Gifts of the present

Fun garden-type things you can do now

The 2015 gardening season is history, and the 2016 season is a mystery. What we have now is November and the end of daylight saving time. Er, pardon me. What we have now is the present. Here are a few ideas for things you can do now that will be fun, brighten up your space, make great holiday presents or all of the above.

Air plants: These are bromeliads that grow without soil, getting the water and nutrients they need through their leaves. They just need regular misting (or soaking) and occasional fertilizer. Their roots attach them to trees, rocks or the ground in the wild. When you find them in stores or online, they’re often affixed to rocks, shells driftwood or, in Tarpon Springs, Florida, natural sponge. You can even have one nestled into a wine cork on a magnet on your refrigerator.  You can buy a kit with one or more air plants, a glass terrarium and a variety of decorative elements – rocks, moss, shells, stones and sand, to name a few. Most of the terrariums I’ve seen are flat-bottomed but also have a loop for hanging; some kits even include a string or chain. I bought an apple-shaped glass terrarium, covered the bottom with small shells collected on past beach walks and gently anchored an air plant in the shells. It hangs by a length of ribbon in front of the window over the kitchen sink. I like seeing that bit of tropical cheer each day.

Ornamental pepper plants: These plants are not to be confused with the kind you start indoors or buy at a nursery, plant outside in the spring and nurture into small bell-pepper-bearing trees. The ornamental pepper plant, known botanically as Capsicum annuum, is quite happy in a pot in a sunny spot, preferably in a south window. Their multicolored fruits look like holiday ornaments. Are the peppers edible? I would avoid eating the peppers on a commercially grown one. Having been grown as an ornamental, the plant is likely to have been treated with systemic pesticides that wouldn’t have been used on a food crop. Also, be aware that these peppers tend to be hotter than, well, blazes. That said, what’s to stop a practical and adventurous gardener from buying some ornamental pepper seeds, growing them indoors under a good plant light and nurturing your own plants with potentially edible peppers? You can choose among several varieties, including the non-pungent Medusa, the culinary and ornamental Prairie Fire (which is, as its name indicates, hot) and Black Pearl (also very hot).

Pretty pots: You can find plain terra cotta flowerpots of all sizes at craft stores and garden centers. These can be decorated with paint, ribbons, stencils, stickers and more for future planting. It can be a great way to display those buttons Grandma collected over the decades – buttons you’ll never use on a garment but can’t bear to discard. It’s yet another use for those shells gathered in Florida. You can find plenty of ideas and instructions on Pinterest and elsewhere on the Web. Or you can go retro and wander the aisles at a craft or art supply store.

Cutting up: My friend Leah Bradley, upcycler supreme, uses mismatched mugs, glasses or small containers of any sort to grow cuttings from her houseplants. Then she gives them as gifts. To help with drainage, she suggests putting a layer of pebbles or small rocks at the bottom of the container before adding soil. Or you can poke holes in the bottom of a plastic cup and nest that inside a pretty, slightly larger container. “I bet everyone has something in their pantry or fridge they can save and use for this,” she says.

Grow, create, give – and if you find that daylight we “saved” over the summer, be a sport and share it with the rest of us.

First appeared in the November 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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