They are camped out around our home, unwilling refugees, far from their tropical and subtropical origins, gathered by windows and leaning toward a feeble sun for sustenance. They huddle together to preserve precious water in a house where the humidity is in single digits.
|With its east and south-facing windows, our library|
is a favored spot for wintering houseplants
What we do to our houseplants. We take growing things whose ancestors never experienced a frost and transport them to environments where, for six months of the year, all that separates them from death by frozen capillaries is a pane of glass. And all this for…. What?
Why do we have houseplants? I typed that question into Google, ordinarily a bastion of reason and well-marshaled information. The first response was a query right back at me: ‘How can I get rid of gnats?’ Not ready for a Socratic dialog so early in the morning, I declined to provide an answer. Five pages of scrolling later, I had not found any erudite responses from horticulturally-inclined sociologists, although I uncovered an online survey indicating that our home’s houseplant population puts us dangerously outside the bell curve (the average number is five).
|One of our 'guest' orchids. It hogs|
two windows in my office.
Another answer is that houseplants are undemanding. Water them once a week. Check them for insects (including, yes, gnats). Re-pot them once a year. Compared to your average pet, they’re self-sufficient. My aunt kept a snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) in a darkened hallway that, to the best of my knowledge, was never watered, only dusted occasionally. It lived for decades.
|A wintering bougainvillea and an|
array of plants in Betty's office.
Plants can surprise you. We have friends who have decamped for South America for a lengthy vacation. We agreed to ‘babysit’ two of their orchids. Our friends arrived for dinner in late December bearing the two biggest plants I have seen outside a botanical garden. For two weeks, those orchids simply occupied space in our home; one of them hogging an entire twin set of casement windows. They were nothing but greenery. Then, one morning two weeks into our plant-sitting exercise, we awakened to find our guests in spectacular blooms of pink and white. They’re still brightening our home and are welcome to stay as long as they wish.
|This croton has been|
with us for two
So, why do we have houseplants? I think it’s because they’re a year-round reminder that, no matter our station in life, we all ultimately came from the land. A few generations ago, our forebears farmed to survive. Today, we exchange our labor for money and, if we ‘farm’ at all, we call it ‘gardening’ and we do it for pleasure. In short, houseplants keep us rooted.