Houseplants, Part Two

May 20, 2008 @ 6:17 am | Filed under: ,

The radiator tragedy and, six months later, Jane’s arrival, put the brakes on my houseplant mania somewhat, but there was still a good bit of greenery filling up the sills and corners of our new, slightly bigger apartment down the block. We even made a field trip to Logee’s Greenhouse, that wonder-of-the-world Becky and I have been discussing in the comments. I remember Scott patiently entertaining a toddling Jane while I explored the rooms and rooms of beauties—though I think I only bought three little bitty cuttings. Oh, brave restraint.

Well, of course you know what happened next, and it’s no surprise that most of my plants perished from neglect the following year. Jane and I lived in the hospital almost nonstop for nine months, and Scott was dashing home from work only long enough to bring in the mail and pick up the car so he could drive out to spend the evenings with us. But in the early months of 1998, with high-dose chemo behind us and Jane’s curls beginning to sprout once more, we had a little renaissance of greenery in the apartment. Jane’s immune system was still almost non-existent and her platelets dangerously low. The playground was forbidden to us, and contact with other toddlers strongly discouraged. For a little while I fretted about my three-year-old living in isolation, even if it was only temporary, in a city apartment with no balcony, no backyard. Then it struck me that if I could not get her outside, I’d have to bring the outside in.

The front room of our apartment had windows on three sides, a small but lovely space with lots of light. I used our small tax refund to transform it to a mini-conservatory/playroom. Low white shelves (the cheap kind from Costco) under all the windows, for toys and puzzles and books. A blue plastic Fisher Price table with two little green chairs, a present from Jane’s aunt and uncle. (This table is still with us: currently residing in our backyard.) In every window, a hanging basket of flowers. Good old gesneriads, blossoming liberally in a warm, dry place. Plants atop every set of shelves: all the flowering varieties I could coax into bloom. It really was a small wonderland. We spent most of our day there, the two of us, or sprawled on the sofa in the next room, reading. Scott would come home to a flat stack of picture books literally as high as the seat of the couch.

We got a hydroponic growing kit and tried our hand at herbs and vegetables. Mostly we raised whiteflies. No matter; I wasn’t cooking much, anyway.

I really loved that little garden. By the time Rose was born the following summer, Jane’s counts were back to reasonable levels and we began, at last, to see our old playmates again. But our sunroom, as we called it, remained a favorite place to play. That was the only part of the apartment I missed when we finally moved to a bigger place with a (gasp) yard in the fall of 1999. We brought all the houseplants with us, of course, but I’ve never been quite the fanatic—nor green thumb—that I was in the apartment years. The garden mania moved outside, of course. Our next move, to Virginia in January of ’02, was the first and only house we’ve owned, i.e. the only place I could really put things in the ground. Here in San Diego, we’ve done most of our outdoor planting in pots.

But there are a few varieties of indoor plants I’ve kept up with, sort of. I mean, we’ve always had, in every house, the standard tropical non-flowering greenery. Ficus (the little one I bought was getting quite big when I said goodbye to it in Virginia); always a prayer plant or rabbit tracks named Thor, long story; Chinese umbrella plant, pothos, ivy, jade tree, peace lily. Homey and forgiving sorts, the lot of them.

But my favorites, the things I don’t like ever to do without, are African violets and scented geraniums. My parents gave me a set of violets for my birthday last year, because I think I enthused about them here on the blog and they are incredibly sweet that way. (Wicked daughter pauses as thoughts of other things she might enthuse about flash through her mind. Ignore me, indugent parents.) I use my mom’s trick of keeping African violets in nearly continuous bloom by breaking Jobe’s Flowering Houseplant Fertilizer Spikes in half and burying a half in each pot. Works with geraniums too, but I only do that for the Martha Washington kind with the big showy blossoms, not the scented varieties where the flowers are rather nondescript and what you really want are the leaves.

So I grow African violets for the color and scented geraniums for the smell. But only a few of each, because somewhere around baby number three I lost my fastidiousness about tending to plants. Now everything green that survives in this house must be able to thrive upon benign neglect. Which is why only one of my birthday violets is in bloom right now. Where’d I put those fertilizer spikes again?

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