Freesias bask indoors in the sunlight on a chilly January day.

Freesias bask indoors in the sunlight on a chilly January day.

As valiant a job as the pines and other evergreen trees and plants do to keep some visual stimulation in the landscape during these otherwise monochromatic days, the absence of a wider variety of more vibrant colors is quite apparent. I feel it most dramatically when I look at the small flower bed located just outside my kitchen window and that is now nothing more than a few prickly and arthritic rose canes trembling in the frigid January air. Below them lie the remains of other plants whose names I don’t know yet, as I moved here in November right after they had died back for the year.

Of course, I will add my own touches to that spot in a few weeks in the form of annuals both in the ground and in pots. But right now, it’s a pretty sad little spot, saved only by the small colorful ornaments I’ve set out there and what few tufts of grass have survived the season’s first snow.

 

 

There was a time when I filled that winter-to-spring void with the seed catalogs that I received in the mail. Other times, I resorted to clipping photos of flowers and other assorted vegetation out of magazines and old calendars for the purpose of assembling into collages. Now, I refer often to my digital collection of photos, specifically the folder named “Flowers and Plants,” and imagine that it’s spring again. But my greatest delight these days is walking through grocery and department stores, where my homing device zeroes in on the plant and flower displays that are my saving grace at this time of year. It’s like my feet know the routes, for they take me directly there, bypassing the produce displays and stacks of fireplace logs with an eye to all that color that arcs like a rainbow between the bins.

And what a display it is! With the holidays over, poinsettias, Christmas cacti, and amaryllis have given way to staggered rows of African violets, wax begonias, English and devil’s ivy, primroses, snake plants, diffenbachias and dracaenas. Taller selections might include small ficus, potted palms, and bamboo. Orchids provide a touch of the exotic, while cacti and other succulents provide miniature desert settings. The plants fairly sing from the shelves announcing their presences in such a way as to defy the jet stream winds reaching us from the far reaches of the Arctic. I also get very excited every year at this time to see the discount and dollar stores tucking their seed-starting and gardening supplies in amongst the Valentine and St. Patrick’s Day merchandise. Just yesterday, I noticed a tray of peat pellets peeking out at me from the bottom shelf of a local discount store, and I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait before more would appear in a more prominent location. Who would think that the sight of peat pots, potting soil and watering cans could be so gratifying?

While tempted one day last week to select several small house plants from a grocery store display, I resisted the urge, mainly because my indoor cat loves to snack on their leaves. So I opted for a bouquet of cut flowers, and even that posed quite the dilemma, as I would have loved to take them all home with me like so many stray and love-starved shelter kittens. Zinnias, asters, carnations, strawflowers, chrysanthemums, dwarf sunflowers, statice, and Shasta daisies all vied for my attention, plunging me into a sea of floral color the likes of which I won’t see outdoors for some months to come. After some deliberation, I settled on a large spray of dusky pink freesias, and they have graced my table now for some time, chewed leaf tips notwithstanding. I replace the murky water every other day or so, trim back any faded parts, and continue to enjoy this little splash of pink each time I look up from my computer or across from where I sit reading.

My cat has, right on cue, nibbled some at the leaves, giving them a jagged appearance. I worry more about the effects that has on her, but so far, she has exhibited no signs of illness from her unorthodox snacking. I must continue to work with her so that I can gradually reintroduce actual plants into our space and not be in a constant tizzy about their survival. That remains to be seen. But for now, my goal is to keep the vase full all winter, or at least until I can start putting seeds in pots again with an eye toward setting them outside some time in April.

In winter, it does feel at times that nature has taken a vacation like so many who venture south away from the cold and snow. But she is never far away, and right now, no farther than the shelves in the grocery store floral departments, from where she strives to bridge the gap, and colorfully so, between winter and spring.

— Rachel Lovejoy, a freelance writer living in Lyman, who enjoys exploring the woods of southern Maine, can be reached via email at [email protected]


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