Plantry transformation

Almost 10 years ago to the day I wrote about the little lopsided glassed-in entry porch that sold me on this house, and tentatively named it “the plantry.” I have filled it to the gills every fall since with tender plants and cuttings — and, of course, the name stuck.

Over the years Z improved it. He installed exterior doors that closed and an interior door with a view. He plumbed a spigot, hung a fan, and found a plug-in programmable thermostat that turns the space heater on automagically. And, over the last 10 years, he has wooed me with whispers about turning it into a “proper greenhouse.”

Other (less sexy) projects have taken precedence, such as replacing a furnace that coughed black smoke, putting a new roof on the rest of the house, reflooring the bathroom and kitchen, and installing a wood stove in the living room. (Super sexy, that one.) Being unhandy, I am the soul of patience — and gratitude. Obviously. 

This year the plantry roof, which we didn’t bother replacing back when the rest of the house was done, really started to look rough and Z got busy realizing my wildest greenhouse dreams. He started by cathedral-ing the ceiling, insulating the walls and spraying the interior bright white, all of which is a game changer light- and heat-wise. I contributed by thinning the herd of plants that needed to be moved in and out during the project, and by freeing up 2 more sets of IKEA metal shelves. (In library-speak, I “weeded” my gardening books. There’s probably another post in that.) The polycarbonate panels for the roof arrive at the end of the week — much later than originally anticipated and maybe too late to install before winter. That’s OK. The plantry is still and again my favorite room in the house, brighter and cozier than it ever was before. I’d be out there writing this right now if the living room stove wasn’t ablaze…

Make way for sweet peas

There’s not a lot of room out in the plantry. I try very hard to keep the entrances onto the porch and into the house clear of plants and tools but inevitably the backyard door will only open so far, impinged by a reluctantly coiled hose and a tubtrug full of debris. The rest of the space, all 6×6 -or so- feet of it, is filled to the gills with frost-tender plants on various levels of floor, tables, and shelves. Normally, after I puzzle out light requirements and try not to hide anything thirsty from the hose, I leave them be for the duration of their winter internment. But this year, my first without access to a greenhouse and orphaned seedlings, I had to make way for sweet peas. I pitched some things that looked like they’d never recover from being dead, moved my jasmine into the living room, relocated a blooming orchid that wanted water and admiration, and somehow managed to clear a spot for a flat.

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Starting North Shore, April in Paris, and Zinfandel sweet peas

I was very restrained and only bought 3 varieties of sweet peas (my greatest pleasure and challenge in previous employment was narrowing my favorites down to a baker’s dozen), and filled a tray of 18 pots with two seeds per pot. Which, if they all germinate will give me plenty to share. And there are plenty of leftover seeds to try direct sowing too if I remember to be on the ball around St. Patrick’s Day.

Some gardeners nick the seed coat to promote germination. Others soak the seeds in warm water. I did what I learned to do at work: stuff them a half a fingernail down in a pot of regular (coarse) potting mix, water in, and wait. Two weeks should do the trick. Being a cool season crop, they should be fine on the plantry (where temperatures range from 40F at night to 70 something during the day) until planting them out late April.

Have you made way for sweet peas — or anything else?

Indoor flowers for winter happiness

Camellia 'Minato-No-Akebono'Lately every time I open a door to the plantry — whenever I come and go from the house — I am hit with a light clove-y (or is it cinnamon-y?) pink fragrance that makes me dim my eyes and suck in deeply through both nostrils. I’d use every pore if I could. Especially whenever it’s too cold to smell much of anything outside or on those rare days the neighborhood is damply downwind of the town’s biosolids compost facility. (It’s great stuff but super stinky.) The source of the perfume is a little camellia I picked up at Logee’s a few years ago and it is blooming more heavily this year than ever before. Its tag is long gone and it doesn’t appear to be in their catalog anymore but I did a quick internet search: although this rings no bells at all, it looks like a Camella lutchuensis ‘Minato-No-Akebono’. During the summer it hangs out with everything else in the partial shade of my deck and right now it’s seeming to enjoy the chilly temperature fluctuations out in the plantry (from the 60s during the day down into the 30s on very cold nights). Last year I brought it into the living room (which has a more consistent temperature around 60F) for its bloom period and it didn’t put on anywhere near the same endless show.

