A Letter to My Houseplants


My beloved fern garden

Dear Plants,

Please don’t take this the wrong way and drop all your leaves or anything, but it’s time for me to decide who will spend the winter with me, and who has to go.

First, on a positive note, I am thrilled with the performances of several of you. Fern garden: I could gaze at you for hours. You are welcome to stay here as long as you like. Oxalis, you never fail to amaze me with your constant flowering. And that purple foliage is a standout. Keep up the good work. Ficus, I know you suffered on the deck in that sun and wind when we moved. I hope you recover soon.  The same goes for you, hibiscus. I see you are already sending out leaves where I cut you back. Next summer it would be nice if you could get off your roots and flower already.


Lots and lots of light

Christmas cactus, when you arrived as a gift last December, I hoped you would flower your little head off. I watched you anxiously all summer, but you did not grow at all – not even a tiny bit. But lo and behold, all of a sudden you burst forth with buds everywhere. Nice.Very nice.

Geraniums, you continue to flower years after my mother-in-law begged me to keep you over one winter. Hah! I knew you’d never leave. Anyway, you look pretty and your flowers are cheery, so keep it up.

Rosemary topiary, you have spent your entire life indoors, so I was astounded when you flowered this past summer – lovely little blue flowers. You’re one of my originals, and besides that, you smell great and I can use you in my cooking.  I like multitaskers.

And you, cyclamen, who arrived at the hospital to cheer me when I was laid up a year ago. You are never out of bloom. I did repot you and got you out of that nasty plastic thing, but I think you’d flower no matter what.

Orchids: most of you have had a good year. I am very impressed with the performances of the following: most of the phaelenopsis, and the new aerangis citrata. I am less than gaga over the zygopetalum, the dendrobium and the oncidium, which, despite my best efforts, continue to languish. Well, my exotic little friends, it’s time to throw out some spikes or buds or whatever, because my patience has its limits.

Meyer lemon and  Plumeria, don’t think you’ll sneak under the radar. Lemon, what is it with you? I even bought you that special chelated iron you were whimpering for, and you have not grown one teeny bit since I took you home.  Plumeria, I know you didn’t enjoy the move, and I let you to sulk for a while. But are those new leaves you’re starting to push out? I hope so.


oxalis triangularis: a star performer

Finally, I must remind all of you that there is a give and take here. Taking a space in my house and receiving loving care from me must be rewarded with performance on your part. If there is anything you need that I am not providing, please let me know as soon as possible. Otherwise, a few of you slackers – and you know who you are – may wake up one morning in a different spot: the compost bin.

Yours Truly,

Your Caregiver


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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17 Responses to A Letter to My Houseplants

  1. Peg says:

    Which reminds me… It’s time to water and take some cuttings. I appreciate the gentle shove… Peg


  2. WaterRoots says:

    He he…fabulous post!


  3. auntie beak says:

    love that fern garden! what kinds of ferns live there? what ferns are happy in such a small home? what kind of care does it receive (in return for its dazzling performance)?


    • dirtynailz says:

      The fern garden was a present to my mother-in-law several years ago. She really didn’t have the right spot for it, and after she asked me to keep it in my house one winter, I decided to hang on to it because it was so much happier here. There are four ferns in that faux rock planter: 3 different maiden hair ferns and one button fern. I water weekly, deeply – in the sink – and usually also give a dose of either fertilizer or Superthrive. When I water, I also give the fronds a light spraying.
      I read somewhere that maidenhair ferns really detest any direct sun, so I make sure the garden is in bright light, but with no sun hitting the plants.
      Other than that, it’s a low maintenance thing. I do love, it, though!


  4. herbdoc says:

    I must say that it takes an experienced gardener with guts to throw a plant out! It took me years to give up on unproductive guests. And, Cynthia, if you are serious about relegating the lemon to the compost pile, pass it on to me and I’ll try to perk it up! 🙂


    • dirtynailz says:

      Seriously, I don’t know what’s wrong with it. It was showing what I thought was cholorosis, so I used the iron recommended for citrus. It’s not dying or anything, but it’s not growing, either. I’ll let you know if I decide to send it away to “rehab.”


  5. Patricia Garden Pest says:

    Hi DNailz
    Delightful post. Your oxalis looks healthy…. is it an East Farm offspring 2009, if so, my heart beats a wee bit faster…


    • dirtynailz says:

      No, I have had this oxalis for about 7 years. My aunt sent me the bulbs in the mail. I have transplanted it once. I don’t think I have ever seen it out of bloom. It is definitely one of my favorite plants!
      Those East Farm oxalis were lovely, though. I wonder how many people grow them as houseplants.


      • Patricia Garden Pest says:

        Hi Cynthia
        I overwintered an East Farm ’08 oxalis – it came back beautifully in Spring ’09. Overwintered it the way I do many annuals – neglect and forget.

        As Oct rolls in, no watering while outside. Bring in annual pots as frost nears. Store in cool dry place (cellar or garage) and forget about them until Spring.

        Yes, oxalis make a great house plant – had one for about 27 yrs.
        Enjoy reading your stuff!


      • dirtynailz says:

        Wow. 27 years! I guess if they’re in the right spot, they can go on indefinitely. I like flowering houseplants, especially in winter.


  6. GardensAreForEver says:

    Funny, funny writing! Loved it!
    May I use your “pep” talk to “straighten out” some of my houseplants?
    BTW, try to check the soil PH as you experienced the iron/manganese deficiency symptoms on your Meyer Lemon
    For Meyer Lemon grafted on Ponicorus trifolatum(z 5-9)rootstock- good PH range is around 5.5-6,
    if it was grafted on a Citrus roots(non winter hardy), aim for 6-6.5 as the best. It is slightly adaptable within not too far from the above mentioned PH Range. It will grow, but not thrive in too acidic or too alkaline soils
    It is intolerant of salt – try to flash the pot with a lot of water or re-pot in a new soil with the correct PH, sandy light soils with good drainage.
    Then sit back and see what happened! Do not forget to wright back about the results! Then we can brainstorm more…


    • dirtynailz says:

      Thanks for the great advice. It sounds like you’re a citrus expert. I’ll test the pH and see what happens.

      Feel free to use my pep talk for your own plants. I’m not sure how mine are responding, but most of them seem to be happy, so I guess it worked.


  7. HerbDoc says:

    I’m making several terrariums for gifts (thanks to Tovah’s workshop!) and will have several small ferns leftover. Yours look so healthy and I wondered if they are growing in a hypertufa. I like the look of them all being together.


    • dirtynailz says:

      I bought a large faux stone planter with a nice big hole for planting. They’ve been living happily in this for 4 years. I recently had to move them, though, because the maidenhair fern was getting a bit grumpy. They HATE the sun and there aren’t many areas in our house that don’t get any. Miss maidenhair and the others are now in the shadiest spot I could find.


  8. Pingback: Another Letter to my Houseplants « Digging RI

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