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Signs of Life

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Monday morning, after receiving sweet encouragement from friends, I snapped out of my stupor and called a local greenhouse (Scot's, in Vienna, WV) and asked if they had any tropicals. Anything with color or fragrance. Jo said she'd check. She called me back later in the day and said they had some hibiscus, a red mandevilla and what looked like jasmine. My heart leapt. This place had always had jasmines before. I need jasmines. I told Jo she'd know me when I came in: the woman with the puffy eyes.

 I went down that afternoon, stopping at Angel's Greenhouse on the way, where I saw a LOT of poinsettias.

Which helped, even though poinsettias have never been amongst my favorite plants. I guess it's the mass market approach that turns me off. That, and the milky sap, the floppy leaves, the fact that those are colorful bracts and not flowers. The way people just throw them out when Christmas is over. Uffda. None of that appeals to me. I build relationships with plants. Disposable plants: not what I'm about.

 I should give them another chance. He sure grows some beautiful plants.

I got to Scot's right before they closed and there were some pretty sorry-looking plants there; a big sad frowsy double pink hibiscus ( no thanks. I lack both the charity and the space); a frostbitten red mandevilla vine that would just be a giant bugfarm for me, and some unlabeled viney shrubs that had to be jasmines. Jasminum sambac! a good thing, because mine apparently died in the frost. This one wasn't much, having been exposed to cold and drought, but it was definitely alive. And it was $4.50. I trimmed it up and installed it.

 I found an unlabeled J. nitidum, or Royal Jasmine, which I've never grown but which I was able to recognize as a jasmine by its growth habit. It showed signs of having tried to bloom, and been nipped by cold. Let's give it a whirl. I placed it in the bony arms of my Nightblooming Jessamine Cestrum nocturnum, where it would conceal them until green shoots began to show. If they do.

My Jasminum officinale, which was four feet tall and curling over on the ceiling of the greenhouse, has a single live shoot coming out of its frost-blasted base. Yes, it does. So I may have three kinds of jasmine blooming someday.

I was flabbergasted to find a small tropical bonsai of Ficus salicifolia (Wonderboom or Willow-leaved Fig, native to KwaZulu Natal), which will serve as a lovely understudy for my almost certainly dead old bonsai specimen. Sigh. When I cut it back, the leaves were black, and no white sap flowed. Not good.
The baby: Five bucks, sold to the lady with puffy eyes.

I should add here that my beloved temperate bonsais (the maples and cypresses) are FINE, having been stowed away in their pit for the winter awhile ago. So are the orchids. They live in the bedroom.

 There is one living leaf on my once-glorious orange hibiscus. That's it, right at soil level. That tells me something's still going on inside. Woody-stemmed plants tend to survive freezing pretty well. So let's wait on any donations of hibiscus. This single orange is the hibiscus I want, and if I have to wait a year for it to bloom again, well, I'm waiting anyway. I want her back. She's the one.

My attempts to grow citrus have in the past been plagued by armies of scale insects. I initially turned up my nose at this tiny Ruby Red grapefruit tree. And then I looked at the flower buds clustered, and I remembered standing in an orange grove in Vero Beach when I was about 11, inhaling that heady perfume, and seeing my first swallow-tailed kite float over, and I tucked the pot under my arm. Does it get much better than breathing citrus flower perfume and suddenly seeing a bird you thought would always be only a picture in a book?  Five bucks. I bought it for the memories, and as much for its highly optimistic label as for its flowers. I mean, there's a recipe for tilapia with grapefruit sauce right on the label. Oh, bring on that harvest of Ohio-grown ruby red grapefruit! I'll be picking next week, I'm sure.
Reality check: I'll be happy if the flowers just open. I'll be REALLY happy if the flowers open. Oh, how I miss my fragrances. Don't even need a swallow-tailed kite. Just scent.

  It was as if it was meant to be, these last survivors hanging on, marked down to 50% off and losing leaves daily, waiting for a bereft Horticulture Chimp to come in and gather them in her long hairy arms and take them to a much better place. Thankful.

