Jim Murphy & Sons

Pot a plant, quickly, before it’s too late

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This is for you who live in confined spaces and only dream of wiggling your toes in the rich black soil-less potting mix. We know you’re out there, poor lost troubled souls reading this magazine in some undisclosed secret location, embracing conspiracy theories as if plants and grass linked their tendrils to make you look foolish.

Yes, you, who only read in waiting rooms, waiting, waiting, waiting. And watching, and yet wondering, “What do they know that I don’t? Maybe I could.”

That’s right, even you, waiting to get your teeth cleaned can enjoy gardening, though your time may be limited by work-related travel or because you are constantly using up those accrued frequent flier miles. There are plants that will thrive in spite of you.

So buck up, oh you tired wayfaring apartment dwellers lounging by the club pool during happy hour, yearning for a plant to call your own. Cast aside your fears and get back to your roots.

We know that not everyone treasures the gardening lifestyle challenges that come with owning a home, and who can blame them? Just doing the minimum involves a never-ending variety of chores of which countless comic strips and cable TV shows make fun. Each year, the shopping networks and infomercials promise us this year’s improved cordless trimmer or that light new gizmo will ensure us a manicured lawn, shrubs as smooth as a summer crew cut and with no lower back pain.

Apartment dwellers are their victims as well, cast as lethargic nimrods or supercharged nerds in insipid TV sitcoms where not much work is ever done, sitting on the same couch or bar stool facing the camera, in a culture where no one ever knocks before entering, and except for that beloved bigot, Archie Bunker, toilets are seldom used and never flushed.

Gardeners are unfairly stereotyped. Get over it.

This noble, most popular leisure activity inspires millions of Silent Americans to spend billions of dollars annually, even as we dream of better days ahead after the politicians and pundits crawl back into their untested weed-infested soil.

Yet there are still those nattering nabobs of negativity engaged in tail-gating, meat-searing, or testing their 10th new set of hybrid golf clubs in as many years at the driving range on artificial grass, or trucking to the lake to bake in a bass boat that cost more than a new car should. Is it any wonder ours is increasingly a nation divided?

Gardeners of the world, let us unite and flex our buying power. Here’s to a Victory Garden. We’re hot as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

But I digress.

As I was saying, there are many options, from house plants that require little care in pots to incredible vertical gardens that thrive on a deck or rooftop. By the way, Master Gardeners, often disguised as your neighbors, are standing by at their hotline to answer your questions. There is no need for you to feel alone. Just make the call. Confession is good for the soul, and better for your plants.

Before you is living proof that anyone can learn to garden. This is not a skill you are born with. It is a process of lifetime learning, often acquired after having killed just about any plant ever offered for sale.

You can grow micro-greens in a recycled plastic deli tray in a window sill, and then eat them. Or, as we did this spring after a seminar on herbs, corral them in a large “strawberry” pot that has produced seven varieties of tasty herbs, more than we need for cooking and salads. For encouragement at the successes of others, look up the Container Gardening Alliance on Facebook.

And if it’s flowers you want, you can hardly go wrong with a hanging basket. (Just please don’t flip for the upside-down tomato bag that promises you more blemish-free fruit than you can consume. Ain’t gonna happen, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.)

And did we mention that many plants help purify the stale indoor air, even as they cheer you up in the darkness of winter’s shortest days, and then emerge in spring to be taken outside?

Whether you are entrepreneurial or just frugal, potting a few plants can pay dividends that would make Warren Buffet proud.

Some cultivars are so easy to grow – and quick to proliferate – that you might want to grow them in pots, especially if you are inclined to relocate. (Our pansies, by the way, bloomed all through the mild winter and well into spring, and with only modest effort, the bougainvillea is thriving even in the searing heat, along with lantana, crape myrtle, hardy hibiscus and several potted plants.

Some possibilities:

Mint will not only take you back in time (we’ll get to thyme), but reward you as a tasty addition to tea, chia tea or even cookies. Where do you think the smell of peppermint, spearmint, licorice and other smells originated?

The unique aroma of bee balm, lavender, anise, fennel, tarragon, all offer opportunities for picking and sharing, and if you’re truly gifted, cooking. But that’s a whole ‘nother essay.

Chive (round chutes) and garlic chives (flat), are positively mathematical in their ability to multiply and divide, and thrive.

Scallions (young onions) will even rejuvenate in a glass of water.

Thyme, also a member of the mint genus, comes in at least 150 varieties, often smelling pleasantly familiar, as if you picked a piece of spearmint chewing gum. The aroma of a pinch of thyme rolled between your fingers will erase a boat-load of stress in about five seconds. It’s a great way to start the day.

As for flowers, various sedum, hens and chickens, moss and cacti can be grown in small places. Some are so challenging that only someone blessed with patience and an Irish green thumb can grow them successfully. Others, like such as pothos seem to thrive in a closet. But you haven’t really reached nirvana until you have potted caladiums or a few hostas.

Best of all, none of these plants will miss you for a few days if placed in a good common sense mix. Many are perennial (that means they will come up again next year).

No, you won’t succeed with every plant you try, but you may be surprised. Nurse that left-over poinsettia through until spring and watch it thrive on the deck for several more months. The trick is you have to try. Now get out there and make us proud.

George Freeman is editor of GREENE Magazine, and a Master Gardener. You can reach him at Editor@Ozarks Living.com.. When he is not battling ants in the outer office, he also posts a few words and photos on GREENE’s Facebook page.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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