Trees in the House

Of Henry Mitchell’s collected “Earthman” columns, some of the funniest are about bringing tropical potted plants into the house for the winter. He couldn’t bring the plants in until the rugs had been sent out for cleaning and returned, quite an operation in itself. Inevitably, plant-lugging was left until a severe cold snap threatened, whereupon the job was done by flashlight, with dogs getting in the way and guests expected for dinner. Which guests had to share the living room with large, neck-tickling, leaf-dropping plants. And sometimes things went seriously wrong, as when a bucket containing a palm tree in muddy soil went bumping down a flight of stairs, disgorging its contents all the way.

I have only one large plant that needs to be lugged in and out in spring and autumn — a jade plant whose trunk is six inches in diameter at the base, and which stands almost five feet tall. Today we brought it in, using a handy device called a Potlifter, a set of adjustable straps and handles designed specifically to make carrying large potted plants quite easy for two reasonably fit people. Since the straps are permanently adjusted for the jade plant’s pot, it took hardly any time to strap it in and carry it to its winter location.

October 13, 2013

The jade plant is an inside/outside tenant, but I also have three quite large plants that stay inside year round, and I’m beginning to wonder whether they should be evicted. Two are weeping figs (Ficus benjamina), one plain, one variegated; the other is a young rubber plant (Ficus elastica). Right now it’s about five feet tall, but in another year or so it will be scraping the ceiling. Previous specimens, once topped, did not branch gracefully but ended up resembling leafy gibbets. One grew sideways in an amazing manner and was finally dispatched. Before doing it in, I air-layered the present plant, doing so only because the original (the “ur plant”) was acquired by my mother in Pittsburgh more than 50 years ago. The present manifestation has therefore acquired a kind of numinous aura. If I kill this last scion, what kind of bad karma will I create? As for the weepers, I would happily give them away (assuming anyone would want them), but I rather like their pots and would want to keep them. Niggardly, I know, which is why the two continue to occupy a good portion of my living room, shedding leaves at regular intervals. (I wonder if that’s why they’re called “weeping’).

It’s ironic that I have similar situations outside and inside — big trees. One day, the axe will fall. One day.

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