Their winter of discontent
Sulking after a hot summer outside, the tropical plants take a few months to adjust to their winter window seat.
Some people have conservatories or greenhouses for their plants. I have a dining room. Occasionally people eat there, but from late October until early March it is overrun by a gang of temperamental house plants that have been summarily removed from their summer home and forced to endure the winter months on the wide window seat along the south wall.
The dining room is especially crowded this year, because my daughter developed a fondness for tropical plants and geraniums last summer. Every Friday for 12 weeks she brought home a new and different specimen from the farmers' market near her office. When fall came, she went back to college, secure in the knowledge that I would single-handedly save her fabulous finds from death by freezing breezes.
The plants winter in the dining room because it has better light than any other place in the house. The temperature is also relatively cool, thanks to my husband's penny-pinching, energy-saving climate-control scheme. When I am not making covert adjustments to the thermostat, I ramp up the overall humidity level by adding water to the pebble-filled trays under the pots.
No matter what I do, the plants still sulk like cellphone-deprived teenagers. The show of resentment is worst in October and early November when they are fresh from summer vacation on the back porch. After only one hour inside, they start drooping. Two days later, leaves begin falling.
I try bribing and pacifying them with supplemental lighting. I groom and tend each and every plant, but they still refuse to rally. By the end of the first month indoors, only a few pathetic leaves cling to the once vibrant geraniums and the African violets are loath to squeeze out even a single flower.
By the time the December holidays arrive, the plants look truly awful. I make things as festive as I can, stringing tiny lights on the 30-year-old lemon tree and the giant Swiss cheese plant. In desperation I position cheerful, blooming amaryllis among the laggards in the hopes of either inspiring or disguising them. The amaryllis flower and fade, while the tropicals remain pale and pathetic.
Eventually, sometime in mid-January, even the real prima donnas, like the mandevilla vine, start to shake off the sulks. By early February the spider plant breaks the inertia, sprouting a new crop of spidery offspring. As more minutes of daylight filter into the dining room, the few leaves still on the plants start to green up. By the first of March, tentative shoots emerge, all sprouting in the direction of the French doors that lead to the back porch. Once all danger of frost has passed, I return them all to the great outdoors. Photosynthesis begins again on the porch and dinner parties resume in the dining room.
And sometimes at those dinner parties I brag about my success at overwintering plants. "It's all about the climate control," says my husband.