Friday, January 3, 2014
As I compose this post the wind is howling outside my windows and a drift of snow is piling up against my front door. In my sunroom, however, pots of Hibiscus, Colocasias, Hedychiums and Oleanders await warmer weather and a return to the garden. I don't have enough room to winter over all of the tropical plants that add color to my summer landscape, but each fall before frost sets in, I dig and pot some of my favorites or at least the ones that haven't grown too large to move.
On a table near my breakfast nook a large terrarium has much the same affect as the sunroom albeit on a much smaller scale.
Requiring little more than a pretty, glass container, potting soil and a few small plants, terrariums are miniature gardens that need very little care once established. As with any garden if a particular plant fails to thrive or outgrows it's tiny world, I simply replace it with a smaller counterpart. In my sunroom I have an enormous Maiden Hair fern that I bought as a tiny specimen and grew for a few years in this terrarium. When inevitably the soil gets tired or the composition begins to look a bit stale, I simply start over with a new group of plants. Terrariums do best when situated in bright indirect light and are the perfect home for small leaved ivies, ferns or other diminutive tropicals. For a splash of color I'll often include a miniature African Violet in bloom, though I know the flowers will be short lived.
As many of my readers know, from early spring until late fall I regularly cut blossoms from the garden and arrange them in vases indoors. In the winter I rely on the cheering affect of flowering plants like the Paperwhite Narcissus pictured above. A tender cousin of the common daffodil, Paperwhites are one of the easiest bulbs to force into bloom in the house. All that is needed is a container and some water. The bulbs, which can be purchased online or from local garden centers, can be planted in soil or simply placed in a pot on layer of pebbles. I prefer to rest them on a layer of moss in a container with high sides that help to support the foliage and flower stems.
I add just enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs and in a matter of days roots sprout and weave their way into the moss. With consistent watering, in as little as a month the fragrant white flowers open and last for few weeks. There is no point in keeping the bulbs once they've finished blooming since it is unlikely that they'll ever flower again. Instead I toss them out and plant another batch. In the fall I usually order fifty or more from a supplier like the John Scheepers bulb company (johnscheepers.com) and store them in my refrigerator's crisper until I'm ready to plant them.
As with Paperwhites, Amaryllis like the ones pictured above can be grown in water and pebbles. But I prefer to grow them in groups of three in pots with soil, which I dress with moss that I collect in the woods. Another tropical bulb, Amaryllis are literally foolproof and will produce dramatic flowers in about eight weeks with a modicum of care. Unlike Paperwhites, it is possible to get the bulbs to rebloom every year if a few cultural requirements are followed. These include rich soil, water, fertilizer and full sun from the time they sprout until late fall at which point the foliage should be cut off and the bulbs given a rest for at least six weeks in a cool, dark room. Following this period of dormancy the bulbs can be repotted and returned to a sunny room. Unfortunately Amaryllis foliage isn't particularly attractive and so I rarely grow them on once they finish flowering. Besides there are so many lovely varieties on the market that I look forward to trying new ones each winter. In addition to the large flowered varieties their are also smaller flowered types like the ones pictured below.
I admire the delicacy of the smaller blooms, which are more ethereal than their larger cousins. There are also double flowered forms but I find them rather stiff and ungainly. To extend the life of the individual flowers I remove the pollen the moment the buds open. This is a trick that works with lilies as well and has the added advantage of keeping the bright yellow pollen from staining one's clothes.
When I worked as a floral designer in New York City in the late eighties, orchids were an expensive, specialty item purchased from select wholesalers. Now it's possible to buy Phalaenopsis Orchids like the one pictured above for ten dollars at Home Depot. It's true that as orchids go they have become common place. Still, they remain one of my favorite flowering house plants because a single plant can bloom for literally months on end. I always search for plants with at least two flower stems and check to make sure that the unopened flower buds are healthy and that the foliage is firm and unblemished.
Phalaenopsis Orchids are generally grown in a porous medium like bark chips. Recently they've been marketed as "Ice Orchids" because it's possible to water them by letting ice cubes melt onto their roots. However, I prefer to place the pots under the tap in a sink for a few minutes every five days or so. Although I've read that it's easy to get the plants to rebloom every year, I haven't had much luck in that regard. Since the plants themselves aren't particularly showy, I generally relegate them to the compost heap once they've finished blooming. Perhaps that's callous of me, but after all, if I kept every orchid I bought, I wouldn't have room in my house for anything else.