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Leonard Moorehead, the Urban Gardener: Bless the Resolute

Sunday, January 07, 2018


Photo courtesy of Leonard Moorehead

There’s much pleasure ahead for the urban gardener. I’m sure you know the type, we’re the folks who shrug at furniture, good rugs and sparseness for a horde of choice potted plants in every window. We’re the people who have spider plants on tall pedestals that smooch the window in green and white stripes. Begonias are comfortable companions and how does one person in every office manage to keep African violets in bloom? Amaryllis sprout in pebbles within clear glass florist’s vases. Some of us move huge Ficus from one place to another. We accept their steady leaf fall as small price for their noble gray bark and elegance. Orchids especially the Phalaenopsis types bloom onwards, their colorful beauty constant. A geranium offers red, pink or white blooms on the windowsill. Or if scent is important, musk heavy rose geranium or perky lemon verbena is given the premier sunny spot. It is winter and we are resolute, we’re keeping faith to our green dreams. 

Compost, peat, pearlite, are garden staples ideal for potting up houseplants. Mix your own from the outdoor plots or keep aluminum barrels of each for ready access at any time of the year. Add bone meal or rock potash to your lexicon, assemble an arsenal of fish emulsion, dried blood, dried manure and worm castings. Like a well-stocked pantry, these are the ingredients gardeners mix measure and stir for success. Commercial plant foods are a god send for those of us with little time or space. A plastic gallon milk jug kept full of under dosed soluble fertilizer fits nicely under the kitchen sink among cleaning products. Mark the plastic jug’s purpose in large letters for easy identification. A jug of fish emulsion must be rinsed after each use. Safety calls for protective access from pets and children.

Usually the chief keys to coddling houseplants along is humidity, sunlight and heat. Always marry a pot to an impermeable saucer, the deeper the better and a little larger than the pot. Or some pots potted plants are in double pots, a larger waterproof pot holds a smaller growing pot. All require casual attention. Of all household chores, watering the plants is peaceful. Twist the pot a quarter turn at each watering. Pick out faded or dead foliage, trim back broken branches. Most houseplants are forgiving. Smaller, more frequent watering trump erratic soaks.  Dedicate an old towel to the potted plants, clean up spills and overflow immediately. Spider plants notoriously shed water, tuck the watering can under not onto their foliage. Geraniums thrive when allowed to dry between watering, discern and sort the needs of each plant. The African violets? Water under the foliage with the room temperature jug sparingly. A typical orchid asks for only six tablespoons a week! 

Indoor growing systems are myriad. Artificial LED lighting is not exclusively the province of the grow your own among us. Stunning orchids, African violets, and many other blooming plants can take a step back away from precious windows and thrive or if there is such a thing, into a spare closet with grow lights. 

Store sacks of tulips, daffodils, crocus, and the classic paper white narcissus in the refrigerator’s vegetable bins. Once a week select one of the many fine forcing pots kept in our garden treasury or make an impromptu pot full of pebbles and anchor each bulb firmly into the media. Keep moist. Removed from the cool refrigerator or basement into the warmth of homes the bulbs are tricked into spring. Their perky blooms are only a couple weeks away to grace our spaces with color and scent. Treat as other houseplants, cut the blooms after the finest flush. Bury the bulbs into the garden if not snowbound or compost. Fresh flowers in the home thaw the most frozen heart. 

Cyclamen are virtually required winter houseplants. Their lovely purple, white and pink blooms nurture the best qualities among us. They thrive in shady out door spaces during the frost free months in Zone 6 regions. Reserve a small space as a nursery in the summer garden and bury pot and plant to soil level. Bring in each fall or as in the case of daffodils and narcissi varieties, plant bulbs into pots any time in the fall to bring in during cold weather. 

Root leggy begonias in small pots, dust a wet cut stem with Rootone or other rooting hormone powders. Crowd several stems into individual tight pencil sized holes, just a little bigger than the stem, firm the soil, remove all but one or two leaves. Groomed mother plant will quickly send up new grow as our days lengthen. The clone cuttings will establish root systems and new leaves in proportion to their size ready to give to friends or the outdoor garden in the spring. Tradition has kept a cane begonia and Christmas cactus alive for generations in my family. These constant companions have survived wars, depressions, prosperity and want without murmur or unkind words. Rather they move directly into the heart of every gardener. Engage children in this simple horticulture as from the acorn the mighty oak grows. Bring the cuttings outside for the summer and repeat the process of cuttings at the beginning of the New Year. 

Have you made a garden a New Year’s resolution? Start today with a plant and begin the journey into endless peaceful delight. Remember, turn the potted plant a little with each watering and you’ll be fine, the plant too. Peace and kindness? Can we have too much? 

Leonard Moorehead is a life- long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit tree. 


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