Once winter arrives and the vibrancy of summer crumbles away, the work of weeding, watering, feeding, and fussing becomes a wistful memory that can leave too much time and an unwanted sabbatical from intimacy with nature.
My garden, a palette of annual glowing color, abruptly exited my life when I moved from my country home to an apartment. Philodendron is no substitute for petunias, marigolds or zinnias. I tried giving some rosy red geranium the sunniest windowsill, hoping for full-year flowering, but it just didn’t work.
Gardening is such a personal thing. There are the true gardening pros, who know all about the biology of plants, who have learned from experience, books and neighbors the complexities of roots, buds, leaves, light — just what makes specific plants thrive and what causes premature death. They know the difference between Begonia semperfloris and Begonia corallina. Gardening for them is a calling.
At the opposite end of the hoe are the gardening pleasure-seekers, who love the idea of a garden, the bright beauty of it, the drama of putting seeds into earth and watching them grow, seemingly on their own, with rain and sun as caretakers. They are the dilettante gardeners, with “que sera, sera” as their theme song. In between these extremes are the trusty traditionalists, who cart their pansies, impatiens, mums, and mint to the front yard, where they are dutifully displayed, as if in a photograph of the obedient garden.
The miracle is that almost all flowers, like very small children, have a way of adding surprise to life, while seeming to be totally unselfconscious of their effect. Whatever they’re wearing they’re wearing, and even the most glamorous lilies, gardenias or orchids seem to take their gorgeousness for granted, accepting all the “oohs” and “aahs” graciously.
Having to downsize your home is a huge challenge, but downsizing a garden can be even more devastating. Reduced to a few planters or pots instead of a feast of space can stab the heart. How do you get as much joy as possible from two yellow Gerbera daisies, one circle of purple petunias, one pot of mixed orange marigolds? Well, it can be done. What happens is that more careful attention is paid to every flower. There’s almost never a faded or crushed one to be seen. Deadheading is done with loving precision. Watering is measured as carefully as with an infant’s formula.
Downsizing isn’t a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” Much more, it’s a sensation of “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” And so, when the calendar, the sky and the temperature undeniably introduce winter, there’s an urge to gather greenery, to fill vases, to pounce on friendly-looking plants to live with. There are dozens of houseplants available for November-to- April indoor gardening. They’re destined to flourish and flower in the right location (sun or shade) with proper watering (little or lots) and affectionate attention.
Here are three of my favorites:
Cyclamen: Red, pink or white blossoms from Christmas to April if grown in a cool spot with good light. Water from beneath without wetting the foliage.
Geranium: Almost any type geranium is a good choice for indoors and will thrive in a sunny location from winter through late spring. Keep soil on the dry side and roots cramped.
Primrose: Sky blue, rose, red, magenta, purple or white clusters. Should be kept constantly moist so the roots never dry out. In a cool location, with partial sun, you might have blossoms all year round.
So there you have it. A downsized garden like no other, a single plant in every room in the house or several at a window. Some may grow an inch a day, others will take longer to adjust and might need moving from one place to another until a sudden growth spurt appears. But you’ve managed to shrink your habitat without shriveling the growing life around you. You’re still a gardener and still needed to produce, protect and prolong your garden.
This article is dedicated to my sister.