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With changing seasons, gardens and homes make changes, too


Storyteller Marideth Sisco shares her recent experience of trying to bring her garden and houseplants inside for the winter before the hard freeze.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. I don’t know about you, but today I’m still in recovery from the mad dash to rescue too many house plants, all in their end of summer prime from their forever nemesis, the take-no-prisoners, Sir Jackson Frost.

First of the week I was out in the rain rifling the last remaining tomato plants for the very last black cherries and black Krims, my current nominees for best ‘maters on earth. And being astonished, as I have been every year I’ve been a gardener, at how many emotions are aroused at the reliable changing of the seasons. The nostalgia we feel at the massive planet-wide retreat of the plants’ chlorophyll that brought us summer’s green, but whose exit reveals the true colors of autumn - the hickory’s burnished gold, the lusty scarlet ruffles of the sumac - “Shoemake” as my grandmother would have it - and the brash orange sassafras, the incandescent, breathtaking maples. And everywhere the sweet and prim fall asters are popping up in unexpected places, taking their moment on stage at last after spending a whole summer in the wings.

 What a lovely sweet apology for the passing of summer’s warmth and the end of this yearly harvest’s bounty. But then Monday there was suddenly no time to waste. The gleaning of crops large and small was suddenly in competition with end of garden chores, disconnecting and draining hoses, gathering, cleaning and storing tools, closing crawl spaces and vents, the frenzied cutting of the last fall flowers, the zinnias and cosmos, the last pickings of crowders and whippoorwill peas, the last veggies - and all those houseplants, the lazy beggars.

 They’ve spent the entire summer lounging on the porch, touching up their finery, and, if we were foolish enough to feed them, burgeoning into lush beauties. Mine were fully half again as large and full as when we all staggered out in spring, puny from winter ills and lack of exercise, lanky and pale. They left plenty of space for their eventual return, we thought, and actually missed them when they retired to the front porch’s cozy shade and left the house feeling spare and a little empty.

It sure doesn’t feel like that now.

Those lazy vacationers returned with so much added heft, many needed pots a size up, a root trim, and foliage brutally knocked back to some version that would fit through the front door.

Now, all trimmed and tidied up, they’re enjoying another kind of cozy, having escaped the first round of old Jack’s wrath. Meanwhile we plant EMTs, who came to their timely rescue, are limping and staggering around, trying to recover from dragging and lifting their hefty summer’s girth, not to mention, in my case the added chore of cobbling together enough window-side shelving with hopefully enough good light to get them through.

I moved, remember, from a roomy country house with lots of windows to a much more modest house in town with a reasonable number of windows, except that half of them are facing north. Not a gardener’s first choice.
Fortunately, I am also gifted with a few kindhearted and sympathetic friends who agreed to either foster or claim outright some of the hardest to place. Kathleen took the tall angel wing begonias, Vickie a rangy spider plant and a compact and well-behaved geranium, and the folks at cardiac rehab who are taking the largest and healthiest pup from my giant Aloe. It is, on its own, offering a litter of new pups. I’m keeping one of those and passing the mom to Daegan to foster. She’ll plant the rest.

But there’s still a problem, in the form of a rowdy and totally out of control teenager - a night blooming cereus that has been known to grow 10 feet or more of new branches in a year. Now if you have either the room to let it go free-range or the heart to hack it back ruthlessly, you may be rewarded some warm summer evening with an enchanting scent that I’m pretty sure originated somewhere in heaven. In fact, I actually begged a cutting after experiencing this aroma in the back garden of a friend. It has bloomed for me once in four years. I was out of town that evening and came home to a drying and faintly aromatic husk.

But you’ll note I’m still growing it. It was worth it. But there’s just too much of it. It has outgrown me. So if you’re not already put off by my description, and you’re up for a challenge, and you live somewhere in These Ozarks Hills reachable by mail delivery, I will happily share a cutting. Just contact me through the station.

Whether or not if, like me, you’re recovering from houseplant-itis, it’s probably time to stop for a cuppa your tea of choice to enjoy those already fading colors and scents of autumn - and those lucky green freeloaders who’ve come to spend the winter next to a sunny window in your warm, cozy home. They’ll expect a drink or two, but they’ll repay by cleaning your stuffy winter air, popping up with a sweet winter flush of blooms now and then, and, wonder of wonders, they bring their own oxygen. You’ll appreciate them more after the cold deepens, and of course, once you finish picking up after them and getting the dirt out of the carpet, and your fingernails.
Happy Houseplant Return, y’all.


Marideth is a Missouri storyteller, veteran journalist, teacher, author, musician and student of folklore focusing on stories relevant to Ozarks culture and history. Each month, she’s the voice behind "These Ozarks Hills.” Sisco spent 20 years as an investigative and environmental writer for the West Plains Quill and was well known for her gardening column, “Crosspatch,” on which her new book is based. Sisco was a music consultant and featured singer in the 2010 award-winning feature film “Winter's Bone.”