Monday, October 31, 2011


            Last week was a busy and pleasurable one for Fitzgeralds Gardening. We’re in the midst of changing out summer containers for the cold season, which means buying and installing lots and lots of winter color. A big part of the fun is driving to Wilmington once a week or so to pick up 20-some flats at a whack from our grower extraordinaire, Christine. We often come home with something rare or unusual for ourselves—papaya seedlings (Carica papaya) one time; the dead-on-descriptive ribbon plant or tapeworm fern (Homalocladium platycladum) another; a succulenty Plectranthus ‘Cerveza ‘n’ Lime’ (a.k.a. Cuban oregano); a silvery-leaved, allegedly perennial geranium (species unknown: we’ll see about the perennial part); an annual clutch of Cyclamen coum (florists’ cyclamen) that end up drowned with depressing regularity; a Tibouchina grandifolia that I’m going to attempt to overwinter inside.

            Which brings us to the topic of the day—the annual ritual of bringing in the plants.

            The weather’s turned unexpectedly nippy recently. Outdoor showering ended early this year, as an ambient temperature of at least 70°F is required before I’ll strip down and get wet. The mercury (figuratively speaking: my thermometer's digital) fell to 37° on Saturday morning, albeit unaccompanied by precipitation, frozen or otherwise. Hence the weekend’s task: moving my vulnerable darlings to warmer environs.

            We bought a set of wire shelves to set up in the bedroom’s east-facing window, reliably the brightest in the house. Until yesterday afternoon, it reposed unmolested in its box in the back of our “dress truck.” (We own two pickups: a well-used 1993 Chevy S-10 standard called “the work truck”; and its heir-apparent, a shiny silver 2007 Toyota Tacoma automatic—with crank windows!—in which we cruise incognito.) When nighttime temperatures plummeted, however, the clever half of the Fitzgeralds sprang into action, assembling the shelves and wrestling them into position.

Old truck
New truck
            In the meantime, the less-handy Fitz (me) wandered the yard with a clipboard, making notes about who would be sharing winter quarters with us, pertinent dimensions, and probable placement. Emboldened by last year’s successes—ten out of 16 survived!—the current list of potential victims is longer. This year, 28 will endure the gantlet (not “gauntlet,” a knight’s glove, if you suffer from lexico-purism, as I do).

             The Big Existential Question is, how many will come out alive in April?

            No time for philosophy on Sunday, though. A burst of optimism led me to dig up and pot three little Leonotis leonurus (lion's tail) and five Ricinus communis (castor bean) striplings that sprouted, then languished since I planted the seeds back in June. If I can keep them alive through the winter, I’ll have a jump on the flowering season come spring (she says, cheerily).

            Also potted up the sole surviving Cyclamen coum from last year’s sacrificial bunch and two Dorotheanthus bellidiformis ‘Mezoo Trailing Red’ cuttings (both of which together are not as big as their names typed out).  And finally—about three months later than required—moved my Tibouchina urvilleana (princess flower) from its dinky eight-inch pot to a spacious 14-incher.

         Then the exodus from out to in began. It took all afternoon, what with wiping dirt-spatter, dust-bunnies, cobwebs and spider egg-cases off pots and saucers, and inspecting for and removing insectile fellow-travelers. The house gradually took on a jungly look, which I’ll enjoy until leaf-drop starts.

             In the kitchen, both Tibouchina—T. grandifolia and T. urvilleana—share a corner with that tough, multi-season campaigner, Solanum pseudocapsicum ‘Variegata.’

The kitchen collection (l to r, T. urvilleana, T. grandifolia, S. pseudocapsicum)

       The living room welcomed (I hope) the tapeworm fern (Homalocladium platycladum); the magnificently monikered Madagascar dragon tree, which is really a dracena and not a Cordyline as a cursory glance at the tag led me to believe (Dracaena marginata ‘CORDYLENA Ruby’); and the actual, bona fide Cordyline terminalis ‘Sunset,’ another multi-season overwintering veteran.

Dracaena marginata (top) and the tapeworm fern
Cordyline terminalis
               Tim’s studio plays host to the papaya (Carica papaya). This is the larger of the two we brought in last winter: I gave the second one away just last week, as there really wasn’t anywhere left to put it inside, as you might guess from the adjacent picture.

That's some big papaya!
            Now we come to the pièce de résistance, the new shelves. Here is where the quiet drama of wintertime life and death will most likely play out. Here’s where the five uprooted castor beans and three lion's tails will struggle with transplant shock and the heating vent directly above them. Here’s where the rigors of too-dry air and too-wet soil test the mettle of sophomores Ledebouria cooperi, Cyclamen coum, last fall’s red dahlia from Lowe’s, and 2010’s miracle poinsettia. Here is where six succulents—Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce; Sedum rubrotinctum (a.k.a. jelly-bean plant); two Plectranthus ‘Cerveza ‘n’ Lime’ (the Cuban oregano mentioned above); and two tiny Dorotheanthus cuttings—hope not to drown. Here’s where we learn if that allegedly perennial geranium (a Pelargonium of some kind) and an ornamental purple pepper (Capsicum annua ‘Purple Splash’) have the right stuff. 

Shelves of destiny
2010's miracle poinsettia
            By Monday morning, all that remained to be done was to order some fungus gnat control from Gardens Alive! Its active ingredient is a larvae-eating bacterium, Bt/H-14 (Bacillus thuringiensis), so it probably won’t compromise human or feline health in our tightly built little house. (It can’t be sold in New York or Washington state, though. Wonder why?)

               For the curious, as many of the plants mentioned in this article are not exactly run-of-the-mill, I'm assembling a pictorial post of the less-common individuals; in some cases, I'll include snaps of what they look like in bloom. It should be out fairly soon.  

            Okay. On to other things. Up next (barring unforeseen circumstances): environmental news briefs I’ve been collecting since August. Y’all come.


            I’d like to thank the folks who indicated they would miss GFTGU if it faded away, like ol’ egomaniacal Douglas MacArthur. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know you think this journal is worth continuing. Fortunately, not enough of you responded to make whining a regular part of future posts, inertia notwithstanding.

            Thanks for dropping by.

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