For a man who dislikes house plants (though if there were no outdoor place to putter about I would like them fine) it is odd that you can't get through the living room without being stabbed by a large agave and cannot sit quietly in the dining room without a 7-foot rubber tree leering down.
I once knew a 95-year-old night-blooming cereus that died when somebody forgot to bring it in one fall--actually, four people, two to a pole run through steel eyes on each side of the tub. This was clearly slothful, and it is irrelevant whether anybody liked the plant or not. You do not just suddenly fail in your duty merely because you don't like whatever it may be.
I expect every gardener to bring his house plants in instantly. No excuses. Do it.
How often I have pointed out the importance of tying up Irish yews and other narrow vertical conifers, because we get frightful snows up here, damp and heavy ones, and when these are followed by wind the result is awful. The branches splay out and the whole tree is bent toward the ground. Simple folk imagine that when the snow melts the yew will resume its original upright posture.
It is far otherwise. Somehow, I failed to do this and my three narrow tall yews were ruined year before last. Once the damage was done I got out there and tried tying them back into shape, and whacked off some big branches to coax them straight once more. If you will now tie the side branches in toward the trunk and maybe even sink a tremendous steel pipe behind them as a stake, you may avoid my woe. It will not do you much good to tend to all this after the yews are ruined.
Usually, when certain wild clematis finish blooming and are laden with clouds of feathery seeds, I leave them on until late February because the birds like to eat them. This year they cleaned all the seeds off by mid-October, and there is no reason not to tidy (whack back) the plants now. If not now, when?
But always I have tried not to ruin anybody's Sunday by listing endless chores ("Now is the time to mulch the entire garden with a six-inch layer of lark feathers," etc.) and do not now intend to start making myself miserable, either. But it does seem to me unfair that literally hundreds of necessary operations have been delayed at my place this year.
This time of year it is always worthwhile to keep an eye on places where they sell bulbs, since sometimes they lower their prices to clean out their stock. One year of blessed memory a store sold tulip bulbs at 66 percent off list price at just the time (Nov. 15) you plant them here.
Before the great heat struck this past summer--and how glorious those weeks were--I dug up a congested patch of the old white trumpet daffodil 'Cantatrice' as the first step in digging up a lot of other daffodils that had been down (I blush, but I tell the truth) five to seven years.
This was part of a master plan to revamp the old plantings, dig new sites for a few hundred bulbs in May and replant in September. I wrote at the time the proper way to prepare daffodil beds, so that when planting time came in October (though I prefer September, and have on occasion had to settle for February) everything would be ready and it would be sheer pleasure for you to dig little holes and set the bulbs in. Possibly my devotion to helping others, etc., delayed the master plan at my place. The bulbs, most of them, were not dug and dried, and the new planting stations are still a nagging dream.
The gardener who followed good advice last spring will now be glad he did, of course.
Over the years I have learned that one way to revive a nearly dead plant with thorns or prickles is to plant it right by a main walk. Nine times out of 10 it will start to flourish like a bay tree and will be a royal nuisance to anybody using the walk.
A ruthless friend of mine pitched out a beautiful plant of Osmanthus 'Gulftide' several years ago and I rescued it because I didn't like seeing a perfectly good shrub sitting on the terrace with its roots in the sun, waiting for the trash men to pick it up in a week or so.
It sulked a year or two, but now has started to grow madly, especially on the side nearest the walk up to the front door. It does no good to prune it back because "strength follows the knife," as they say: the new growth is denser and more vigorous where you have pruned.
You might ask why any gardener would plant a spiny-leaved sweet olive right by a walk in constant use. Well, we do that because we don't think it's going to live.
This year it began to flower in mid-October. I shall never cut it down now. The best hope is to get it tall enough that one walks beneath it, as an arch, and this may be inconvenient for four or five years.
Before I learned the hard way, I had trouble wintering fuchsias in the house. I kept them too dry. They certainly do not want to be kept wet, but they should be watered perhaps every 10 days or so and kept in a cool room. There may be a room of the house in which the heat is kept turned off and this does well. So does an enclosed back porch. It is best not to trim the plants back until you see signs of swelling buds in March, then you cut back to five inches from the soil, give more water and more light, and put them outdoors the end of April. If you keep them utterly dry (a thing that sometimes works with geraniums) they will be dead as doornails by January.
I hesitate to mention the following, since many houses are occupied not merely by the ardent gardener but by others who may be fussy beyond belief. But I now believe the best and safest way to winter tropical water lilies in the house (they will not stand the seven inches of ice that forms on our pools here) is to lift them with as much dirt around the roots as will fit into a large laundry tub or other vessel that holds water without leaking.
The leaves are cut off except for four or five small ones at the center, and the whole clump is set in the tub and covered with 6 inches of water. It should have as much light as possible, yet in many places there are objections to siting the vessels in front of windows facing south. Often one has to settle for a rather dimly lit basement. Sometimes, if there happens to be a 20-gallon aquarium, the plant and its dirt may be set there and kept in a cool bedroom.
Ideally, one gives the old plant (which will just sit there marking time and not doing any growing to speak of) some heat, 75 to 80 degrees, about February, and full light from March on, and the whole thing is set back out in the pool on June 10.
Where conditions are not ideal, the leaves will die off entirely, but if handled as I describe, the large old tuber often survives and may be planted in the pool in June, even without any leaves. Given a decent summer such as the past one, it will be in flower by the end of July and will of course continue to bloom until Oct. 15, when the operation is repeated for another winter. But given sympathetic treatment with supplemental heat and a south window, the same plant would be in full bloom outdoors a full month earlier.