• Carmen Marie Fabio

Up a tree


While I would normally leave gardening issues to our English Gardener writer James Parry, this topic has me genuinely scratching my head and given that my life isn’t all that interesting, I’m loath to pass up a column idea to my colleague.

What do you do when your houseplants become trees and are too big – or too dangerous – to keep dragging in and out of your home with the change of seasons?

I have a grapefruit tree that my husband actually started from seed and while it’s beautiful, it only serves to get bigger every year without ever producing any fruit. It now stands sentry at the edge of my driveway only because it won’t really fit anywhere else.

My ficus plant, bless its heart, is virtually unkillable but it too is going through a form of middle age – sitting around, gaining weight, and taking up space.

I’m a sort of fly-by-the-seat-of–my-pants gardener – I don’t know the name, etymology, history, likes and dislikes, or astrological sign of all my plants. I figure, as my mother always said, “If there’s green, there’s hope” and if something dies at my hand, there’s plenty more where that one came from. Or I can just get more from James.

But some plants are genuinely nice to have around and will demonstrate quite quickly that, despite my lack of research, they originated in the underbrush of rain forests (or something) and, much like I, are apt to blister and shrivel in direct sunlight. So at least three stay forever in dark corners of my house, much like I, eschewing heat and sunshine.

A few years ago, we tried giving some of our larger plants away to a local high school in order to bring a little life to the place. While they survived occasionally being used as a garbage container by the students, it was ultimately the summer break – and lack of someone watering them – that turned the vibrant, healthy specimens to shriveled, lifeless stalks with no hope for the future. The plants I mean.

Besides sheer girth, other factors come into play when rearranging the household foliage. I have one plant with long, spindly branches and if a leaf should happen to break off, it emits a white sap that will not wash off with any known household substance. I tried everything from dish soap to acetone and only time wore the stuff off.

Another is a vindictive cactus. The kids were already afraid of its tendency to grab your shirt as you pass by and were under strict orders not to touch any part of it. Even after I neutered the long aggressive spikes with a pair of vice-grips (yes, it survived) I discovered that even lightly coming into contact with the green part will leave a coating of Velcro-like invisible spikes imbedded in one’s skin. It sits on my back deck, plotting. My husband has suggested, foolishly within earshot of the entity, that we simply forget about until after the first snowfall.

While I could just leave the plants inside year round, they genuinely seem to thrive spending their summers outdoors. The wind and rain removes all the dust and plants that haven’t bloomed in years reawaken and the leaves take on a deeper hue.

The internet offers suggestions on size control like ‘root-pruning’ that sounds far too complicated for my tastes. Maybe I can just leave them in James’ yard and hope he won’t notice.

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