Chesterton Tribune

December: Tis the season for indoor gardening

Back to Front Page






December is for .... bringing the garden indoors.

Houseplants are a hereditary passion for the Povlock women of my motherís family. Both my aunts Irene and Lillian are blessed with a green thumb and all year-round their tables and windowsills are lush with green, growing things (and in Aunt Ireneís case usually several starts of a red houseplant she can propagate at will).

My mother Louiseís east-facing kitchen windowsill always has a colorful array of blooming African violets, which I cannot grow to save my soul but my daughter Ali can. Mom also has a way with Boston ferns, one of my many houseplant failures.

When my mother-in-law Wanda passed away nine years ago a huge Boston fern was given to the family. ďLet Polly have it; sheís good with plants,Ē they said. Little did they know my history with ferns.

After the initial joy of not killing the funeral fern overnight, after a time I was struggling to keep it going, moving it here and there to vary the light intensity, misting it, setting it on a nest of watered pebbles for humidity. The fern, technically a nephrolepsis, just kept losing vigor and fronds as the leaves turned a crunchy brown.

I eventually moved the fern to the enclosed east porch, where it really took a downward spiral. I decided to repot it in a last-ditch effort and in doing so I found the potís soil was full of ants! I knew of none on the well-insulated porch, so this was a mystery to me. I dumped the thing outside, blasted it with the hose and potted up what was left.

Today the fern seems happiest living in a cool bathroom under a skylight where I try to keep it evenly moist. It has 15 arching green fronds (which are not as long as they should be) and a new one just unfurling. To anyone else this would be a defeat, but for me itís sheer victory. If you want to see some really huge Boston ferns, visit the west lobby of St. Patrick Church on North Calumet Road.

Perhaps my indoor fern history is why I am so overjoyed when I find a new variety of outdoor fern that performs well and reliably winters over for me. Although Iím quick to move plants around, if a fern survives itís staying put.

As attentive as I try to be to my outdoor plants, for some reason I just forget about indoor plants sometimes, even the ones staring at me on a table in a south window across from the computer screen. But I am making a special effort this winter to baby three plants I hope to move outdoors next year.

The first is the ĎAvant Gardeí poinsettia I bought Christmas 2003 with its funky, jagged, mottled green leaves; it spent this summer outside. After repotting it in August, trimming it back and eventually bringing it indoors I did not put the poinsettia in a dark closet 14 hours a day for weeks, trying to get its bracts to color up in the traditional way. Merely keeping it alive is enjoyment enough for me.

The second plant is an agapanthus that was a huge disappointment this summer. I bought the tuber (bulb, start, rhizome, division?) in a plastic bag in March at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.

Agapanthus, which usually flowers in shades of blue, blue/purple or white, is a member of the amaryllis family and sends up leafless stalks, atop which tubular flowers make a loose, circular head remniscent of the more delicate allium. The long agapanthus leaves resemble those of a daylily.

After the Flower Show I planted the agapanthus indoors in a pot to get it going, then transplanted it outdoors in good soil in what I thought was a great location. The leaves grew half-heartedly but no flower stalks. Then the cool August came and the agapanthus balked; Septemberís warmth triggered a growth spurt yet still no flowers. Committed to getting this thing to bloom I potted it up and brought it indoors where itís growing again, at least for now.

The third plant was a season-end sale at a local nursery greenhouse, a $7.50 passionflower vine whose leaves had insect holes and some discoloration from the colder temperatures. I potted it up a size with some compost and initially kept it isolated from other plants. Itís now moved to a sunny table and is perking up, all 28 inches of it. Exotic-looking passionflowers are beauties and I hope I can coax a few into bloom.

When I move plants indoors from a season outside I wash them well, then dust a few crystals of a systemic plant insecticide over the soil to be sure nothing is hitchhiking into the house. I donít know what effect, if any, this might have on the tropical agapanthus and passionflower; time will tell.

The last time I heard Rich Eyre, owner of the fine Richís Foxwillowpines dwarf conifer and rare tree nursery in Woodstock, Ill., give a talk he said, ďIf you think good garden ideas will jump in your lap, youíre wrong.Ē Two upcoming events will help give plenty of fresh perspectives on improving our gardens.

Jan. 15 the Midwest Regional Hosta Society is hosting its Winter Scientific Meeting with programs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield, 1800 East Golf Rd. in Schaumburg, Ill. The Hyatt has blocked rooms at $79 per night if you mention the hosta society. Reservations for the meeting, which include a continental breakfast and a nice deli lunch, are $45 per person before Jan. 6 and $55 after.

Checks payable to the Northern Illinois Hosta Society may be mailed before Jan. 6 with your name, address and phone number to Morgan Wilson, 1880 N. Hennepin, LaSalle, Ill. 61301. No confirmation will be sent. For more information, contact 815-224-1383.

The speakersí list is impressive. Glenn Herold will discuss Dwarf and Unusual Conifers; Roy Klehm, Peonies; Ran Lydell, Neat and Unusual Trees for the Garden; Steve Schulte, Creating Sanctuary; Cynthia Wilhoite, Putting (Hosta) Species in Their Place; and Mark Zillis, another in his informative continuing series, Hostas of Distinction. With this line-up I can hardly wait to attend.

A word of caution: last year when I arrived at the meeting I was told I was not registered and had to pay again. This year I may send my reservation by certified mail, or call ahead to be sure my check was received.

Closer to home, Feb. 1 the day-long Northwestern Indiana Nurserymenís Assoc. annual educational seminar takes place at the Avalon Manor Banquet Center, 3550 E. U.S. 30 in Merrillville/Hobart and includes two presentations by noted garden author Tracy DiSabato-Aust, who is speaking the previous night in Merrillville as well.

The Nurserymenís seminar is open to the public with registration at 7:30 a.m. and adjournment at approximately 4 p.m. Cost is $95 for non-association members but master gardeners may pay a $30 membership fee to join and $65 for the seminar. Both costs include a continental breakfast and a family-style lunch with two entreesí.

At 8 a.m. DiSabato-Aust will discuss her new book ďThe Well-Designed Mixed GardenĒ and at 9:45 a.m. she will tackle cutting-edge techniques for Pruning Perennials A to Z followed by a book sale and signing. At 1 p.m. Conner Shaw will discuss Native Woody Plants for the Urban Landscape; Jodie Ellis at 2:30 p.m. will present Five Greatest Invasive Threats to the Indiana Landscape; and at 3 p.m. Eric Meyers will demonstrate Naturalizing Water Features in the Landscape.

According to association member Marge Zelenka, ďItís going to be a terrific program. Weíre really excited.Ē For more information, contact 219-942-3917.

Searching for last-minute gifts for the gardener in your family? Here are some suggestions.

A sturdy apron with pockets, like the super-chef barbecue aprons, are great for doing messy garden jobs. If your gardener doesnít have a pitchfork, either narrow or wide-tined, they can be indispensable for many activities like gingerly teasing a perennial out of its place when crowded next to its neighbors or for spreading mulch.

Collapsible canvas or plastic yard bags attached around metal spiral rings are a super gift; they come in large and smaller sizes but donít do as I did and overload them. They are not a wheelbarrow by any means, but for moving around the yard when deadheading or cleaning under plants in the spring theyíre great.

If you want a stocking stuffer, I just discovered CVS carries a package of three Helping Hand mini-clamps. They have a super-tight grip for a variety of garden (and home) uses. Iíll use mine to hold burplap to posts as windbreaks or to secure clematis vines or a climbing rose to a trellis. The applications are endless.

Merry Christmas, and may we all have peace, health and happiness in the New Year.


Posted 12/17/2004