Sunday, January 22, 2006

Winter flowers

When my gardening partner intends to express mild but disinterested approbation, he says “I like it OK.” That’s pretty much how I feel about most houseplants. They’re almost a necessary evil, in some cases—especially when it comes to office plants. They cut the sterility, but don’t exactly add excitement.

For a houseplant to attract my attention, it has to have drama: height, distinctive branches, great flowers, something. I guess my preference would be flowers, although tall palms and fica can be impressive. Weird cacti and well-trained bonsai are also admirable.

But you need flowers in winter. In WNY, we have to wait until March for the first snowdrops and forsythia; I have seen witch hazel flowering in February but that was in Central Park, not here. For my winter flowers, I turn to a cyclamen plant I’ve had for six years. I just repotted it, but the roots are still like rock; it would probably benefit from being moved outside (they are hardy) but I can’t bring myself to do it.

Now, there’s nothing that exciting about the so-called “Christmas cactus”—of course, they aren’t really cactus and have very different requirements—but I find their flowers exquisite despite the ubiquity. This one I’ve had since 1987; it was the only plant that moved from our apartment with us. I’m not sure why it isn’t gigantic; it has had some setbacks, but it's doing better now..

Flowering bulbs have the most winter possibilities; one day I hope to branch into tuberose and freesia, but for now I’m sticking to paperwhites and hyacinth. In the past I have forced scilla and tulips, but not this year.

As for orchids, I have a book. That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

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