January 2nd, 2008
Well, it’s probably about time the indoor plants get their share of attention. I know that at my house, it’s no small task to keep everyone looking good and healthy when there is so much to do outside in the warm weather.
I took a quick census of the houseplants here. All of the plants are in the most-frequented rooms so that I don’t forget them. Those also happen to be the rooms with the best light in our north-facing house.
Here are the plant numbers:
21 – family room
4 – kitchen
2 – music room
10 – office light garden
3 – my bedroom
1 – my son’s room
I’m sure there are some folks out there who can best my numbers, but this seems a good balance for me since I feel claustrophobic with too much “stuff” crowding in a room and most of my plants are of an impressive size.
I have been in love with houseplants since I was a teenager and discovered Jerry Baker’s Happy, Healthy Houseplants. Published way back in 1985, it was one of the first and best books on houseplants at the time. I don’t have a copy anymore, but I believe this is the book that included an illustration of a fellow peaking from behind a shower curtain where he is bathing with bunches of houseplants. For some reason this made a big impression on me. To this day I regularly bathe my houseplants to remove the accumulated dust from the leaves and give them an at-home spa treatment—although I rarely get undressed to do it anymore.
One of the reasons I adore my houseplants is that it gets me a bit closer to my dream of living in a house that seamlessly blends indoors and outdoors. Given that I live in Zone 7 Maryland rather than in the British Virgin Islands, that isn’t an entirely feasible idea.
Crown of Thorns
People who love plants might appreciate a few plant stories…
Years ago when Benjamin was quite small our lives were overly-full with travel, jobs and just surviving. We couldn’t seem to muster the energy for a proper Christmas tree so I re-purposed a good-sized Norfolk Island Pine for the job, decorating it with lights and ornaments. Unfortunately, the tree was then top heavy, so we had to anchor it with one of Harry’s heavy running shoes. Well, one morning around 3 a.m. it all came a-tumbling down, spreading dirt and broken ornaments everywhere. (Why is it things like this never happen in the daylight hours?) Happily, the tree survived, but the decorations did not.
Another plant story (sorta) comes to mind. We had a beautiful Belgian Malinois named Winifred. If you’re not sure what those are, they are the dogs you see bomb sniffing in airports. They look rather like small-ish German Shepherds. Well, Winifred was going through a spell of intense gastrointestinal distress. I had taken her to the veterinarian numerous times for exams, x-rays and bloodwork. I followed all of the veterinarian’s recommendations and still, she was having major difficulties. I had assured the veterinarian that, no, Winifred did not get outside and eat anything she shouldn’t have. Well, I was right about that.
One morning at the height of the gastrointestinal distress episode, I was outside with Winifred on her morning distress call of nature. At the risk of your concluding that I have a poo fetish like my brother, I was examining her poo and discovered the problem. It was absolutely FILLED with little pebbles! They were the very same pebbles that I had used in the bottom of a humidity tray for a boxwood topiary! Winifred was eating the plant’s rocks!
My son Benjamin is quite smart. But like many boys he doesn’t always do smart things. When he was 13 years old he accidentally broke off a small part of an absolutely gorgeous cactus that I had sitting on the kitchen counter. Fascinated by the milky substance oozing from the plant’s wound, Ben decided to give it a little taste.
I wasn’t home at the time, but Ben apparently discovered that the milky substance was very very very HOT. Water wouldn’t put out the heat on his tongue. Milk wouldn’t put out the heat on his tongue. Panting wouldn’t help. He suffered for quite a long time until the heat passed.
Really, we’re lucky the houseplant wasn’t poisonous. But we still warn Ben “Don’t eat it! Just say no!” whenever we see a cactus!
The plants you see here are a few of my favorites. I bought the Crown of Thorns for a centerpiece for our wedding anniversary about four years ago. (My husband didn’t see the humor.) It didn’t bloom much after dropping its blooms the first time. But once I repotted the plant it has bloomed every since.
I adore the philodendron and bamboo by the red reading chair in my bedroom. I bought the bamboo as a teeny tiny thing at Wal-Mart about two years ago. It’s amazing how the little $2 plant has grown. And the philodendron is amazingly healthy climbing up a piece of wood for support. (It’s on my list of things to do to re-pot this one as soon as I can find a nice pot.)
The succulent is one I keep in the kitchen because I think it looks nice in contrast with our farmhouse table. The pot is one I found at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix last year and had shipped home. When she saw it, a family friend asked “What? They don’t have vases in Maryland?”
So there you have it…some of my houseplants and plant stories! They’re not much to look at right now but once my orchids are all blooming at the same time again I’ll share those too.
Happy indoor gardening!
