I started to grow plants because my friend Mary was a crazed grower of potted plants. She lived in Brooklyn. Park Slope at the time.
These years, she has a house out on Staten Island. We haven’t seen each other in a really long time. Not since right after I got back from Israel — which was August 1987.
She was the first person to encourage me to grow things. I’d really never tried. But she gave me some of the cuttings from her plants. Told me to put them in a sunny window and water them when they got dry. They did very well and soon, all I wanted to do was haunt nurseries.
She taught me how to examine a plant, make sure it didn’t have any diseases or insect invasions.
Somewhere in the course of my conversion from non-growing to a wild-eyed enthusiast, basically converted the first floor of a really big house into a giant nursery. No curtains. Plants hung from the ceiling, lived on glass shelving. I put metal trays with gravel and water in the trays so when the radiators came up, they created a nice mist for the plants to live in.
They thrived. I was also the editor of the Doubleday Garden Guild. Because I’m me, I read all of the books we published, so whatever I hadn’t gotten from Mary, I learned from reading hundreds of books about growing plants. Indoors and outside.
I never took to outdoor gardening the way I did to indoor pottery gardens. For one thing, even way back then I’d already had major surgery on my spine and although I was a lot more limber than I am now, a lot of bending more or less did me in, even then. I left the outdoor gardening to husband and son.
So when I tell you that all you need to grow plants indoors is decent light and go easy with the watering can, maybe I’m understating where I learned what I learned. Mostly, it came from Mary and other friends who grew plants. We traded cuttings, sometimes passed off our huge plants for smaller ones.
My ceilings were only 10 feet high on the ground floor and once a plant started trying to dig through to the upper story, it had to move on. Which is why, now, I have a small but a good-size Norfolk Island pine in exchange for a Dracaena Marginata I had been growing for almost 20 years. It got too tall. In the wild, a Norfolk Island pine will grow hundreds of feet tall, but in this house, 7 foot 6 inches is as tall as it can get before it moves to another house.
I don’t have the volume of plants I did. Having an entire house full of plants became a job — at least an hour or two every night going from plant to plant, pulling off dead leaves, turning plants so they would grow evenly. And how many times did I fill the watering can before I finished with all 6 ground floor rooms? It was a big house with tall windows.
Today we were passing a house on our way to River Bend and there was a little house that had the most lovely garden I’ve seen in years. All the white picket fences were lined with sunflowers and a rather wild, yet obviously well-tended crop of bright flowers surrounded the front of the house.
I took pictures. It was just the way I’d make my garden if my spine would let me.