Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Onward and Upward in My Garden

After finishing a collection of letters between garden writers Katharine S. White of North Brooklin, Maine (and the New Yorker) and Elizabeth Lawrence of Charlotte, NC (and the Charlotte Observer), I was inspired go to back and re-read my copy of Ms. White's New Yorker columns "Onward and Upward in the Garden," which was the title of her 1979 collection, edited by her husband (E. B. White) and published two years after her death.
Clockwise from bottom - Christmas cactus, trout begonia, a pot holding the Chinese
evergreen, orchid, humidifier, amaryllis (Margo D. Beller)
I read this book of columns many years ago after reading an interesting biography of KSW by Linda H. Davis. I found the collection in a used bookstore in Marblehead, Mass., and the owner was so impressed by my knowledge of White and gardening (learned, in part, by watching my paternal grandfather) she gave me the book. (It didn't hurt that MH was buying other books for himself. Bookstores never go hungry when he visits.)

It was not long after reading this book the first time that I found the book of letters, in another used bookstore (this time I paid for it).

Ms. White is a woman after my own heart. She claims she knows nothing much about gardening but she knows what she likes and the simpler the better. She is not shy about stating her opinions. She complains that the harsh Maine winters kill many of her plants but she buys more anyway, for use indoors and outdoors. Despite increasing physical infirmities, she just can't help herself.

She says she has no room for the potted plants she brings inside; that is my complaint, too. Our house faces southwest and our front room (originally a company room but used mainly to hold books and CDs) holds my plants, either on the large window sill or on some nearby tables where the plants get light but not direct sun. There are several different ecosystems in this one room, and unfortunately the other south-facing rooms aren't big enough to hold a plant table along with the other furniture.

Books, geranium in its hanging pot and a small pot of cactus to its right.
(Margo D. Beller) 
The one orchid I have - a moth orchid, a gift from an orchid-loving friend who thought I would love it as much as she - would do very well in one of my humid, windowed bathrooms, but both face north and are rather dark. My enclosed porch, where every summer I put the plants that, like the orchid, need light but not sun, faces north and is not insulated for all-year use. So in winter my orchid stands near a small humidifier, which also helps the nearby Chinese evergreen and another huge plant I can't name that started out as a little guy in a pot on the desk of a co-worker who left it behind when she went to another job.

Most of my plants I did not buy but are either gifts or orphans I took in - the latter include a red annual geranium that was pulled from a window box of a restaurant in town and dropped on the sidewalk, a pot of snake plants that I inherited from my maternal grandmother, miniature cactii from an office move, a coleus pulled from a planter in the middle of Times Square (it is very easy to take cuttings and root them in water. I now have great-granddaughter plants from the original.), a trout begonia from a friend's office (this one is also very easy to root) and a jade plant from the late father of a friend of a friend who didn't know what to do with it.

From left to right: begonia (with pink flowers), rosemary, citronella plant,
rescued geranium, 2 pots of pepper seed and one of two
great-granddaughter coleuses. (Margo D. Beller)
All of these plants have thrived and, in the case of the snake plant, grown almost too well. Recently I received a gift basket of houseplants from my mother-in-law, I bought a second geranium for its hanging pot (and then couldn't bring myself to dispose of the plant when it started flowering) and a small rosemary plant that is now a huge rosemary plant, so huge I could cut some, root it and give the daughter plant to the same friend who gave me the orchid. Another friend was eager to unload some of her citronella plant and I battle it each summer to keep it from overgrowing.

It can be a hassle to take care of so many plants, but it is certainly easier than fussing with deer netting while testing my knees and my back putting in or tending to outdoor plants.

As KSW says, "I find that the chief pleasure of growing things indoors is that it can be a natural process - a simple way to bring nature into the house."

She reads garden catalogs like literature, and I reminded MH that our one visit to White Flower Farms in Litchfield, Conn., was because of her many references to the company. She also cites, among others, Wayside Farms. Both are still around and now have websites popping with plants. But KSW sought a real catalog to thumb through and dream over. You can still do that, too.

I won't be doing it, however, because, as she would be the first to admit, that way madness lies.