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Get growing: Take care when choosing holiday gift plants

Poinsettia (Close-up)

Poinsettia (Close-up)

Poinsettias are the quintessential holiday plant in traditional red. They come in many sizes and colors other than red. I am fond of the miniatures which I often buy in pairs as a dining table decoration.

Poinsettias are tropical plants, which originated in Mexico. So, they need warmth. If you keep your house below 60 degrees, they probably won’t be happy. They also need some sun or bright light to maintain their color. And they hate drafts. So, think carefully before indulging.

Breeders keep producing new varieties of poinsettia such as ‘Winter Rose’ with puckered bracts, ‘Sonora White Glitter’ with dabs of white on the red bracts and ‘Ice Crystal’ with red and white mottling. The color is all in the bracts or modified leaves rather than in the actual flowers, called cyathia, which are the tiny yellow buds in the center. Don’t ignore those cyathia, however. A good tight cluster of the yellow flowers means your plant will last longer.

Angela Karlovich at Hadley Garden Center said they are getting a delivery of “prinsettias’ this week, a new form with smaller leaves and bracts that are supposed to last longer and be more like a houseplant.

Remember that poinsettias are from Mexico and need warmth. On the other hand, a cool house is ideal for cyclamen, those plants with heart-shaped leaves and bird-like flowers in white, pink, purple or red. These are really my favorite winter flowers.

Last spring I wrote about Eliza Gouverneur of Amherst who has successfully harvested seeds from her indoor plants, sowed them and nurtured nearly 100 seedlings. She gave me one which is now blooming on my kitchen table. It isn’t as compact as the ones bought new from the store because I don’t have greenhouse conditions. Still, the flowers brighten my meals during the holidays. Cyclamen now come in miniature and dwarf sizes as well as standard.

In addition to preferring cool conditions, cyclamen need strong light to flower and they like moist – but not soggy—soil. Many people advise watering them from below to avoid rotting the corm that sits on top of the soil, but I have never had a problem with normal watering techniques.

Azaleas are a little harder to find, but also like cool conditions. Rieger begonias come in red, pink, orange and white and are long-bloomers. I gave one to my daughter-in-law a month ago and she recently sent a photo of it still blooming. It needs good air circulation and likes moist (again, not soggy) soil. Don’t get the leaves wet.

Kalanchoe is becoming more popular as a holiday gift plant. This succulent likes dry soil and warm temperatures. The miniatures are especially delightful.

When you buy a holiday plant, either for yourself or as a gift, make sure it is covered when you leave the store. Even temperatures in the 40s can be fatal for moist tropical plants. A wilting or dead plant is hardly a nice gift! When choosing a gift plant, consider the new owner’s living conditions in terms of light and heat. A cyclamen won’t like a steam-heated apartment while a poinsettia will feel very much at home.

ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNS: “Be Local, Build Local,” an exhibition of architectural designs by local architects, is on view at the A.P.E. Gallery on Main Street, Northampton through Dec. 15. The exhibit is coordinated by WMAIA, the Western Massachusetts chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Visitors to the gallery can participate in the People’s Choice Award by voting for the design they feel most embodies the title of the exhibit. A reception will be held Dec. 14 from 5 to 8 p.m. at which the award will be made. Participants in the award selection will be entered to win a gift certificate from rk MILES, a local building supply store. One of the local residences in the exhibit will be featured in the Dec. 14 Valley Houses column. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday 12 noon to 5 p.m. with Friday hours extended to 8 p.m. The gallery is closed on Monday.

BALSAM CRAFTS: Aimee Gelinas offers a workshop Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. at Tamarack Hollow in Windsor under the auspices of Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. Hike in the Windsor boreal forest, home to balsam firs, the traditional Christmas tree, harvest some branches and return to Tamarack Hollow to make simple craft projects such as a miniature wreath or door hanging. The fee is $20. Register by calling 584-3009. Directions to the site will be given.

MORE GARDEN BOOKS: Several garden books ordered on interlibrary loan arrived after the deadline for last week’s column on garden books for holiday giving. So I’ll mention one a week for the next couple of weeks. First is “1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die,” edited by Rae Spencer-Jones and published by Barron’s in 2012. More than 200 pages of this nearly 1,000 page book are devoted to gardens in Great Britain, understandable for many reasons including the fact most of the writers are British. Only 100 pages are devoted to gardens in North America, including Canada. I was disappointed that the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens were omitted and Chanticleer in Pennsylvania was given short shrift. It seems a bit odd to me to lump all the “island gardens” together at the end of the book. I’m not sure linking Guernsey, Mallorca, Barbados and the Seychelles (on different continents) makes a great deal of sense. There are some gorgeous and intriguing gardens in this book especially in South Africa, China and Japan. There are also some gems in Italy, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Russia and Iran. I’m not apt to get to any of them given my age, but I never would have seen the full 1,001 even if I had set out to do so at age 20. Still, if you are planning a trip this would be useful in seeking gardens anywhere in the world. There are many, even in England with which I am fairly familiar, that are unknown to me. And yes, I am planning another trip to English gardens. Maybe this will inspire you to travel to a country that wasn’t originally on your dream list.

TOWER HILL DIRECTOR: Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston announced this week that Katherine F. Abbott is the new director succeeding John Trexler who retired last spring. Abbott is a former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and has been interim president of The Trustees of Reservations. Tower Hill is owned by the Worcester Horticultural Society, founded in 1842. The botanic garden opened in the late 1980s. Abbott is a graduate of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University.

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