Dear Guilt-ridden Grinch,
There’s something to be said for accepting loss philosophically. Let the fresh floral offerings give joy for as long as they are in bloom. Certainly no one expects a bottle of perfume — or even a “semi-edible” sausage or cheese — to last forever. If you don’t want to bother giving them special care, don’t feel guilty about throwing them onto your compost pile. They are biodegradable. Let their recipients know that you do not expect to see these gifts again and that they need have no qualms about letting them go the way of all foliage.
Now, there really are some gift plants that can survive without undue effort. Both Dr. Agronomosky and Wendy Wildflower tell me that they do not banish their Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera) to the basement but rather place them outside in their pots after the last spring frost. They bring them inside the next autumn and put them in windows, and the plants never fail to bloom again in time for Christmas. Wendy knows people who have had Christmas cacti for so many years they are considered family heirlooms. While Aunt Sioux does stow her spent amaryllis in the basement, she goes to no special trouble. She leaves them alone till they start sprouting on their own schedule. At that time, she puts them in a sunny place and waters them.
There are other plants that may be replanted outside and will survive until an unusually harsh winter or summer comes. A topiary rosemary tree trimmed to look like a pine is a good example. You can keep it in your kitchen to clip bits and pieces for your soups, and then in spring plant it outside in a sheltered place. If it doesn’t survive to the next winter, or beyond, that’s not your fault. The same would apply to a little holly or evergreen tree — but be careful where you plant it. You may recall the letter I got from “Christmas in July” one year complaining of having a backyard full of Christmas trees and plants that not only survived but grew so large they left no room for anything else.
Hyacinths and bulb-filled dish gardens make splendid gifts, and when the bulbs are replanted outside later they usually give several years of bloom — though never again at Christmas. I’ve gotten conflicting reports about paperwhite narcissi. Apparently some have survived and rebloomed when planted near the warmth of a building. Most do not survive. Be that as it may, if you like their sweet fragrance, even one season of bloom gives you your money’s worth. Another ephemeral but worthwhile gift choice is a fragrant evergreen wreath. A lavender wreath lasts much longer, though it’s less seasonally festive.
Have you considered dressing up easy-care houseplants? Just wrap the pots in colorful foil you can buy at nurseries and florist shops, artfully hang some lightweight ornaments and add a big bow. Voila! You have a gift that will keep on giving. A peace lily in bloom, a jade plant, a Caribbean tree cactus (preferably not in stridently yellow bloom), ficus, philodendrons and such bromeliads as Scarlet Star make very handsome gifts. I wouldn’t recommend the aggressively sharp Sansevieria trifasciata (aka “mother-in-law’s tongue”) or the extremely poisonous oleander. Some indoor plants — even the peace lily and the philodendron — can be toxic to pets, so keep them out of paw’s reach.
To discuss your dilemma with experts and to degrinchify in an atmosphere of good cheer, please come to the next meeting and holiday party of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society, Saturday, Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. It will take place at the cozy and festive home of Jean and Millard Smith, 3600 Longfellow Street.