or more.

The most senior of the group is my original hibiscus. It’s been overwintered, repotted, and divided when it sent up a new shoot. Every late mid-to-late summer for the past 18 years I’ve watched the six-inch orange blossoms open. For 18 autumns I’ve cut the mother plant back. For 18 winters I’ve watched it drop and regrow leaves. For 18 late springs I’ve acclimated it to tolerate direct sun. And now for the past 3 years I’ve done the same with its offshoot which is now the same size as the mother plant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I’ve enjoyed the peppermint odor of a scented geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) for at least a dozen years now.

HoyaMultiple African violets (Saintpaulia, unknown varieties) and a hoya (common name waxplant) have been under my care for nearly as long.

Closing in on a decade of companionship are a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata ), a silver bromeliad (possibly Aechmea fasciata), two types of dracena, peace lily (Spathiphyllum), multiple pots of grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia), Sanseveria trifasciata (also called snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue), two Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) that bloom repeatedly throughout cold-weather months, a few philodendron, aloe, and peperomia obtusifolia.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe annual overwintering crew include rosemary (both Rosmarinus officinalis and R. prostratus), multiple coleus, and lemon grass.

Sitting dormant in the unheated garage are two gerbera and this summer’s acquisition, a fig tree.

A star jasmine was the baby of the indoor bunch – only three years under my care – but it’s baby status was just usurped by two gifts, a clivia and an amaryllis.

As a group, my houseplants only require weekly watering, tidying up a few dropped leaves, a good annual shower, and occasional fertilizing and repotting. So when cold temperatures make me want to snuggle near a warming fireplace I’m usually thumbing through a plant catalog – think Logee’s – for the perfect plant to add to my collection. Maybe it’s time to replace the Areca palm that finally gave in to its and my long-battled war against scale after keeping me company for nearly 30 years – it survived a house fire and regrew, it had seniority over my children. Or should I try my hand at a dwarf banana, or an orchid, or …

There’s always room for one more!

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