The houseplant that wouldn't die

A 'mistreated' houseplant flourishes.

You might call this a "do as I say and not as I do" story. Or you could say it shows the resiliency of houseplants (some of them, anyway). Or maybe you'll just think I'm a terrible gardener. But it's confession time.

I tend to enjoy outdoor plants more than I do ones that grow indoors. That doesn't mean I don't keep up with and grow lots of different kinds of indoor plants, but I tend not to get as excited about them. And that blase attitude can lead to some benign neglect.

Some of you know that I'm an urban gardener; I live in an 1870s rowhouse. When we moved in about seven years ago, I had brought only one houseplant with me, a Christmas cactus. (It's a sentimental favorite I can't imagine being without.)

That was fine because almost every window in the house has a radiator beneath it, meaning there are few places to put plants in the winter when the radiators get really hot. But there was a radiatorless space on the right side of a bow window in the dining room that cried out for a plant.

Unfortunately, the window faced east and the morning sun was blocked by two huge Japanese zelkova street trees. The window also has a screen, double-thick glass, and heavy wooden blinds. Not promising light conditions for most houseplants.  

But I wasn't going to be picky. I had a nice blown-glass pedestal for a plant to go on, so I decided on a green and gold pothos, figuring that as it grew, it would trail down the pedestal. And I liked the idea of the gold adding an extra touch of interest to the room.

I bought the plant, in a four-inch pot, and placed it inside a brass cachepot on top of the pedestal. It looked very nice.

But  because it was the only houseplant on the second floor of my house (we have three floors plus a basement), I never had a watering can nearby so I had to grab a clean glass from the kitchen to water it. And honestly, when I'm in the kitchen or dining room, I'm thinking about food, not plants. So my watering schedule became erratic.

Sometimes I'd remember to stick my finger down in the soil each week to see if I needed to water and sometimes it was every 10 days -- and occasionally I noticed only because it was obvious that the plant was a day away from wilting.

Not good houseplant care -- especially from someone who knows better. But the pothos didn't seem to mind. It grew and grew.

Still, that wasn't all it had to put up with from me. After I poured a glass or two of water down into the pot, I got lazy and didn't check to see how much water was left in the cachepot after 15 minutes, as I knew I should. Any excess is supposed to be poured out; standing water can rot houseplant roots.

Part of my reason -- er, excuse -- for this is that the vines had grown and grown -- and I'd just kept wrapping them around the cachepot, which looks nice but would all fall apart (and have to be painstakingly rewound) if I pulled the pot from the cachepot. So I didn't.

That meant that sometimes the pothos was underwatered and sometimes it was overwatered. And still it continued growing and looking great. And it's done this for almost seven years.

The only complaint I have is that the gold-variegated foliage quickly faded (low light, no doubt), and it's all green now. Might as well be a philodendron.

As to the pothos' complaints, I haven't heard any. But if there were a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Houseplants, I suspect it might consider reporting me.

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