Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Not As Nature intended

After several years our Christmas cactus has its first flower – just in time for Thanksgiving. 
It was a gift from Mars’ mother who lives in a nearby assisted living complex.  She started the plant from a cutting brought by an indoor garden lecturer who conducted a workshop at her residence.  The initial stem has expanded into a dozen stalks – one of which now has the beginnings of the familiar red “flower within a flower” look.  The remainder of the stems appear to be waiting for some other holiday to express themselves.
The shrub actually has several names: Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Easter Cactus, Crab Cactus and Holiday Cactus – the first three dependent upon the holiday before which they become available for sale rather than the day on which the flowers are expected to blossom or (depending upon the source) “because these times coincide with the time of year when they will bloom naturally in the Northern hemisphere.”
This is our second Schlumbergera (as it is technically called).  The first one lived with us for many years and, as far as we can remember, never, ever bloomed around the 25th of December.  It did seem to enjoy the 4th of July however.  Then it became old and pot-bound and died of neglect as sometimes happen to things that hang out in the same place for so long that eventually you forget they are even there.
To be perfectly honest I’ve actually never felt “warm and fuzzy” about indoor flora.  For me the idea conjures up images of kudzu infested run-down buildings or, even worse, “Arsenic and Old Lace” stuffy, airtight, badly lit, Victorian homes overcrowded with knickknacks, and overgrown colorless “flowers”.
Ironically one of our two other indoor floral guests is an Aspidistra (aka cast-iron plant or bar room plant) – the threateningly jungle-like greenery shown (in black and white) in Edwin Gorey’s Masterpiece Theater opening credits, and described in George Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”.  “On the windowsill of Gordon's shabby rooming-house room is a sickly but unkillable aspidistra – a plant he abhors as the banner of the sort of ‘mingy, lower-middle-class decency’ he is fleeing in his downward flight.”
Like many of our favorite outdoor perennials which are thriving contentedly al fresco as nature intended, the Aspidistra was given to us by friends – in this case former golf partners who migrated to Arizona for the perpetual warmth and sunshine, conditions which are antithetical to the happiness of this glossy, green-leaved British export.  
Our other indoor flora is a Norfolk pine tree in a pot – the centerpiece from my Men’s Garden Club Winter Holiday Party.  Mars’ plan is to bring it with us to New Mexico when we relocate there.  How this delicate souvenir of Connecticut will make the trip is unclear.  It may – just may – move out of doors when it gets there.  Or at least that is what Mars assures me.
All this is not to say that I don’t take pleasure in seeing our single red cactus flower on a cold, gray November day.  Or that I won’t be excited if and when the gaggle of twelve stems burst forth in coordinated color on some upcoming major holiday – or actually any day.
It’s just that on all those days in between blossoms I do kind of worry that what we have let into the warmth of our humble abode is really nothing more than kudzu in disguise.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Today" Life Lesson from the Health Club

Blue camouflage tights

are not for the purpose of

not being noticed.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Our magnolia and our oak trees are having their yearly contest to see whose leaves can hold on the longest as the fall season does its annual foliage danse macabre.
The gingko down the road is also in the running.  It is the last vestige of a nursery specializing in rare trees and Japanese Gardens, which did business at that address in the 1920s and 30s.  When Mars and I first moved to Brimfield Road there were a pair of these trees, aka Maidenhairs.  Last year one was taken down.   It’s unclear why.  The only other local place I have seen this species is on the lower level of Constitution Plaza in neighboring Hartford where the fan-shaped gingko leaf design is replicated in the pavers beneath a row of the trees
The Chinese deciduous is apparently the oldest species of tree on earth – “a living fossil that has been essentially unchanged for more than 200 million years.”  However its foliage will be completely out of the running for leaf longevity after the first frost.  I learned this many years ago when I used to go out running early on weekend mornings. 
 It was seven a.m. and just around 32 degrees F. as I started down my driveway – around the bend and out of sight of the persistent pelting noise that disrupted the otherwise almost complete quiet.  When I turned the corner and looked towards the sound I saw a yellow waterfall cascading down into an identically colored pile on the snow shelf beneath the narrow tree.  By the time I returned from my three mile jaunt the gingko was totally devoid of its foliage, which was now all self-stacked and ready for the town’s leaf collectors to vacuum away.
In our own yard I know that the oak will once again be victorious – even though most of the magnolia’s leafage is still largely green.  In fact, some of last year’s winners are probably still hanging around.  Three years ago during the surprise Halloween snowstorm the snow-laden magnolia leaves dragged its branches down onto the electric wires connecting our house to the town grid taking them to the ground.  The anniversary of that event has just passed.  My hope now is that the magnolia self-defoliates in time for me to rake its droppings to the curb for the town to retrieve them.  They are much larger and crunchier than those from the oak and maple trees that I’ve been dragging across the lawn – and thus equally more satisfying.      
More likely though I’ll end up gathering them into a pile and mulching them to tiny pieces during my mower’s last act of work before its seasonal sabbatical.  This is nowhere near as gratifying as raking.   The dried leaflets usually require several passes on what will undoubtedly be a cold, gray November day when all I really want to do is get the whole thing over with, use up all the gas, and swap the positions of the mower and the snow blower in my garage.
 Mars and I have the magnolia professionally trimmed every other year.  As far as I can see the gingko requires no care whatsoever.  Except for the one week of the year when the magnolia’s maroon-and-white petals visually dominate our corner of the world, a gingko would be the arboricultural star of our premises.  Plus Mars and I would have an auditory alert of the year’s first frost.
No wonder the tree has been around forever.