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A Room Crammed with Summer

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Rex begonia "Looking Glass," from Ohio's own Glasshouse Works. Well, I got a plant there about five years ago, and this is probably its great-great-great-great-great grandchild.

It's only 9' across, maybe 12' high, not a lot bigger than a phone booth, but there is no other 9 x 12' space on the planet that brings me as much happiness as the Garden Pod.

I am a sentimental sort and seeing my plant friends die with the frost undoes me, even as I know I cannot haul them all inside for the winter. They wouldn't like it, I wouldn't like it, and the bugs would love it. If you scrutinize the photo above, you will see that I made an exception for the huge pot of Fuchsia "Gartenmeister Bonstedt" on the greenhouse floor. I just could not let it die. Later on in the winter, when it's loaded with whitefly, I'll leave it out in the snow for the polar bears, and nurture the two cuttings, already blooming, I've got going. But for now, it's got a home. This was the only plant I found for sale in 2008, and I found it many miles from my home near Dayton, and carried it over in the greenhouse. I didn't find it in '09, which mystifies me, since it is, in my and the hummingbirds' opinion, the best fuchsia in the universe. I have just finished a painting of it, in fact.

So I take cuttings in August and sometimes I take cuttings in October if the first August batch didn't root. My garden friend Nancy turned me on to vermiculite as a cutting medium and boy, what a difference. Vermiculite is free of the myriad molds and bacteria that plague potting soil, so cuttings have a fighting chance of throwing out roots before they rot. Everything I tried to root in the last October cutting harvest succeeded! Uh oh. I am definitely going to run out of room this winter. Here's one of the geranium cutting groups:
Who needs a 10-foot high red mandevilla, loaded with aphids, when you can start a little cutting like this one?
How dear of it to bloom. The nondescript looking plant in the white pot below it is the world's tiniest fuchsia, which just burst into teeny pink bloom today. Its flowers are no longer than a grain of rice, but perfect and sweet. It is a fussy plant that likes the greenhouse best. It threatens and threatens to die all summer long, as fuchsias will, and burgeons as soon as it gets in the moist heat of the Pod.

Abutilon megapotamicum, a mallow from Africa that I love. All my cuttings rooted, uh oh. Big plant. Better be giving some away.

Geranium "Bolton," developed in a town next door to sister Barbara's in Massachusetts.
One of two variegated bougainvilleas, zany plants that sulk outdoors all summer (not hot enough!) and bloom like crazy all winter in the greenhouse. Just when I need them most!
A new hibiscus, one I saw at the grocery store late this summer and snapped up like a horticultural crocodile. Now I need a big ol' hibiscus like a hole in the head but that COLOR. Please. Tangerine. Never seen it before, hadda have it. I do love my mallows.

It makes me smile and holler. Meanwhile, Mary Alice the hibiscus tree is taller than I am, with a 2" thick trunk, and she's in the living room. A cutting of Mary Alice is blooming for the first time today in the greenhouse. Nancy rooted it for me, in case Mary Alice goes south. And so it goes, on and on. Plants are banks of precious DNA, which you can split off and propagate and downsize and start over indefinitely. That's one of the reasons I find gardening so satisfying.

It's probably illegal to propagate this brand-spanking new tangerine hibiscus. No kidding, plant growers are patenting everything as they bring it out. Pah. I am a notorious scofflaw where plant propagation is concerned. Come and get me, lock me up. A plant this good should be spread around.

Time to water! Gotta go! Nothing like a warm, humid greenhouse on a dreary winter day. If you've even been thinking about getting yourself one, just do it. And you, too, can face the first frost without dread, and cackle when you open the door on your little room crammed full of summer.


well, okay... but now tell us how you REEEALLY feel about your plants!!

My greatest frustration with the English language is the paucity of synonyms for "beautiful" and "love."

I was wondering how much a membership for a monthly visit to the pod would be. Just to dispel SAD. That or send me on a monthly trip to parts south....far south. Like the Caribean. Wanna come along?

OK, I meant Caribbean.......

Just vermiculite?
Please tell us more!
Oh and my hummingbirds would really like it if you would send us a cutting of that African mallow!! We could offer a Bahama swamp mallow cutting in trade..

Posted by kite girl November 3, 2009 at 2:26 PM

Well now I've got the garden bug awakened again when I just barely wooed it to sleep. I did keep two potted plants from freezing and they reside happily in my kitchen! Thanks for the vermiculite tip!

I love Flowering Maple, your Abutilon. Here in NC we have a nursery that has developed hardy Abutilons, at least hardy for Zone 7. You should take a peek at Tony Avent's Plant Delights website ( if for nothing more than the comic value of his descriptions

I've got the same Abutilon in the ground. It makes it year to year, usually dying back completely. Last year we had a week of temperatures around 18 degrees (very unusual, which makes me think your polar bears might move here too) and the Abutilon charged back out of the ground. Have you tried it? (The other flowering maples definitely are not hardy.)

Funny you should ask, Murr--A. megapotamicum did survive one winter, completely by accident. I dump my potting soil in the flower beds to improve them, and one thing I dumped was a big lump o' roots from an Abutilon that had died in the freeze. I covered that lump with more dumped soil. And in the spring I saw a little shoot with leaves I recognized, coming out of that pile of soil. Tar-nation! it had made it through the winter! But I love it too much to leave it to chance.
KiteGirl, I use moist vermiculite as a rooting medium. I half-fill a long plastic windowbox with clean wet vermiculite, and stick about 20 cuttings in it, having dipped their ends in rooting hormone. The tops of the cuttings are below the top of the container. Then I cover the whole box with Saran and keep it in a warm place, in bright indirect light. Warmth is crucial to good rooting. It's a little greenhouse. When the cuttings start to root, you'll see new growth, and they'll stop wilting. Then you can take the Saran off.

Julie- Have you talked about how your greenhouse is heated? I'd be interested in details. Not sure if there's a way to search your archives. Thanks

Posted by Anonymous November 4, 2009 at 11:31 AM

Anon, Blogspot's search engine is useless and has been for a couple of months at least. How frustrating it is to type something into the search box and get no results. I can search using the Edit Blogspot page, but it isn't perfect. They say they're working on it...
Yes, there are lots of past posts about the Pod, and you're bound to find them by searching my archives for the winter months (Jan. and Feb and March, most likely) for the past four years. Sorry about that. The tag you want is Garden Pod, if it does you any good in searching.
Having gotten that off my chest, the greenhouse is heated with a natural gas space heater (a new one just this year). It's a 10,000 BTU unit, the smallest one they make. I got it at Lowe's.

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