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Plants, Resilient Plants

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

One thing I really, really love about plants is their resilience. You can mistreat them and heat them and chill them and abuse them, but given half a chance, they'll spring back. So it was when we finally replaced the enormous 30K BTU infrared heater with a 20K BTU blue flame heater whose thermostat actually worked. The huge four plaque heater had one setting: ROAST. Set at its lowest, it'd kick on when the temperature in the Groanhouse hit 58. The ceramic plaques would glow orange. The fan would kick in. And the temperature would shoot to 82 in a matter of about eight minutes. 
You. Can. Imagine.
what the plants thought of that. 
They're all wildly abloom here in this October shot, but that's because the big heater has yet to show what it can do. I think this was Installation Day. It was allll downhill from here.

Infrared heat: AWFUL for plants. Dry and way too hot. Never again.

Blue flame heat: Moist, gentle, easily regulated. Perfect. The byproducts of blue flame gas heat turn out to be water and carbon dioxide. Plants thrive on those.

I learned all kinds of things about heat-stressed plants. How they put out white leaves at the growth points! How those leaves then crisp up around the edges like well-burnt toast! How their stems spontaneously crimp and wilt in the middle. How their leaves turn yellow and drop, drop, drop. How geranium buds blast and wither without ever getting to open.
 How they slowly die. 

It was my abbatoir for plants, a little private torture chamber I sent them to, to work, suffer and die. I didn't take photos of their decline from October to mid-December. It was too shameful to document.

The Groanhouse was no longer a source of joy and solace. And in a very, very gray Ohio winter, that was hard, hard, hard.

So I got on the phone and talked to the heating guy at Menard's and fessed to my stupidity and he told me it sounded like the big heater had a thermostat problem. Bring it back, exchange it for a smaller one, blue flame this time. Oh, thank you, heating guy. Thank you.

So on December 11 Bill unhooked the big honkin' heater and put it back in its box and I drove it 2 1/2 hours to Columbus where I did just that. Bill installed it for me and after a day or so of observation I deemed the little space safe for plants again. Cleaned the space yet again, then carried them all down from the house. 

And they have been saying Thank You Thank You ever since. Buds a-forming, buds a-popping. 

Finally.  This Jasminum sambac had been pretending it was in the steamy hot Asian jungle, and had sent out wild growth despite the punishing conditions. But now it's budding and beginning to bloom.

As is the fancy pink and white fuchsia "Gartenmeister Trandshen Bonnstadt" I got at The Glasshouse Works. I think, to be properly Deutsch, it should be spelled "Trandchen." 
I'm pretty sure TGW is the only place you can get this plant. And I'm so, so glad it didn't die. However it's spelled.

Here it is last July on my front stoop. Dead center, whitewashed pot. The most charming pink and white blossoms!
Ahh, summer. I forget what a luxury it is. And then I look at my photos from July and sigh.

On the baker's rack, the first geranium blossom since the new heater was installed.
And a whole set of brand-new leaves on the tropical bonsai willow-leaved fig, top right.
(It dropped them all in the Troubles).

Rosina Read, a hearty dwarf geranium, notable for its compact form and for having flowers that, when they fade and dry out, still look nice on the plant. So good to see her smile again.

"King of Persia" has arresting lemony green leaves and a brilliant hot pink flower. Buds are curling up, rising under those velvet leaves now.

"Little Crocodile" is a balcony (ivy) type geranium with intermittent pink florets. It's grown mostly for its fancy veining. The new leaves it's put out since being reinstalled are a celebration of its name.

One very interesting plant reaction to extreme temperature swings is what this Abutilon "Rosy Belle" did. She started making flowers without petals. Gradually, the newer buds are opening to show very modest petals, but they're getting more prominent the longer the plant grows and blooms in a constant temperature. I've never seen a plant do this. Maybe Betty Grindrod knows what's up with that.
It's like she's afraid to invest in full-on petalage, knowing they'll be toasted. Come on. It's OK. You can come back out now. 

This orange abutilon had a more typical response to heat stress. It dropped every bud as they formed until things got more tolerable. Now it's opening normal bell-shaped flowers with full petalage.

First real flower. Whew. We're back in budness.

The tiny Ruby Red grapefruit tree dropped about 3/4 of its already meager leaves, but it's roaring back with new shoots everywhere. Whew!!!

And then there's The Path.

Sometimes two at a time, the 7" blossoms open. Three days they last. Incredible.

She shows the leaf loss scars of her ordeal, but what she's got is full and green. So what if she's got knobby knees?

Nothing says WELCOME IN like a sunburst hibiscus flower.

In the corner, the huge rosemary tree, brought in after several hard frosts, knows how lucky she is.
A lot of plants had to die to make room for her. 

She says thank you in the only way she knows how.

and a few days later...nothing like a few nights in the 'teens spent outside to prod a Rosemary into her finest bloom ever!

Don't worry, honey. You're in for the rest of the winter, and all lit up to boot!

You can hear her say YAY!!

I got a little lavender "tree" to keep her company. Ornaments will soon come off. It's growing like mad. And I bury my face in its foliage for a sure whiff of June. I'll use both rosemary and lavender to season chicken and pork all winter. If you haven't used lavender on roast chicken, you have a treat in store. A taste of Provence.

All of them, thanking me for sticking with it, for carrying them in and out, for spending an entire day putting their frail ark back together with seven rolls of Gorilla Clear Repair Tape before the last windstorm. And another, roaring outside as I write. The whole structure, a test of supremely bad design and engineering versus jury-rigged Appalachian ingenuity (with a boost from Gahanna).

My plants sing to me of thriving, of doing their best, no matter what. They remind me of a dictum I try hard to live up to.

"Do all you can
 in the time you have
 with what you have
 in the place that you are."

Nkosi, a Zulu boy who died of AIDS at age 11

Come on into your happy place again, Mether. But give me the chair nearest the little gas heater. 


I'm glad this story has a happy ending! The plants in the groanhouse have been through more tragedy and disruption than the cast of a daytime soap opera!

Posted by Anonymous January 6, 2015 at 4:06 AM

Oh the trials and tribulations of the Groanhouse! I've learned so much through reading your wonderful and sometimes sad, tales. Hoping to install a greenhouse here in the near future.

Gee.. are you guys coming to Colorado? We might need an experienced crew..

My eyes are leaking – in a good way. The flowers and the quote combine to slay me.

Posted by Elaine W January 6, 2015 at 9:18 AM

One can almost hear your plants whispering about "the time of the great heat." Glad it's all moderate again.

Thanks for the greenhouse update! It's so nice to see color this time of year. I am the Lord High Executioner of Plants, and must be content to enjoy what others grow!

Love that the plants can relax and flourish at last. Love that you have your beautiful haven back. Love how you think -- how you see the determination of these plants to survive and hopefully thrive again, as a metaphor for humans. Love this journal entry at so many levels.
Definitely going to share.
Darlene Shamblin

Posted by Anonymous January 6, 2015 at 9:40 AM

Oh, beauty! Goes to show that all living things want to thrive and bloom. Wonderful when we can provide what they need to fulfill their destiny. So much good Karma to you for your perseverance Julie!

Posted by Gail Spratley January 6, 2015 at 9:59 AM

Very sweet post--well, the true sweetness comes in the last photo!

We at Our House Tavern lost a huge Rosemary bush last winter!! It fragranced the summer kitchen & made oodles of sachets when trimmed! Starting over. Bringing inside. Live & learn. Loved seeing your lovely blooms!

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