House plants (or slow-moving pets, or Darwin is my gardener)

Michael Gollin
October 2015

The first frost sunset with fingernail new moon did not catch us unprepared. We had time to bring in the house plants before it got too cold. My favorite is a citrus tree I bought in Chinatown when I lived there in the 1980s. I used to stop by the florist sometimes on my way home from work, and one day I saw a cheerful plant with scented flowers and small green citrus fruits. I bought it for my loft apartment and each winter it blooms and fruits. It has been with us in Bowie the whole time. You can see where I pruned it decades ago.
My house plants are survivors.

In my office, colleagues praise my plants and tell me I have a green thumb. My response is that Darwin is my gardener. You don’t see my failures because they died and were removed. Dead twigs and leaves are pruned away. What’s left is green and healthy. Some were gifts. Some were cuttings. Some were rescued from trash. A few I bought. There’s a jade plant so big it is a shrub and a bushel-sized aloe vera, both of which have progeny around the office from cuttings. Everyone has a green thumb if you keep trying and occasionally learn from your mistakes. 

(Are house plants at the office “office plants”?)

Back at home, African violets are supposed to be temperamental. Not mine. It’s ten years old and gets no special treatment, but it still flowers throughout the year.

Snake plants can live a year behind the refrigerator according to a tale a friend told me. I haven’t tried that but I’ve never killed one.

I had a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla)  that grew from three feet until it hit the ceiling. I tried a fancy technique of rooting the top but it failed and the tree stayed outside that winter and froze. I should get a new one.

For me, house plants are like slow-moving pets.