Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Garden quote of today

Spring is Nature's way of saying "let's party!"
- Unknown

Monday, March 13, 2006

They are alive...!

March has entered our lives. The snow is still lying deep outside but you can feel the warmth of the sun and during the day the snow melts on the roofs and water droplets throw themselves out into the air.

Indoors, the houseplants look…well…hay like, sort of. Considering that they have spent an entire winter confined into small pots, in warm and dry air and with very little light I am more impressed that they manage to survive at all than I am worried about how they look. The Snake plant, Sansevieria trifasciata, is happy of course, as is the Zamioculcas zamiifolia. You have to be the Hannibal Lecter of plant owners to kill them. It is the Mediterranean plants that bring the atmosphere of hay barn. I like pelargoniums. They spend the summers on the porch looking nice and flowering happily. When the nights turn chillier, however the choice stands between letting them die or to bring them indoors. Often one can hear arguments such as: “Pelargoniums are really cheap to buy so why bother keeping them over winter?”. Those people are not real gardeners. They are plant killers in disguise. I say, you don’t kill a plant just because it is cheap. You just don’t. I build relations to my plants. I talk to them. Encouraging words when they seem to struggle. Happy words when they grow well. Gently dust their leaves when they turn a bit dusty and spray the air to increase moisture. You don’t throw such things away. No. In the autumn the plants move indoors to spend the winter on a windowsill.

Now imagine you are a Mediterranean plant. Apart from having green leaves and roots instead of arms and legs it means that you are built for hot and dry summers and winters that can be a bit chilly but where temperatures normally keep a few degrees above freezing point. Not to mention plenty of light. Please compare this with the description of their present conditions indoors and be amazed that they don’t give up right away. I am not sure I’d be so cooperative if I was a plant. And for what? A little water and some fertilizer if lucky. Nevertheless, they keep on living. All through winter they stand there, faithfully.

And now, at last, there is time for spring-cleaning. Contrary to what is often described in gardening books, I never cut back plants in the autumn. Experience has shown that they loose quite a bit of leaves and even some stems during the long winter months anyway, and that the plants cope better with the change from outdoor life to indoor life if they don’t have to struggle with the strain of being cut back as well. But now in middle march I remove all dead leaves and cut back pale winter growth. I lift them up from their old pots and put them into new ones, filled with fresh, moist compost – yummy goodies for a plant.

Life is back! Nothing can stop it now. Every spring is a triumph. Repotting doesn’t just mean cleaning the windowsills and making the plants happier. It is a ritual. A ritual that commands the winter to go away. Come on spring. We are waiting. Everything is ready for you. The plant look fresh and the smell from the new soil is the smell of life.

The old soil is taken out to the still frozen compost. When the rays of sun get warmer even this frozen lump will come alive and everything will start over again. It is nothing less than a miracle, but a miracle turning up regularly.

In my next post I will give you some insights as to what can happen if you combine a forgetful gardener with a bunch of seeds with difficult names.