By PAULENE POPARAD
December is for .... bringing the garden indoors.
Houseplants are a hereditary passion for the Povlock women of my mother’s
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 Irene’s case usually several starts of a red houseplant
she can propagate at will).
My mother Louise’s 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
When my mother-in-law Wanda passed away nine years ago a huge Boston fern
was given to the family. “Let Polly have it; she’s good with plants,” 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 pot’s 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 it’s 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 I’m quick to move plants around, if a fern survives it’s staying
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 ‘Avant Garde’ 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; September’s 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 it’s 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. It’s 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 don’t know what effect, if any,
this might have on the tropical agapanthus and passionflower; time will
The last time I heard Rich Eyre, owner of the fine Rich’s Foxwillowpines
dwarf conifer and rare tree nursery in Woodstock, Ill., give a talk he said,
“If you think good garden ideas will jump in your lap, you’re wrong.” Two
upcoming events will help give plenty of fresh perspectives on improving our
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 speakers’ 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 Nurserymen’s 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 Nurserymen’s 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 entrees’.
At 8 a.m. DiSabato-Aust will discuss her new book “The Well-Designed Mixed
Garden” 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, “It’s going to be a terrific
program. We’re really excited.” For more information, contact 219-942-3917.
Searching for last-minute gifts for the gardener in your family? Here are
A sturdy apron with pockets, like the super-chef barbecue aprons, are great
for doing messy garden jobs. If your gardener doesn’t 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 don’t 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
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. I’ll 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