Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
February is for .... making it through the winter with house plants.
I can’t grow an African violet to save my soul. I’m still struggling to keep
alive a Boston fern from 1995. My peace lily, usually a no-brainer house
plant, droops, never blooms and has brown tips.
This year, though, I’ve had much better luck with other plants and really am
enjoying the ones that are thriving indoors for me despite my house-plant
In 2006 I went to a June hosta sale and spied a potted plant for $15 labeled
“clivia”. I knew I had seen just the bulbs in gardening catalogs for $50 or
more and snapped up the pot.
The clivia’s long, strap-like wide green leaves are attractive year-round and
the occasional 12-inch stalk bearing clustered hot-orange, funnel-shaped
flowers are stunning.
I left the clivia outside that first summer; in the fall I brought it in near
a sunny south window and didn’t have high hopes. I watered it occasionally
and was shocked last year to have it bloom three times, the last making a
striking Christmas table centerpiece.
Unbelievably, it’s sending up another flower stalk already.
I’m glad my clivia, probably C. miniata, can’t read. Also known as kafir lily
native to South Africa, books say not to expose them to direct sunlight, yet
mine has been all along. I’m also glad I didn’t get the urge to repot it as
clivia apparently likes to be potbound.
Some sources say clivia needs a winter rest. Could I be burning out my bulb’s
energy prematurely by not doing so? The way I look at it, I’ve got a good
thing going and don’t want to mess with success.
Another special house plant I have took five months before it decided it
wanted to live here.
Also in 2006 we visited our friend’s home in Florida and part of his
partially wooded land was covered with small, lacy ferns that looked like
little asparagus-clump tops. I dug up a few, keeping them in a damp paper
towel in a plastic bag for the rest of the vacation. When I got home I
planted the ferns in five pots and waited.
And waited and waited and waited.
Over the weeks one by one they died. I was down to a single pot, the tiny
fern sprout just sitting there in suspended animation. Since it was an
outdoor plant originally, I had segregated it on an enclosed porch away from
my other house plants. I often forgot about it and ignored it. Did I even
One day I checked and the lone tip was showing new green growth. I was
After 19 months there are now three 16-inch, multi-branched delicate fronds.
Patience --- or dumb luck --- truly is rewarded. The fern’s earned its way
onto the house plant table in the computer room, but on the less-sunny end.
The fern’s delicacy is a stark contrast to the mother-in-law tongue (sansevieria)
I inherited last year. Choked in its original pot, I divided it into six. But
I soon found why every sansevieria I’ve seen is choked in a pot: the narrow,
mottled 30-inch leaves fall over.
Some green bamboo stakes and a strip of cut-up pantyhose as a tie solved the
problem. I discovered it’s hard to find people who actually want a
sansevieria plant, even if it’s free. I do have a new appreciation of them,
especially since they appear to be indestructible.
I visited my Aunt Irene recently and commented that her new starts of
Christmas cactus were blooming while the one she gave me almost two years ago
never has. Do you fertilize? she asked, recommending Miracle Grow liquid
house plant food.
The only plants I make a point to fertilize are the outdoor hybrid tea roses,
but this year there will be far fewer of them to tend.
Last fall I yanked out nine of the 16 teas in my formal, four-quadrant rose
bed. Instead of a joy, the roses had become a major frustration.
Every year I had an increasing problem with black-spot disease and when one
rose got it, the rest in such close quarters were soon to follow, even if
they are labeled “black-spot resistant".
Also, some of the roses I couldn’t even remember their names, let alone their
color. If I didn’t love them enough to know that, why was I keeping them
around, especially the poor performers?
I kept ‘Christopher Columbus,’ ‘Dolly Parton’ (although I moved it and have
yet to see if it survived; the fragrance is heavenly), ‘Gift of Life’, ‘Hot
Cocoa’, ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Auguste Renoir’. I don’t recall the last
unidentified plant and will probably pitch it in the spring.
Until then, catalogs, books, surfing the Internet and attending gardening
seminars/shows can help us survive the bleak days of winter still ahead. Just
be alert when catalog shopping.
The 2008 Wayside Gardens catalog boasts big savings on the trendy yellow
peony ‘Bartzella’. It’s an intersectional: a cross between herbaceous and
tree-peony forms. Intersectionals die back each year and have huge flowers
that bloom over an extended period. But be aware Wayside’s discounted $39.95
price only gets you a peony in a 4-inch pot.
The Plant Delights Nursery catalog sells a flowering-size ‘Bartzella’ for
$150.00 in a 1.58-gallon pot.
On a personal note, I want to thank everyone, especially Jeanine, who said
they’ve missed my garden column. It’s back, and new readers should understand
I’m not a master gardener; I’m an avid amateur who’s still trying to master
her own garden, one little section at a time.
Time to fertilize the house plants.