Posted In: House Plants
December 31st, 2007
Rather, we set annual goals and have a tradition of sharing all or some of them at our New Year’s dinner. Many years we post them, or at least those we don’t mind sharing, on the refrigerator as a daily reminder of what we wish to accomplish in the coming months. There are some goals I don’t share with anyone, either because they are too personal or because I’m simply not ready to divulge some part of myself in this way.
I think it’s important to distinguish between goals and resolutions. Resolutions are black and white. You do it or don’t. You win or lose.
Frankly, most people aren’t designed for resolutions. It’s simply too difficult for most of us to suddenly make a U-turn and start swimming in the opposite direction against a well-established tide. That is, I think, why so many people who make resolutions stumble around, oh, January 6, and never show up at the gym again. Or they inhale a truckload of Fritos and figure they’re doomed.
Goals, on the other hand, take a longer view. Goals are things that you wish to achieve that need to be taken, perhaps, in steps—a bit at a time. If there is something you wish to do that you can “just do,” such as finally cleaning out the garden shed or digging that new herb border, that is not a goal. It’s something that is on your “to do” list, but it is not a goal.
I am fortunate enough to work with a group of consultants who specialize in this type of planning, so I’ve more or less internalized the process of strategic planning for organizations and even adapted it for my own personal planning.
Here’s a simplified version of how it works:
First think about what you want to be. This takes some serious thinking and is probably not something that can be done in the heat of the moment on New Year’s Day. I regularly revisit this question on vacations and during other down-times when I have the leisure of self-examination.
Ask yourself: What is it that I want to be known for, to be and have achieved in, say, the next 10 to 20 years? That may seem a bit of a far-fetched way to begin thinking about annual goals, but it’s not really. Without this long-term vision of what you want to be, you won’t be able to develop a plan to get there. It’s rather like going on a road trip without a destination in mind. You end up doing a lot of things, but they may or may not be the right things. You might get to where you want to go—or you might not. A shocking number of people don’t have a plan. But those who do achieve impressive things.
Here’s an example of how you might frame that type of statement about what you want to be:
“I want to live a life that is peaceful, socially responsible and beautiful and to leave behind a legacy for those values when I am gone.”
Sounds great, right? But boy, that’s a tall order. However will I do that?
Here’s the next step: Think about the things you must accomplish within the next few months to get you closer to living this statement. What you come up with, then, are the goals. Many times it’s helpful to put the goals into a framework of an outcome that describes an end-state.
For our example, some goals to get there might be:
–I minimize my carbon footprint on the planet. –I surround myself with positive, joyful people who share my interests. –I have a home that seamlessly blends indoors and outdoors in a garden that welcomes friends and family.
Getting the idea here? These are goals.
The next step is to set objectives for each of these goals. Objectives get you closer to the action steps, but also indicate milestones or measures that indicate what you need to do. Objectives are observable and often are measurable.
Let’s take the goal of minimizing my carbon footprint on the planet.
Some observable and measurable objectives for this might be:
–I reduce the number of kilowatts of electricity used in our household by 25%. –I rely less on consuming foods from far-away places by growing and preserving a third of our family’s vegetable needs. –I reduce our household’s water needs by 20%.
After you’ve identified these objectives, you can set the strategies that most of us are familiar with. These look like most people’s “to do” lists or resolutions.
Some strategies for the objectives to reduce electrical consumption above might be:
–Replace incandescent electric bulbs with new energy-efficient bulbs. –Turn the water heater thermostat down five degrees. –Hang laundry outside to dry when weather permits. –Turn the computer and other major appliances off at night. –Turn the heat thermostat down 3 or 4 degrees at night.
Once you begin thinking about how you want to live long-term the day-to-day activities really do add up. Over time, it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you have a plan for how to get there.
It’s like that old metaphor about how to eat an elephant—one bit at a time.
One other note about planning: Goals don’t conveniently get achieved in 365 days. Some goals can take a lifetime to achieve. And the beauty of the New Year is that it’s the perfect annual reminder to revisit your goals, revise you goals, cross off goals that no longer seem relevant or important and add new ones.
I hope this wasn’t all too academic and that you can start thinking about your own long-term goals with whatever planning system makes sense to you. There is more than one way to tackle the idea. For example, I notice that Carol at May Dream Gardens also outlined a cool approach with the PLANT acronym.
Whatever you do, I hope you don’t do what someone I know and love said: “I don’t make resolutions so I don’t disappoint myself.” Sheesh. I’ll have to work on that fellow.
Will I be publishing my annual goals? Nosiree. But I will tell you that I’ve been very very good about my renewed workout plan. The very stress-filled fall I had had a positive side. It reminded me that I can’t take my health for granted–and that the older I get the harder I’ll have to work at it. It really is a part-time job.
For everyone who has visited (and read this far), I wish you a peaceful and happy New Year!
Posted In: Lifestyle