By Timothy Boudreau
Winter in Growing Zone Four can be challenging, with its bitter cold, terrorizing snow events and inhumanly brief daylight hours.
Here’s the indoor gardener’s must-have list for not only surviving but thriving!
1. Crocodile cactus
This cactus rarely needs watering, and don’t bother with plant food or anything fancy: It’ll sneer in your face. “Perfect for someone with no history of making sensible life choices,” to quote your mom. Hearty and tough, Croc is almost impossible to kill. If you can’t keep it alive—it’s on you, baby.
2. Shenandoah lemon
By January you may experience a gothic dose of seasonal depression, with only fleeting memories of last year’s growing season, during which you flunked out of another Southern college town and landed back in your mom’s friend’s New Hampshire trailer and most of what was planted around the lot died because you forgot to water the goddamn things. Shenandoah lemon offers an uplifting citrus fragrance all winter. Rich mounds of creamy gold blossoms and rounded foliage offer interest on winter Saturday afternoons when Insta is quiet and there’s nothing good on Netflix and you’re chain-munching barbecue Fritos when your big sister in Aruba WhatsApps you photos of the stunning aqua-blue fucking waves.
3. Weeping fig
Along with anthurium and alocasia, weeping fig is a great choice for the small-space indoor gardener. It also pays to maximize window use and vertical space. Even if your current home is a ‘70s-era aluminum single-wide that big sister Eileen calls “Keri’s white trash crash pad.”
4. Heaven’s Breath cyclamen
This cyclamen is a rare, chartreuse-leaved and semi-fictional variety, hyper-perceptive to a household’s emotional fluctuations. In its presence, try not to flash back to your memory of trailing after your mom and sister into the garden, carrying a pink plastic pail and yellow shovel like you were living in a picture book. Try not to fixate either on your present-day life, when everyone on the street knows your history of spectacular if entertaining failure no matter how loudly you play Radiohead through your earbuds. As goes your physiological and spiritual health, so go the cyclamen. Hypothetically, by next spring they’ll produce breathtaking blossoms of azure or vermillion which twist into a wreath to wear on your head when you wander around your sorry yard after several glasses of iced gin.
5. Phantom raspberry
A true dazzler. Pearlescent pink blossoms arrive in mid-winter, morphing to magenta before deepening into rich burgundy. They prefer a bright location no warmer than 70 degrees, with plenty of sunlight. You’ll be tempted to smother them with love, but, like other beings in your life, their thorns draw blood and their foliage may be poisonous. Think of Eileen and her friends, high school-glamorous and kicking your books away from you down the hallway in eighth grade; think of your Southern dorm-mates, spiking your drink after you made fun of their teeth. With Phantom raspberry it’s best to keep a safe distance. Have a drink on the sofa and telepath positive vibes from across the living room.
6. Peace lily
This classic’s placid beauty will brighten the darkest of winter days. It even naturally filters and neutralizes five key toxins. Maybe that’s why they had a giant one in the corner of the function hall on Eileen’s blessed wedding day, where your mom hugged you all, some far more lovingly than others, and your new brother-in-law respectfully declined to dance with you. Where you made do (it was a wedding, you had to) with your second cousin’s boyfriend, and he said he liked your tats and called you a cutie.
Rosemary thrives in a cool, well-ventilated room with at least six hours a day of direct sunlight, but then what doesn’t? Same goes for thyme, basil and parsley. You can move the pots to your deck in spring and have fresh herbs to cook with all year-round, but 1) you don’t have a deck and 2) ever since you forged your mom’s checks last fall no one accepts your dinner invites, so how relevant are fresh herbs anyway?
8. Angel Wing begonia
This begonia is so-named because it grows broad glossy foliage like angel wings. Try not to imagine any connection to the begonias your mom grew in your childhood garden, when your most precious task was caring for them, and though you weren’t as beautiful or intelligent as your big sister at least your mom still thought of you as The Funny One. Please don’t expect to see anything out your trailer window but a field of snow and silence: Angel Wing begonias have an air of the Divine, but no matter how hard you wish on them or what kind of trouble you stumble into or helping hand you may need or wish for the angels are not coming.
Timothy Boudreau’s work appears or is forthcoming at Spelk, Fiction Southeast, Milk Candy Review, Bending Genres and elsewhere. His collection Saturday Night and other Short Stories is available through Hobblebush Books. Find him on Twitter at @tcboudreau or at timothyboudreau.com.
Art by Michelle Johnsen, art editor
Michelle Johnsen is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.