purple shamrock - Oxalis triangularisWhich isn’t to say that my living room is flower-free right now. Oxalis triangularis is going nuts blooming though it hardly needs to. Its largish burgundy leaves that fold closed like upside-down butterfly wings are plenty entertaining enough. Not to mention tangy and delicious. From what I understand, this plant wants to go dormant though it has never indicated such a desire to me. I hope, since dormancy might only last 4-6 weeks, that it won’t particularly miss it. Or perhaps these flowers are its last hurrah.

Do you grow either of these plants? Do they make you as happy as they do me?

The garden inside

The plantry fall 2009No two seasons are ever the same in any garden (I should think) and evidently no two seasons are the same in the jungle either.* It’s not just the acquisitions that change (I did recently receive a Logee’s catalog – you too?) but the whole everything changes. This year I can attribute some of the changes to the foster-children Ponderosa lemon and agave going back to the greenhouse at work (now that they’re beautiful again – bow, applause). Some might say – and have said – that I still have too many plants. To which I can only reply “psshaw” or “not possible” or “bite me” if I’m feeling particularly feisty. But when so many plants come back inside for the winter that I can’t see out of my windows anymore, it might start to feel, even to me, like I might have a lot of plants. But that’s all beside the point of what I felt like mentioning today.

Z working on the plantry's backdoor. The biggest change to my jungle is that I won’t be bragging anymore about how miraculously my plants survive the plantry over the winter. In another nag-and-ye-shall-receive coup (believe me I know how lucky I am) the needs of my many plants took precedence over other (less important, obviously) house projects. Where previously there were sheet-metal “storm” doors and dog-blanket breeze-baffles there are now actual doors with latches, double-pane glass and weather-proof seals around all of the edges. It’s an amazing thing. So far the tests have been nights in an above freezing but still nose-nipping range and the plantry temperature has not dipped much below 50 as far as I can tell. (My extra-cool digital temperature and humidity thingamabob kicked it this summer and I’m back to consulting an old-school fake-mercury thermometer decorated with a drawing of a daffodil.) The walls of the plantry are uninsulated so the plants will probably still require a heater out there. And as Z found out by muscling rectangles into rhomboids, the entire porchlet may be falling off the house to end up in a heap in the driveway. I say, if that, then greenhouse!

What’s different in your jungle this year?

*I just realized that today is trench mani’s 1st blogiversary – which means I’ve thought about abandoning this blog – but haven’t (yet) for a whole year. Thanks for reading it – and keeping me blahbing. Cheers!

Taking my own advice

show off before the move insideYou know the adage “do as I say, not as I do”?  I’m the worst.  I did a little research for my post at work about citruses which pretty much confirmed what I already knew.  I am a plant slayer.  And I don’t like to take my own advice because it’s generally tedious or time consuming or otherwise inconvenient.  I have been keeping my ponderosa lemon orphan out in the plantry because it looks good out there showing its fruit off to the neighbors and because it would take up too much room inside.  I knew it was the wrong place for it.  Citruses, as I reminded myself the other day, can take temperature dips into the 40’s but prefer to winter at about 60°.  The plantry’s average nightly temperatures are in the 40’s but sometimes drops into the scary low 30’s like when I forget to turn on the heater or when it goes into the single digits outside – which has been a fairly frequent occurence this winter.  kittens help with leaf washingAnd the lemon doesn’t look so good.  Although, since I’ve moved it to the livingroom, scattering lemons, branches and leaves in my wake, I’ve decided it looked a lot better before.  Now it will be a daily reproof sitting sickly at the end of my couch, taking up half of a much darker room and plagued by horticulturally fixated kittens who don’t realize just how thorny the thing is.  But what’s a plant junkie to do?  I can’t bring it back to the greenhouse – the only reason I have it is because we don’t have room for it there.  And I can’t put it out in the very cold to die quickly.  The only thing to do is to do as I say, not as I do.