I write these words a few days before Christmas with a large, unruly bougainvillea brushing the top of my head. To my right are lush orchids and more bougainvillea. I’m not spending the holidays on some exotic Caribbean island, however. There’s a foot of snow outside and the temperature is in the low teens. This tropical jungle is in my own home.
But when overnight temperatures dipped into the 40s, the tender plants began migrating indoors. The tropicals were the first to make the move, followed by hardier succulents, cyclamen and herbs. As annuals succumbed to frost, the containers that bore them were washed and stowed in the basement. The property has been bare of containers since early November.
However, we do not have a greenhouse. What we have, instead, is a large, well-insulated garage that stays above freezing and has a large, southwest-facing window. There, up against the glass are huddled more than a dozen containers. There is an enormous, cattail-patterned concrete urn where a fern is going through its dormancy period. A white Italianate container holds a now-well-established trailing herichrysum petiolare, otherwise known as a licorice plant, that has found its hibernal equilibrium. Various salvia, verbena, and gaura have been sharply trimmed back but are holding their own and seem poised to survive a New England winter.
Logic says we should consider our plants disposable; chuck them into the compost pile as we do hundreds of annuals. But logic isn’t the be-all and end-all of gardening. Strange as it may seem to some people, many of these plants are old friends. The bougainvillea over my head (which also sheds leaves onto my keyboard) is more than a decade old. I know it well. Come February it will bloom a pale purple, much to my delight. The bracts will linger into late April. I could no more imagine leaving it out on the porch to freeze than I could do such a thing to our family cat. (Then again, plants never have ‘accidents’ on Oriental rugs.)
Being sentimental about a plant is, in my view, a very good trait. They bring us pleasure and prod our senses. They invoke memory. Sharing a window with a bougainvillea is a small price to pay for the reminder that spring will come again.