Friday, February 14, 2014

The Pink of Winter

My wife enjoys pointing out how much The Old Man of Halibut Point looks like me. She means it inspirationally, and I've come to warm up to the compliment. He's always there for a moment of thoughtful companionship.
Whenever I stop by, our meditations take in the spectacular, the social, and the quiet signatures of the season. He's calm but never placid in his stationary journey. I find myself humming experimentally, In the bleak mid-winter/Frosty wind made moan.... He keeps on trudging.
Actually, winter suits my rhythm of putting aside the productive life and settling into diversions of gratitude. In general I  favor the season's muted colors in the landscape as a period of rest from visual stimulation and as an integral part of biosphere dormancy that might benefit humans everywhere. However I'm of an inclination and in a position to fudge the principle. Insulated glass is my enabler.
Back home I can satisfy my ambivalence toward frigid days by looking out the window. Sunlight and moonlight stream right through the clear glass at a minimum of expense and discomfort. Even Thoreau added windows to his cabin. I fudge more in degree than in direction.
There's a further component to my compromise with winter. I play host to plants too tender to survive the frost.
A little color goes a long way at this time of year. The commonest of potted plants, the most soldierly of flowers for traffic islands, imparts lovely tints to the winter windowsill. The undemanding geranium stands ready to repay your garden rescue with little fuss.
Another obliging family is the begonias. The ones like this b. fuchsioides that bloom mainly in the short days can best be enjoyed in our climate as house plants, invigorated by summers out-of-doors. Begonias tolerate the relatively low light and humidity characteristic of even the most favorable household environments. This one cascades from a hanging pot in front of our sliding glass door.
Many people use fuchsias as garden annuals, although they originated as perennial woody shrubs. This flower ornaments a tree-form plant that I've been bringing inside for many years. The book says fuchsias should 'rest' in winter. In my experience they're ever-blooming after a period of adjustment to new conditions. I prune most plants back hard so they'll fit behind always limited window space. They're going to drop those outdoor leaves anyway. Then I remove all the flabby winter growth when they go back out to the vigors and rigors of the great outdoors.

Ruellia macrantha
Here's another satisfying tropical shrub that adapts to the confinements of life in a small container, so long as you divide and replant it in fresh soil each spring. 'Macrantha' refers to the large flowers. The effect is like an azalea in January and February.

The deep green leaf coloration on all these plants means that their horticultural needs have been satisfied. Fertilizing during the growing season, not the winter, is helpful. Generous light is always helpful. Watering might be the trickiest part. Hardly any plant likes wet feet, especially in cool temperatures when it's not in active growth. With experience you can check up on all these factors with a glance at the leaves, their size, color, and disposition. Let the soil shrink away from the sides of the pot a bit between waterings.
The cool temperatures in the main part of our house promote the performance of these particular plants by replicating the conditions of their own homelands. At 55 or 60 degrees they decelerate  amiably and confide in the lengthening daylight.

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