January 2, 2013

In Praise of Houseplants

“All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray…”

California Dreaming, John Phillips and Michelle Phillips

A fast-moving storm last week dropped seven inches of snow on my home, turning white a landscape that has been, since early November, a sad blend of browns and grays.  Welcome to winter in eastern Massachusetts, a condition that will persist in some variation for the next three months.

Which is why this first entry of the new year  is all about houseplants and why they’re treasured in this household. 

I grew up with year-round outdoor greenery and flowers.  Nominally, I appreciated that subtropical splendor.  In reality, it was part of a background that I took for granted and often found inconvenient.  When periodically ordered to cut back the hibiscus hedge or grub out the aracea palms that were spreading into the lawn, I piled imaginary term papers on top of one another as excuses not to sully my hands with such chores.

Burbidgea 'Golden Brush'
This morning, by contrast, I marveled at a Burbidgea scheizochella ‘Golden Brush’ that has sent up a strikingly attractive flower.  It grows in our Great Room where there is abundant light even in January.  Multiple crotons (formally, Codiaeum variegatum) provide a rainbow of reds, yellows and greens in each leaf.  There are cultivars of begonias in many rooms, each an adventure to be appreciated. 

One of our crotons, and a
neomarica that will bloom
in February and March
These plants need not be exotic, or even in bloom, to provide visual enjoyment.  Ferns occupy ledges and shelves in several rooms.  A single peace lily (Spathiphyllum) received as gift many years ago has begat half a dozen offspring. They are cheerfully green the year round.  This time of year, their regal white flowers – plain by the standards set by many other plants – are welcome additions to rooms’ color. 

We purchase houseplants that appeal to us.  Some, we encounter in visits to nurseries and garden centers.  Others beckon us through the mail.  The cover of Logee’s winter catalog featured a glorious Calathea unlike any we had ever seen.  The photo of that plant coupled with a dozen other candidates prompted us to take a Saturday morning trip to Daniels, Connecticut, last month to inspect the goods.  Calathea ‘Holiday’ is now blooming in our living room, one of half a dozen new specimens that are now part of our collection.  It joins another recent arrival, a compact Euphorbia ‘Salmon’ from White Flower Farm, that is already resplendent with flowers that should continue through the winter months.

An orchid and a potted palm
add a touch of the tropics
Winter color need not come only from exotic specimens.  Colorful cyclamen can enliven a home just as well as orchids (and, thanks to tissue cultures, the availability and variety of orchids has proliferated even as their price has plummeted).  Nor are houseplants necessarily greedy.  Philodendron and cacti seem to thrive with minimal attention (a Sanseveria trifoliate, better known as ‘Mother-in-Law’s tongue’, survived in my Aunt Virginia's house for decades with little more than periodic dusting).

In Betty's office, a kalanchoe
and a bouganviella 'Coconut
Ice' are both about to bloom.
We have more than sixty houseplants in all, a happy mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary.  There is no rhyme or reason to what we have.  Each plant came to us through serendipity; each remains because it has thrived in our home.

I don’t often offer unsolicited advice, but here is some:  if you're reading this from a land with 'real' winter, this weekend, take a trip to a nursery with a selection of blooming houseplants.  If one (or more) strikes your fancy, take it home with you. 
And, if you live in a subtropical climate, stop complaining and go out and trim back the hibiscus.

No comments:

Post a Comment