Down to earth — my indoor garden grows

(Originally published October 15, 2014 in EastBayRI newspapers.)

What was it I said about bringing fewer plants back inside for the winter? I seem to have lost my resolve. Weeks ago, when I was on a tear to be tidy I did throw a couple of plants on the compost. They were real stragglers, too unattractively unhealthy to take up precious windowsill space and probably should have been pitched long ago. Nonetheless, I felt virtuous enough to justify deferring decisions about the rest. Now every plant on my deck is like Welcome Back Kotter’s Horshack, with one hand raised to the sky, shouting, “Ooh, ooh, ooh!” and I can’t help but want to pick them all.

I remember mentioning an intention to let go of an enormous angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia) that never bloomed. As if to prove me impatient and mean it’s bedecked with buds now. Not only will it be impossible for me to compost the plant but I’ll have to give it a prime spot on my entry porch—the plantry—instead of sending it straight down cellar into the dark where it belongs for the winter. But won’t I feel lucky in a few weeks when its big, dangling, pale-yellow flowers fill the evening with lemony sweetness?

Speaking of lemony, it’s high time to find windowsill real-estate for citrus plants too. I brought the Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia) inside weeks ago when the night temperatures started to fall into the 50s but I really should offer it to any gardener who turns the thermostat up in the winter instead of layering on sweaters, as I do. Key limes are tropical and would prefer temperatures that hover in the 60s if not 70s. Come to think of it, so would I.

This evening in the plantry
This evening in the plantry

Meyer lemon plants (Citrus ×meyeri) can tolerate more cold—into the 40s—but will do their best winter growing and flowering in the 60s at least. They also want plenty of sun. Unfortunately, the brightest place in my living room happens to be a west-facing corner flanked on one side by our official, but rarely used, front door. I’m on the fence about spending another winter with one out of only two entrances (exits) completely blocked by a spiny behemoth. If it hadn’t set fruit and if nurseries offered trade-ins, I’d have downsized already.

Gardenia and friend in the plantry
Gardenia and friend in the plantry

My gardenia and sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans) are also beginning to outgrow their welcome. I remember when the gardenia was just a rooted cutting at Logee’s that I added on impulse to a boxful of tiny begonias (now also huge). It was cutest thing. This winter it will entirely fill our only south-facing window. A small price to pay, I suppose, for dozens of bone-white swirly flowers that scented the backyard all summer long. The sweet olive, which these days stands as tall as a ten-year old, earns its floor space by blooming all winter and not demanding the sunniest window.

Both plants would be perfectly happy out in the plantry but I’m holding every inch of space out there not already taken by the brugmansia for my favorite tender perennial salvia, cuphea, plectranthus, and African blue basil plants. I’ll dig and pot them up just before the first hard frost because for now, they’re still busy blooming, feeding the bees, and calling to migrating hummingbirds. In the meantime, I took a bunch of cuttings so one way or another, every shelf and most of the floor, is spoken for. As long as I can get into (and out of) my indoor garden this winter, I guess I’m pretty OK with that.

What’s changed since I wrote the above: The sweet olive landed in the plantry after all and I’m enjoying how its scent greets us as we pass through. And the south-facing sunbeam in the living room that I earmarked for the gardenia is actually occupied by two cats and a dog. Maybe I won’t bring so many stock plants in after all. Have you moved any of your garden indoors yet? Can you still get through your doors and see out the windows?

My mess

The only thing better than a weekend in the garden is a long weekend in the garden. Especially if it’s spring (or in this case the unofficial start of summer) and the weather is sunny and mild and serendipitously showery. These last three days were the best for plant shopping and plant planting. The best for rearranging the furniture—and by that I mean transplanting (it’s not too late) and moving indoor plants out (it’s not too early although the nights are still on the cool side). All the stuff I love to do in the spring. Pretty sure my Z thinks I’m nuts because I’m always pasted at end of it even though I usually break for a nap in the middle of it.

And just like clockwork, I have fallen in love with my garden all over again. By anyone else’s standards it’s a mess. But it’s my mess. I think it’s beautiful and, also, I’m on it. a view of my mess

Strawberries and violets acting weedyOne thing I’ve noticed is that some of my favorite thugs have grown out of scale. I don’t mind plants that act like weeds (I want the strawberries to fill the patio cracks) but looking weedy isn’t so OK. They and the violets in my garage/rain garden are burlier than the perennials and even the shrubs at this stage. So even though violets are butterfly hosts, I have evicted the extra-annoying clumps and placed a few container plants that, until the rest of the garden grows, might provide enough weighty bulk to make the remaining blobs of violet and strawberry leaves look more delicate and garden worthy. And I’ll enjoy working on a list of plants to add to that bed that will offer better contrast this early in the season.

I was a little bummed by today’s showers but the trunkful of plants I brought home from the nursery Saturday got extra watering in; a shiny new rain barrel (replacing a funky, stopped up and mosquito-infested fish barrel) was tested; and it gave me the chance to CLEAN the plantry. Plantry cleaning (to own the truth, any cleaning) is a chore that usually sits at the very bottom of the weekend to-do list but maybe it will rise higher from now on with the incentive of creating an inviting, rainy-day, garden-side haven in what is essentially a screened porchlet. (I’d be writing this out there right now if it wasn’t such a chilly evening.)

Plantry / summer studio

Did you spend a long weekend in the garden? Do you think your garden is a mess too? Are you in love?