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Marin IJ Articles

Living gifts are the best

  • Dot Zanotti Ingels
  • If you are like me, there is always a gift you need to find. The time of the most hectic of gift-giving is upon us, but I want to put in a plug for a gift that can keep on giving at any time of the year. A plant!

    I know we have all been given an azalea or mum plant that did not make it shortly after it was received. The problem is that these plants are raised in hot houses and forced to maximize their floral display for a short burst. They can be coaxed into our gardens, but sometimes it is just not worth the effort.

    I am going to suggest some out-of-the-box ideas that combine some creativity on your part and have a great chance of being enjoyed by the recipient for a long time to come. Not everyone has the same color of thumb when it comes to growing or sustaining a living plant, but there are so many plant options that will survive no matter who owns the gift.

    • Amaryllis: Some of the traditional offerings at this time of year are long lasting and also perennial. Few plants deliver as spectacular a show for very little effort as an amaryllis. I have a friend who gives me a new color each year, and I still have them all.

      Look for large, firm, dry and healthy bulbs that will produce at least two flower stems. Have fun looking for a container that suits the recipient. I love exploring flea markets, antique shops and the nursery for the perfect pot. For amaryllis, a 6- to 7-inch deep bowl will handle a single bulb.

      Plant each bulb in well-drained potting soil so that the top third is above the soil surface. Give the plants bright light, water when the top inch of the soil is dry and they will bloom in eight to 10 weeks. When they are done, cut off the stocks but leave the foliage intact. It will eventually die back but the bulb lives on. Here is the fun part. They will bloom naturally in the spring if you leave them outside or in the fall you can store them indoors in a cool, dark place for eight to 10 weeks and start the process again.

    • Orchids: Orchids are a perfect fit at any time of year. With minimal care, indoor varieties will last in the house for a month or more. They come in so many traditional and more exotic varieties, which are a little fussier to get to re-bloom. There are outdoor orchids that, when treated well, will reward you year after year. I have a cymbidium orchid plant that was given to me by a cousin from a divided plant of hers. I have subsequently divided it into gift plants for my friends. Orchids kept outdoors are more vulnerable to the elements but are well worth the extra bit of attention given to them. I feed them with food specifically formulated for orchids a couple of times (when I think of it) and sometimes I forget all year, but, come late winter I am rewarded with multiple spikes that last on the plant for months or have a long life in a vase indoors.

    • Succulents: My daughter-in-law claims to kill every plant she gets. This summer I found some great containers that were perfect for her deck and a succulent planting. I got cuttings from my succulents, bought a few additional varieties I loved and a bag of succulent planting medium (sometimes called cactus mix), and made her two big pots of plants. The plants live in Novato on a hot, southern-exposure deck. I gave her the main instruction for taking care of succulents — never over water! They are structurally designed to survive in the desert with minimal water. About the only thing that kills them is rotting the roots from sitting in too much water. Five months later, the pots have filled in beautifully and they are alive.

    Visit your neighborhood nursery, which is likely brimming right now with camellias in bloom and fruiting citrus that will thrive in most parts of Marin. You can inexpensively buy a colorful six pack or two of violas, pansies or primroses, find a fun planter, get a good potting mix and create your own bowl arrangement that will bring color to an entrance all winter long. Ivy topiaries can be houseplants and a focal point on a patio. They can be decorated seasonally or wrapped in twinkle lights. Air plants are virtually indestructible and sit in all kinds of hanging containers that always get attention. And a potted herb garden is a gift that truly keeps on giving the cook easy access to culinary herbs.

    Make it fun, and make it personal. Your plant gift will be a reminder of your thoughtfulness.