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The case for an indoor garden.

You need not own a garden plot to grow bouquets of flowers. Whether you live in a studio apartment or a luxury townhouse, you can create a window garden of flowering plants from Africa, India, China and Brazil, a world of blossoms whose glorious fragrance no bottled perfume can match.

Fragrant exotics. They conjure up visions of teeming jungles and mist-shrouded crags, of rain-forest grottos where jeweled butterflies, drawn by the incense of flowers, drift through the green, sun-dappled twilight. These coveted trophies of plant collectors grow among rocks in the blazing sun, cling to the brinks of vaporous waterfalls and scent the air with their garlands of bloom.

In the centuries following their discovery, plants that survived long sea-voyages from the tropics often died in their new environment. Even today the belief persists that flowering exotics are hard to grow. Bowls of water on the radiators and pebble-filled saucers under every pot; plastic bags pulled over plants to conserve humidity at night; windows festooned with sun-reflecting foil and purple fluorescents suspended by chains six inches above the leaves make a catalog of eyesores familiar to anyone who's read a few books about indoor gardening.

Happily, you needn't turn your home into a potting shed to grow plants with personality. A neurotic exotic surrounded by props has, to be sure, little or no visual appeal, especially if it repays your devotion by dropping its buds. But try looking at your plants with an artist's eye; fragrant exotics can transform the simplest room in your home if you'll arrange them into a vibrant still life, framed and dramatically lighted. Grow your plants in their own micro-climate, and you can forget about pampering them; five or ten minutes of care a day will reward you with flowers year-round.

Exotics that bloom fairly well in a window will bloom lavishly when you house them in a modified Wardian case, a terrarium named after Nathaniel Ward, a 19th-century botanist-physician who discovered that plants could thrive in a sealed glass container. A cynosure of Victorian drawing rooms, the Wardian case was admired both for its elegance of craftsmanship and for what it contained: orchids newly arrived to Europe from jungle and mountain habitats.

Although a cellophane tent will stimulate bloom as well as a rosewood and beveled glass box, beauty and economy are easy to combine. Most garden-supply stores stock window-sized greenhouses, reasonably priced, in various styles to suit your tastes.

At still greater savings, a do-it-yourselfer can design a wood case with sliding doors for easy access and good ventilation, fluorescent lights, legs with castors and--in place of glass--clear plastic sheeting tacked to the frame with a staple gun. A 5'x4'x2' case--larger or smaller according to need--holds an impressive collection of plants and costs less than $85 to build.

Fragrant exotics need bright light, humidity, cool nights and protection from insects. It's easy to give them all four.

A southern exposure with sheer nylon curtains to filter the sun is ideal for these plants, though several fluorescents during the day and fresh air at night can work wonders when sunlight is at a premium. If your window receives less than half a day of sun, your plants will benefit from fluorescents. You need not obstruct your view by hanging the lights six inches above them. Assuming your case is as high as your windows, your plants will respond well to one or two double-tube fixtures bolted inside the top of the case, out of sight where they belong. Plants that require brighter light can be hung from a wire beneath the tubes. Watch your newspaper for sales on fluorescents and fixtures.

Exotics that quickly succumb to dry heat will survive a warm window or Wardian case if there is moisture in the air. To give your plants humidity, put a few plastic seedling flats inside your case, fill the flats with water and set a wire mesh on top to support the pots. If you'd rather grow plants on your window sill, provide them the same arrangement of trays and place a cold-water vaporizer nearby to increase humidity.

Cool nights will encourage your plants to set buds for long-lasting bloom. Depending upon the climate in your area, you should be able to lower the temperature in your home to 55[deg.]-65[deg.] F. at night by turning down your thermostat, turning on your air conditioner or simply by opening a window (a security grille for an open window may be a wise precaution).

A Wardian case with an opening in back that fits flush with the window will cool off more readily than one enclosed on all sides. Because it is generally ten degrees warmer right inside a window than it is outdoors, place your hardier plants nearest the window during a mild winter and warmer exotics, such as gardenia, a foot or two back from the edge. When the outdoor temperature drops below 45[deg.] F., shut the window all or part way or wheel back the case from the wall. Houseplant books may warn you against the evils of setting your plants in a "draft," but "draft" is only a bogeyman word for fresh air, a natural part of a plant's environment.

Few houseplants are immune to insects. The healthier they are, the better they taste to bugs with a craving for salad greens. Because plants with fragile leaves need special care when under siege, you will be able to save yourself extra work by choosing woody-stemmed plants with hard, glossy leaves. Some of the choicest exotics have both.

At the first sign of aphids, spidermites, mealybugs or scale, avoid poison sprays and systemics--and don't waste your time dabbing at leaves with cotton swabs dipped in alcohol. To battle the bugs, give your plants a brisk hosing down with warm water. Sel-fix, a brand sold in hardware stores, makes inexpensive spray attachments that fit indoor faucets. You can also wage war with a Water Pik, a lightning-quick weapon that rids plants of bugs in a twinkling. Once or twice a month tuck a strip of tinfoil in the pot to hold in the soil and tip the pot on its side in a dry sink or tub. Switch your dental Water Pik to "low" for new growth and softer-leaved plants and to "high" for sturdier foliage. A well-aimed spritz under the leaves and along the stems will peel off the bugs and barnacles in seconds.

