Saturday, 2 November 2013

Houseplants for shade

Nick, confusing Superman with Mary Poppins
      When you look back at the characters in your life it can be guaranteed you'll bring to mind some who were memorable for the over-the-top approach - the Boris Johnsons  of the world. In some cases their behaviour may be seen as a one-off, whereas in others it was, or is, their way of life. As an example of the one-off species I can cite my youngest son (some people may query this limitation), Nick, and an incident in Tatton Park when he was about eleven:

      We'd cycled to the park on a Sunday morning and were going along the track leading to the Old Hall.

      "Bet I could ride through that stream and up the other side", said Nick, with the bravado of youth. There was a steep slope from the path we were on, down to a stream. The far bank was almost as extreme.

      "Don't be daft", I said, "you'll end up in the stream with a broken bike".

      "No, I can do it", he said, lining the bike up with the edge of the path.

      "Stop", I commanded in my best authoritarian parent voice.

      "Whoops", he said with a grin, "sorry Dad, I can't stop", as he started the descent and gravity accelerated him at an unforeseen rate. I made a mental note to do an update on my authoritarian voice. He hung grimly to the wildly bouncing bike as it tore down the slope and his face underwent a change from bravado to 'I want my Mum'. I must admit that his mum came to my mind as well: what she would do to me when I brought home the remains of her beloved son.

      "Shiiiiiiit", he screamed, taking a leaf out of Butch and Sundance's observation as they jumped off the cliff.

      At this point his mother would have severely reprimanded him for the use of bad language but, after careful consideration, I decided it was the appropriate comment.

      The bike careered to the edge of the stream then, instead of proceeding through it and scaling the far bank at diminishing speed in accordance to the plan, it hit a rock and cartwheeled. For a few seconds, this was the closest Nick ever came to fulfilling his lifelong ambition to be superman. However this first solo flight ended abruptly with him lying prone in the middle of the stream. He lay for a few seconds then slowly rose to his feet, mournfully surveying the wreckage of his bike, while the stream bubbled merrily round his feet. Without a word, he waded to the bank where he sat, removed his shoes, and thoughtfully wrung out his socks. It's amazing how much water a sock can hold, and this is probably the reason Superman doesn't wear them. I then did what all authoritarian dads would do: I laughed. I laughed until I'd hurt myself more than he had on landing. This may seem harsh, but it was the funeral laugh. The one people get after the emotion of a burial demands some release and the weakest joke is an excuse for it. He glared at me, then slowly realised the futility of wringing out socks when the rest of you is waterlogged and he started a grin which turned into a belly laugh. Together we sat, helpless, until the realisation of how we'd explain this to his mum sobered us.

      Don't know if you've ever seen 'Carry on Caveman', but I think it was in that film that they portrayed the invention of the wheel. The prototype needed some improvement however, because it was square and this had obvious limitations. I mention this because it reminds me of Nick's front wheel after his death-defying Tatton stunt.

      This got me thinking about what pot plants cavemen would choose for their rather gloomy living quarters.:Spathiphyllum comes from the tropics of the Americas, the Philippines and Indonesia so, on the face of it, doesn't look  a likely candidate. However, it thrives in a shady position and is tolerant of cool conditions above freezing. The origination of the common name 'peace lily' is a bit obscure - even Wikipedia doesn't offer a thought - although the fact that it often makes an appearance at funerals may have something to do with it. Perhaps it was thought that, as a poisonous plant, it actually spawned funerals, but this is a bit of a long shot because large amounts have to be eaten for drastic results and it doesn't taste nice. Dogs and cats often suffer diarrhoea and vomiting, along with other symptoms after eating the leaves, so it is best to position the plant out of their reach.
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)
       Spathiphyllum needs dividing annually, yielding a couple of extra plants which come in useful as presents for friends. A peace lily makes a pleasing change from the bunch of flowers often presented to dinner party hosts. It should be split during the winter or immediately after flowering (which can occur every two or three months) and an indication of when it needs it is the appearance of roots on the surface of the compost. Drooping and dullness of the leaves often shows a need to water and it is surprising how quickly they perk up and regain their shine when this is carried out.

      Another plant suitable for the caveman's parlour is the Aspidistra. This has the common name 'cast iron plant', indicating its tolerance for shade and indifferent temperatures. Its flowers aren't very noticeable, as they occur at soil level, emanating directly from the rhizome. It used to be though that they were pollinated by slugs and snails but recent research in Japan indicates that small terrestrial crustaceans called amphipods are the most likely suspects.

      Aspidistra is easily propagated by taking root sections and transplanting them. The rhizomatous roots are more woody than those of the Spathiphyllum and secateurs come in useful for the purpose. Care should be taken to ensure that each piece of rhizome has a couple of leaves coming from it.
Young Aspidistra
      No plant is completely idiot-proof, but Aspidistra and peace lily come pretty close to it and most of us have a shady niche in the house which would benefit from a bit of living decoration. Pity neither of these were in the country at the time of cavemen. They probably had to make do with potted dandelion.


No comments:

Post a Comment