Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Unexpected Houseplant

I have recently read, for the second time, Tovah Martin’s book, The Unexpected Houseplant. It is a wonderful book! Tovah blurs the indoors and outdoors by using plants we wouldn’t normally think of as houseplants, thus the title. She brings in junipers, cypress, grasses and euphorbia, among other plants. She recently posted a picture of a salvia on Facebook that is blooming inside right now.  She especially loves bringing in spring plants for early blooms after the long New England winter. If you don’t like plants, don’t even bother visiting, she says,  because her house is full of them and they are her family. Amen, Tovah! Of course, we can't forget a very important member of her family. Einstein is her Maine Coon cat that plays a large roll in her house plant life, laying in them, batting at them, and sometimes even shredding them. But, everyone knows a cat is a must for plant lovers. At least this plant lover. I have three. We also have to me mindful, though, that there are many plants that are very poisonous for animals and humans alike. Choose your houseplant wisely.
“Intimacy with nature” is what Tovah is striving for and would like other people to feel the same by a hosting a houseplant or two (or hundreds) in their homes. She describes herself as a fanatic and a missionary, trying to rope us in. In her book, she describes over 200 plants that she is growing or has grown and had good luck with. She even likens her home to an oversize terrarium.  I love this quote, “Frankly, I don’t buy the “I don’t have a green thumb indoors” excuse for a botanically bereft home. Green thumbs aren’t in your genetic makeup. This myth is really just a rationale for attention deficit disorder in the botanical direction.” Again, Amen, Tovah!
 Go buy a plant, at the grocery store, on line, or at a nursery, she recommends, but only if it "tugs at your heartstrings". Don’t waste your time on a plant that really doesn't interest you. If someone gives you a plant and there is no "chemistry", throw it away.  The plant will not thrive without some tender loving care and an unhappy, neglected plant is an insect and disease magnet. 

Picture from Camp de Fiori website.
When you get your plant home, re-pot it in a wonderful container. A plastic pot is an unattractive plant home. Your plants deserve better. Tovah likens pots to picture frames- they make or break the picture. I always take my plants out of the plastic and plant them in a beautiful pot. In my case it quite often is bright green. I  love terra cotta pots, as well as glazed pots. They come in any color you need to match your décor. Campo de Fiori makes beautiful terra cotta pots and I've noticed in the book, Tovah likes them, too. 
Stephanotis- Madagascar Jasmine
Tovah includes a section on fragrant plants. She points out that winter is when "floral essences have their greatest impact". Being shut in all winter warrants some botanical perfume. She grows plants such as stephanotis, jasmine, and sweet olive. The starring role, though, goes to her South African bulbs. These include the pregnant onion, the climbing onion, (neither are onions, just look like them), and her favorite, Lachenalias. They all do their “thing” in the late fall and winter.

Begonia 'Black Truffle'
After working at Logee’s for 25 years, Tovah has a large collection of begonias. They are some of my favorites, also. Even though their flowers aren’t huge, they have a subtle beauty. She likens begonia blooms to finding a forgotten $20 bill. Even without the blooms, the foliage is amazing, but when the flowers rise above the foliage in the winter, it is sublime!

Begonia 'Marmaduke'
Begonia schmidtiana

 Tovah lived in a Victorian home for many years, but has moved into a home attached by a greenhouse to a converted barn. I also bought a home with a greenhouse attached, making an offer on it while my husband was out of town. The greenhouse sold me on the house the minute I walked in. My husband liked the house, but saw the greenhouse as a sunroom with a few plants and a nice table to have breakfast or coffee. Needless to say, there is barely room to walk through the room, much less have a table and chairs. Plants definitely took precedence when "decorating" the room. How could a person who loves plants pass up a home with an attached greenhouse? Tovah couldn't. I couldn't.

Amaryllis 'Prelude'
This book includes a section on holiday plants we all inevitably  receive during the holidays, excluding poinsettias. No poinsettias for Tovah. Cyclamen, schlumbergera, (my favorite), crown of thorns, and amaryllis are all discussed with great information for helping them survive past the holidays. 

I especially love the section on plants that she has tried that just don’t live in the house. I am so glad to see that someone else admits to not being able to grow a bougainvillea in their home. Me either! Heliotrope, abutilons, which I’ve tried to keep alive and looking good numerous times, to no avail, and hibiscus. I do have luck with hibiscus in the greenhouse in the winter, but they really just struggle along until I take them back outside in the Spring, occasionally sending out a bloom or two. But even a bloom or two can make my winter!
I truly enjoyed this book and know I will be reading it again. I've enjoyed all of Tovah’s previous books as well. A truly exciting day for me, was the day I went to a local greenhouse to hear her speak. I took all my books to be autographed. I was equally excited when she came to my area again a few years ago to lead a terrarium class. (See previous post about her terrarium book.)  Check that off my bucket list. (If I could meet Elvin McDonald, my bucket list would be a even shorter.) I have spent many hours with these two houseplant book authors reading their wonderful books. If you haven’t noticed, I love houseplants…..take it from Tovah and me, plants will enrich your life a thousandfold!

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