The plants you can grow in your Wardian case vary so widely in form and fragrance, you may feel tempted to buy one of each. You could, if your case were gigantic and plants didn't grow by leaps and bounds! Although most exotics are easy on the budget, their flowres are often expensive. A home-grown gardenia, loaded with buds, costs less than a simple corsage from a florist. In two or three years a stephanotis yields flowers worth hundreds of dollars.

For all their diversity, some exotics resemble each other in fragrance, a bonus for gardeners who value a plant for its special perfurme but have no luck in growing it. Do you like the sugary scent of citrus? For maximum bloom, potted orange and lemon trees need hours of sunlight every day. Murraya exotica (mock orange) grows well with less sun and has flowers that smell like orange blossoms. Heliotrope, much esteemed for its scent of vanilla, is quickly scorched in a sunny window. Trachelospermum mandianum (Confederate jasmine), a popular houseplant that tolerates warmth, has yellow, vinca-like flowers that smell as delightful as heliotrope. given a bit of extra care, oncidium lanceanum, an orchid from Guiana, grows well in a Wardian case; its flamboyant pink and brown-speckled flowers have the rich scent of carnations. The airy perfume of Persian violet is yours to enjoy months before the plants come in bloom; one or two cyclamen out of a dozen are sure to possess an identical fragrance. Does the fruity, sable aroma of roses appeal to you? Then don't forget the scented geraniums! These gifted mimics have leaves that, when crushed, smell like roses, lemons, nutmeg and pine.

These plants, of course, are only for starters; hundreds of others will flourish in your garden.

* Regal kin to hoya and to milkweed, Madagascar stephanotis is an undemanding plant that grows as well in a partly sunny window as it does in a Wardian case.

* Hoya bella, a perfect plant for a limited area--in or out of a Wardian case--is a dainty-leaved dwarf from India with umbels of pink and white, waxy stars that smell delectably of talcum powder.

* Michelia figo, a native of China, has a powerful fragrance used by East Indians to perfume soap. But beware! These small flowers release an odor strong enough to make y our temples throb.

* Osmanthus fragrans, related to jasmine, is a wonderful choice for the connoisseur who wants a plant with a rare perfume. By day Osmanthus exhales the scent of violets--at night the flowres smell like ripe peaches. Give this oriental shrub bright filtered sunlight and cool breezes at night, and its tiny, celestially fragrant blossoms will lend a breath of spring to every season of the year.

* J. Arabian sambac has a velvety fragrance not found in all jasmine. You may want to sniff-test plants in bloom before you buy one. Jasmine is said not to live long indoors, nor will it in hot, stuffy rooms. Success in keeping it healthy and blooming depends on bright sunlight or fluorescents, a moderate daytime temperature and cool nights in an open window. Keep the soil on the dry side, fertilize lightly and shear back the stems to stimulate bloom.

* Mitriostigma axillare, related to gardenia, is native to Africa, where it is known as "wild coffee." This beau ideal of impatient gardeners has popcorn eruptions of blush-white bloom that can cover a sprig in a two-inch pot. The flowers, which resemble honeysuckle, have a curious though pleasing aroma.

* Chinese gardenia spiced with a hint of pepper and cloves is most everyone's all-time favorite. Try growing it on your window sill, though, and it may live up to its reputation for being temperamental! For ease of care, put it in your Wardian case, where it will bloom without coaxing and coddling. If you like the large corsage gardenia and have some extra space to spare, don't hesitate to add it to your collection. This plant can be purchased through well-stocked nurseries or mail-order green-houses. Gardenia Belmont and Miami Supreme are two magnificent varieties that bloom when young and can be pruned when they crowd their neighbors. Unlike their small cousins you see for sale in all the nurseries, mature plants have flowers as big as white camellias. Gardenia adjusts well to fluorescents in the absence of adequate sun. Give the plant a daily misting, and 60[deg.]-62[deg. nights. Liquid iron and acid plant food are vital for glossy green leaves.

If you think two months of dazzlingly beautiful flowers atone for ten months of donkey-ear leaves, you may want to try orchids in your Wardian case. You may wish to acquire several plants that bloom at different seasons of the year. Choose orchids that have bloomed before and leave the seedlings and youngsters allegedly "old enough to bloom" to skilled horticulturists who can grow them in the controlled climate of a greenhouse. Avoid "bargains" when shopping for hybrid or species orchids, and buy the best you can afford. A prize-winning clone may cost as much as your Wardian case but, given good care, it can ring you a lifetime of pleasure.

Space permitting, you might like to round out your collection with one or two scented begonias. A fragrant Passiflora vine can steal the show in your window garden, and Natal plum, with its sweet-smelling flowers, edible fruit and dapper foliage, lends itself well to bonsai.

All of these plants and countless others, are yours for the having--so why not indulge your sense of smell? A pot of jasmine crowned with a perfumed snowdrift of bloom will give you a surge of pride you'll never derive from a pot of ivy.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Loomer, Sylvia
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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