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Meanwhile, Out in the Greenhouse

Monday, January 4, 2021


The greenhouse is an ever-changing scene. Since this photo was taken, the beautiful cockscomb planter, with its flames of red and gold,  has finally gone out and faded away, disconsolate at the total lack of sunshine in this Very Cloudy Winter. I'm glad I have a photo to remember it by. I was amazed it made it almost all the way through December. 

I never expected it to keep blooming after frost. It was a total bonus. Most people probably let them freeze outside and just chuck them out, and I got two more months of happiness out of this grocery-store find. Win win. And now I know I love cockscomb and will grow it in my garden next summer. When it croaks, it croaks, and I throw it away then. Much of good gardening is knowing when to say goodbye--and good grooming! 

My two dwarf pomegranate bonsais are packing it in for the winter, as they should. When they drop their leaves I demote them to the cold floor of the greenhouse to keep them asleep. They appreciate a dormant season, I find. And once I got over the shock of realizing they would drop their leaves and sleep all winter, I thought it was neat that I could grow a tree in a pot, that would go through all the normal cycles of a deciduous tree--leafing out, flowering, bearing fruit, dropping leaves, sleeping. And I get to watch. The dwarf pomegranate is too tender to winter out in the garden like the rest of my bonsais, so I winter it on the cold floor of the greenhouse. They grow outside in California, and I've seen pomegranates flowering and fruiting in Spain and Costa Rica, but not nasty old Ohio! 

This one dropped some gorgeous fruit. I think this is what happens in nature: the leathery pericarp, which few birds could peck through, finally splits when it's good and ready, revealing the jewel-red fruit for birds to disperse. 

 Or for Zicks to plant, hoping for more babies. Such a great, great subject for bonsai. It's so satisfying to grow a tree with neon-orange fluffy flowers and cute fat fruits packed with juicy seeds. They're hella sour, to taste, but I like 'em anyway.

I just figured out by searching my photo library that I got this plant as a gift from my fellow artist and  plant freak Beth in the fall of 2013. It was in a gallon pot, but it was only a few inches tall.  We'll fix that. 

I immediately started downsizing the rootball and the pot, planning to make a bonsai of it. It obviously liked that idea. Here it is in spring 2018, in good proportion to its pot.

and here it is in fall 2019. It's abotu 2' tall now.  I just adore this plant. It's loaded with garnet-red fruit here  and it's getting a better trunk every year. Even I am amazed that it's going into year 8 with me. Has it really been that long? I've got one baby seedchild who's shaping up very nicely, and just planted a slew of its seeds. Hoping to see seedlings come spring. I really recommend this plant as a satisfying flowering and fruiting bonsai, if you can swing the cold but not freezing overwintering conditions. 

 Hibiscus Creole Lady is just enormous now--much taller than I am, scraping the ridgepole of the greenhouse. I want to cut her way back but there are too many flower buds. Pretty much have the aphids under control, with several-times-daily spraying no longer necessary. Ugh! But that's hibiscus, some winters. You have to keep up with their care. Low maintenance they are not. This is the first serious aphid infestation I've had in years. Every winter is different.

TOO DURN TALL. But I can't cut her back when she's blooming! And we've been through so much together. 


She looks fine at night under twinkle lights, if I hold my phone up over my head. 

The Path is not to be outdone. Here she is in a very rare hour of sunshine. Gaaah I love this plant. She blooms more than she grows, in the words of Logee's greenhouse where she came from. True!

I always love to spend time in the greenhouse on bright days. I can just feel the plants exulting. Me too.

Much more manageable in size are these Smithiantha plants, that I grow from odd little rhizomes made by last year's plant. Very cool looking things, in the gesneriad family (African violet, Streptocarpus and the like).

I still fall for grocery store roses, too. Not sure why they sell them in grocery stores this time of year--they are the FUSSIEST plants in winter., fussier than gardenias. I tried keeping it on the kitchen table as it was obviously sold as a Christmas decoration, and within a couple of days it demanded to go out to the greenhouse with the cool kids. It did this by turning yellow, dropping loads of curled leaves, and moping. 

Now that it likes where it's living, it's beginning to emanate a little fragrance. That's how I can tell it's happier. But it still wants sun, and that I can't give it. Hey. We all want sun. 

 Speaking of happy, Happy Thought is coming into its radiant own. This geranium cheerfully takes over the entire east wall of my tiny plastic house by springtime.

I need to make some understudy cuttings--it makes me nervous when I have only one copy of a treasured plant like this velvety marvel. Especially when, like my two big hibiscus or this geranium, they are too big to lug into the house on very cold nights, when the greenhouse is in greatest danger of freezing thanks to water in the gasline freezing up and blocking the gas supply. 

I've been burned--or frozen--too many times to want to lose any more plants, so when the temperatures dip to the teens and my new little heater has trouble keeping up, I trundle these plants to the nearby bedroom until nights go back into the 30's and 40's. These are my two understudy hibs and a magenta hybrid balcony geranium that I love too much to lose. 

This plant is obtained by crossing a regular geranium with those amazing vining "balcony" geraniums that have meaty, shiny, star-shaped leaves, that tumble out of Swiss windowboxes and come in such incredible colors. I am a FAN. From the balcony geraniums, the plant gets its huge jeweltone flowers, a spreading habit, and its deep green leaves. The only thing about them:  Like balcony geraniums, they hate summer heat and look like absolute crap when it's hot.  But ohhh the winters. They love winter in the greenhouse. I have learned to have faith in plants, and to wait them out when they fail to thrive. With this hybrid, it's all about ambient temperature. They just hate to be cooked in hot, humid weather. Well, so do I. I think next summer I'll try growing them in full shade when it gets really hot. I bet they'll do a lot better there. It's ironic that my geraniums look their very best in the greenhouse, in the dead of winter! They deeply resent heat and rain, preferring to live in a climate-controlled, squirrel, rabbit and chipmunk-free dome. Ha! 

A place I am more than happy to provide them. I just looked at the ten day forecast for Whipple, Ohio. Highs in the 30's and 40's. Lows in the 20's. And a solid blanket of thick gray over it all. It is just colorless, like a sepiatone photo here.  Plants, I'm gonna need you. Thanks for hanging in there. You owe me nothing, but still you give and give. 


Your greenhouse is a sight for my winter worn eyes so I can imagine how you feel with the fragrance of warm(ish) soil, and a few flowers. Thanks for sharing.

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