Friday, February 4, 2011

Annuals as houseplants


The little self-sown plant of Torenia fournieri shown in an earlier entry reminded me of several things. Old books often mention annuals which are suitable for use as house plants. I’m surprised that more people do not do this: if plants from the summer garden, plants about to go down to freezes, are used, it’s very inexpensive. I’m not writing here about rooting cuttings of tender perennials such as geraniums or coleus to keep them from year to year. I’m writing here about plants selected for their potential bloom on winter window sills or under grow lights.

I get the impression that up until about the time of the Second World War, the plant we now call impatiens (Impatiens × wallerana ) was widely grown as a house plant and little used as a garden plant. I’ve seen others recommended for this use, too: nasturtiums, morning glories, and, more sensibly, anything small and compact.

I’ve even seen marigolds (Tagetes) recommended. In fact, this might very well be the first plant ever recommended for this use. As long ago as 1543, Leonhard Fuchs, in the German edition of his herbal, mentions that marigolds were brought into rooms where they bloomed at Christmas and on into the winter. I wonder what mid-sixteenth century German rooms were like – especially in the winter. The windows were probably very small, and the room in general gloomy: that would be just the sort of setting in which a blooming marigold would provide a bit of welcome  brightness, wouldn’t it?

In the image above you can see the text from Fuchs. I’ve taken this from my copy of the modern xerographic reproduction of 1964 by the Munich publisher Konrad K├Âlbl

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