When I got home with my little haul of rescued hopefuls, there was a bunch of poinsettias in the middle of the kitchen floor. Re-enter my barely-suppressed contempt for poinsettias. But when your daughter fixes her baby blues on you and asks if you'd like to support whatever it is they're hawking poinsettias for, you swallow hard and cheerfully order five.

And much as I inwardly recoil at putting big floppy red poinsettias in my snobby little plant paradise, they help. They help considerably.

It's not beautiful yet, but it's definitely better.

Thank you to everyone who has offered support, helpful suggestions, and condolences. It is ridiculous that I did not have a temperature alarm installed in this greenhouse, small and commercially worthless as it is. Fixing that now.  A special thanks to Tim, Timmeh, Weezy, Charles, Shila and Donna for Post-Greenhouse-Apocalypse Help that Helps. I am deeply thankful for my friends who swoop in when things get gnarly.

I have located a little hole in the outside wall where our Internet cable comes into the house. It is our portal to the big wide wonderful world of Google and katydid coprophagy videos. To this small hole, you owe everything that appears on this blog. Through that little hole in the wall I'm going to thread a long cord connected to the phone jack in the downstairs bedroom. That phone cord will run into the greenhouse, and there I will plug it into a THP201 Freeze Temperature Alarm.

The next time the gas freezes in the line, and you know it will, the THP20l will DIAL OUR PHONE and tell us to get a robe on and start the backup electric heater, which is sitting there now on Frost Alert setting. 

And no more jasmines will die.

This is how we learn. One can only be thankful. 


It's a shame that sometimes it takes something of this magnitude to teach us lessons that are inherently simple. I never would have thought about a temperature alarm either. Indeed, it never occurred to me to even wonder if such a device existed, although if I thought about it at all, I'm sure that it would have appeared obvious to me that it did. I'm glad that a number of your old friends seem to have made it, though their comeback will be excruciatingly slow from your perspective. And I', sure that the new friends that you adopted are VERY grateful to be in a home where they will be cared for, and even doted over. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Julie!

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I'm a sucker for rescued plants. They always seem extra vibrant and full of life when they're cared for. It's such a shame Poinsettias are thrown out when with the right care, they will return to glory the next year. I know all your plants will get all the love your generous heart can pour out to them. Wishing a loving, delicious Thanksgiving to all.

I smiled the entire time I read this post Julie. I would have never thought to scour the greenhouses for left over, almost past their prime beauties to fill the empty spaces in your heart. So happy you were able to rescue so many and know you'll be rewarded with their beauty and wonderful aromas before you know it. Resilience... it's what the chimp is all about. XOXO

Yeah, I'm weird but when I look at that cable wire, it seems so small and vulnerable to anything like ice, sharp-toothed mammals... Don't you think it deserves some sort of protective cover or something?

About 5 years ago, we got hard freeze warnings here in central FL, meaning all the potted plants on my porch needed either to be brought indoors,(a challenge especially during holiday season and all the accompanying clutter and decoration), or needed to be covered. Having a long-term relationship with my plants, some had come with me from NY almost 25 years ago, I brought in what I could and covered what I could not. My brother called me to say that the horticulturist on the news said that watering the plants would assist greatly in keeping them alive, which I already knew and had done, excepting my 7 foot tall 'cactus' (Euphorbia Acurensis), which I never watered during winter. And since it was so big with branching arms, I had to leave it outside. My brother expressed doubt that it would survive and insisted that watering it would help it to survive. So in spite of my own good sense as a long-term gardener and my brother's brown thumb status, I watered my cactus. After a few days of cold weather, the temperature again came up into the 60s. But my cactus, swollen full of water, had frozen solid. It's branches flopped and rotted and it fell apart and died, ending a 25+ year relationship. So, like all plant nurturers, we have our failures, our moments of pain and loss, and must offset these with moments of rebirth and success, with vigorous growth, fabulous colors, and glorious scents. I know that before spring you will be singing the glories of your greenhouse again!

Posted by Gail Spratley November 28, 2013 at 9:09 AM
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