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EXOTIC VISITORS
November 22, 2004
 
Now, what are these things called? Ah, Angel's Trumpet. They arrived last spring, labeled as a white one and a purple one but most unpromising in their first impression: little dry sticks with a few hairy roots at one end. I had seen mature plants at a house in town, and been stunned by the size of the trumpet-shaped flowers -- six, eight inches long, a profusion of them. But here they were, so why not plant them? Greater things have issued from less auspicious beginnings in this world.

The purple one flowered first, after three months or more of waiting: exotic -- nay, extraterrestrial blooms, the likes of which I have never seen, double, triple trumpets nested one inside another. The white one took its time, preferring to concentrate its energies on growing in height instead -- it was almost five feet tall before it proffered its first pearly trumpet, a long single one, not nested or ruffly like its purple cousin. Flowers not native to New Jersey or anywhere else in North America. It's too cold here in the winter.

Which is why you have to bring them inside if you want to keep them going. Wrestling the white Angel Trumpet into the house was a job, and finding a place to put it another: on the floor near a sunny window, so that its tall leaves could find the sun. And purple next to it, sitting on the window seat to keep it company, two foreigners among the geraniums. After an initial shock, they have adjusted to their new homes well, putting forth even more of their strange blooms. I am not sure when their dormant period is. Maybe they don't have one.

The dahlias have to come in, too, and I only got around to digging them up yesterday -- a few remain. Their stems are easily an inch thick, maybe more, and the bizarre-looking tubers must be cut free from them and stored in sand, or layers of newspaper in a coolish but not cold place during the winter. Q says I can use the wine cellar: the dahlias will begin their stay there at about the same time as the Beaujolais Nouveau, and it will be time to bring them forth in the spring at about the same time the last bottle of nouveau is history for another year.

The calla lilies must come in, too: it's too cold for them. They stay in the ground all year in the South, where flowers begin to bloom in early February, while our ground is still frozen hard as a rock and buried under a blanket of white. I envy the southern states their softness in those hard months, visit them and see the grass, the green leaves, the flowers, think of the dry sticks of my garden at home.

Ah, well. We must live happily where we live, dig in the dirt we have: we can't dig in dirt we don't have. It's work to grow things here that are not meant to grow here, to husband them along and protect them. I always wonder a bit about the ethics of doing it at all: who am I to adopt these plants from their tropical homes and make them stare out a window at snow all winter?

The jury is still out on the ethics question. But I am excited: last year's white poinsettia has responded to my careful cycling of light and dark and set its bracts. It will be in bloom in time for Christmas.
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