The Buzz: A Monthly Column on Living Well From the Beacon Hill Garden Club Choosing Houseplants

In New England’s outdoor world, February is the slow month. We’ve recycled the Christmas tree and some of the wreaths. The greens in our window boxes will last another month or so. We can’t do much in the garden, should we be so lucky as to have one.

So we’re forced indoors. We’ll have to rely on houseplants to help us endure until spring.

Houseplants, however, might be the most boring plants in the world. Not many bloom reliably. Since sun is often hard to come by in interior spaces, the same glossy philodendrons, ragged ferns and broad-leaf tropicals repeat themselves over and over again. You can escape the hum-drum by experimenting with different windows that get different degrees of light. Try these possibilities:

Herbs. Fresh herbs are wonderful for cooking – the best luck might be had with the woody-stemmed kind like lavender, rosemary and thyme. It’s a dance between the right amount of light and water. But it is hard to find these plants in local florists in the winter. Get such plants in the summer in preparation for the long winter. Fresh basil plants are available in grocery stores but are tricky to keep alive in their small pots. With indoor gardening, as with all gardening efforts, it is important to be bold and not afraid to experiment. You’ll eventually find herbs that work.

Orchids. Frightfully expensive, these plants will put you off. But think of them as investments, not throwaways. A two-stemmed common moth orchid could set you back $85 and more. But their blooms can last up to three months. In the right conditions, they will re-bloom. Soak them every few days or deposit two or three ice cubes in the pot more frequently.

Meyer lemon trees. Or kumquats, key limes, Calamondin oranges—any small citrus tree—will produce fruit and live for years in the right indoor conditions, especially if they can bask in the sun on a fire escape or deck during the warm months.

Primroses. Okay, I’ll admit it. I can’t get these plants to re-bloom in the conditions I have, but their blossoms just sing spring. They don’t last as long as orchids, but they are cheaper too.

Houseplants are supposed to help with air quality and certainly brighten up a space. If you keep failing, don’t give up on plants. Just go down to the corner store and get two or three big bunches of tulips. Thrust them into a big jar. They will get you through the winter.

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