Between the Rows: Gifts for a gardener this season of color

  • On her outing, the columnist got to meet owner Andy Cowles, pictured, and his loyal assistant Carol Dwyer in the propagating greenhouse at Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst. They will also have ranks of familiar Christmas flowers, but Leuchtman was lucky enough to see the plants that they propagated themselves. FOR THE RECORDER/PAT LEUCHTMAN

For The Recorder
Friday, December 01, 2017

“Houseplants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants” by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf has a cool green and white cover, but the first time I happened to open it, I was presented with a double spread of colorful house plants with the encouraging label: “easy to grow.” As we enter the holiday season, a season of color and sparkle, colorful plants make a beautiful gift, but that beauty can be ephemeral if we don’t have some information about plant care.

Steinkopf has been giving that information for many years, and in many forums, from HGTVgardens.com, Michigan Gardener Magazine, Real Simple Magazine and on her own blog: TheHouseplantGuru.com. She lives with her own collection of 1,000 houseplants and knows whereof she speaks.

I don’t have a lot of houseplants. My excuse is too few windows, but full disclosure, I have to confess to a lack of attention. Steinkopf attends to both of these common problems. She provides new information about lighting for plants. LED lights are a boon to light living plants and more effective than the fluorescent lights that have been the standard. As for paying attention, she suggests keeping a magnifying glass at hand and explains how to look for problems. As my eyes age, this is a good idea on many fronts, but this past year I missed the mealy bugs on a small palm and the borers on my squash plant. A magnifying glass is on my wish list this holiday season.

“Houseplants” is a comprehensive book about every aspect of plant care, from potting and re-potting, watering and fertilizing, lighting, grooming and propagation (you’ll have plants to give away as gifts), and a problem solving chapter which will advise on how to look closely at your plants. There is also a section on those special kinds of indoor gardens like terrariums and dish gardens.

Some holiday gift plants are not really intended to be blooming a year from now. Poinsettias are certainly a case in point, as are paper white narcissus and other bulbs that will spend all their energy in that holiday flush. I have finally learned how to make my amaryllis bloom again, but many people do not, and that is fine. Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus can grow and bloom for generations.

We Greenfielders are familiar with the great array of plants available at the Farmer’s Co-op on High Street. At this time of the year, the poinsettia, in all its many colors and patterns, may be queen, but the co-op offers many other lovely flowering gifts. One of my favorites is cyclamen, but there are those holiday cactuses and fine mosses that come close to taking me to a quiet woodland. You will also find other gifts for the gardener, including colorful ceramic pots, gloves and trowels, and all the other tools that are needed outdoors. I was also taken with the bee houses that make it easy for all those native bees to prosper.

Right across the street from the co-op is Sigda’s Florist, which will have their collection of familiar holiday plants as well as dish gardens that will be especially interesting in their variety.

I trekked over to the Hadley Garden Center which has a large room filled with houseplants like Reiger begonias in sunny colors, large amaryllis bulbs, orchids, ferns, lemon trees and Norfolk pines, just to name a few. Succulents come in many forms and are a good gift for new gardeners. The HGC also has pots in all sizes and colors as well as garden ornaments.

Then it was on to Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst. There, I got to meet owner Andy Cowles and his loyal assistant Carol Dwyer in the propagating greenhouse. They will also have ranks of familiar Christmas flowers, but I was lucky enough to see the plants that they propagated themselves. I got to meet the “Mother Begonia” that has seen countless of her snipped leaves turn into daughters, granddaughters, and who knows how many great-granddaughters.

They were so enthusiastic, showing me the babies of succulents and explaining how I could handle the growth of these dependable plants. Pinch and prune is their motto — for just about every type of plant actually. Those are the magic words that keep a dish garden of succulents looking beautiful and healthy. I always looked at those finished gardens with annoyance, thinking it was all very well, but those plants were going to grow and change, and then what? Pinch and prune. It did seem doable. I’ll just have to be brave.

I loved the ferns, especially the maidenhair ferns. The asparagus fern took me back to my first houseplants on Grinnell Street in 1971, when everyone seemed to have asparagus ferns in their windows. It was impressed upon me that the ferns and all these houseplants filter and clean the air.

Before I left Andrews Greenhouse, I walked through the colorful holiday shop that was being arranged by designer Sara Bresson — a wonderland of ornaments. It will be hard to resist a new shiny bauble or two on your way out.

Pat Leuchtman had written and gardened since 1980.
She lives in Greenfield.
Readers can leave
comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com