by Henry Lane Hull
When I was in high school I vividly recall our neighbor, Mrs. Louise Mallory, telling us one fall afternoon that she was working at her home in Hanover County bringing indoors her late mother’s legacy of 102 house plants. That undertaking was not an easy task, as the plants had to be displayed in such a manner that she could water them throughout the winter months.
The Mallorys had a summer home in the Northern Neck, with their main home being a farm on Route 1 near Ashland. When I-95 was being built, the farm, which Mr. Mallory had cleared from the forest with a mule, was an idyllic bucolic rural setting, still visible from both U.S. I and I-95.
The figure of 102 house plants has remained in my consciousness all these decades later, particularly in the last six weeks as I have brought our own houseplants inside for the cold months. I cannot compete with Mrs. Mallory, but at last count I was at 59, not including the 15 orchids that stay inside year round. I limit the winter display chiefly to the kitchen, with additional placings in the dining room and a bathroom with southern exposure. The plants all seem to like the arrangement, and they continue to thrive indoors.
When the Elder B.E. was in high school, a classmate Facetimed him one evening. During their conversation the friend asked where he was. The B.E. replied, “In our kitchen,” to which the friend said, “It looks like you’re in the jungle,” and those were the days when I only brought in about 40 plants.
The plant matter, I refrain from calling it a “problem,” has grown exponentially over time. Twenty years ago when the late Bert Kuelhorn moved to Williamsburg, he gave us his collection of 15 amaryllis bulbs, remarking that they needed little care other than watering and protection from the cold. They bloom in the late winter and early spring, and the bulbs freely propagate by cloning themselves, necessitating division into new pots.
At about the same time, when opening a grapefruit from the ones sold by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Kilmarnock, I found two fully sprouted seeds. Unable to resist the urge to save them, I put each in a pot and they have thrived. They have graduated into increasingly larger pots, adding to the jungle motif. I have named them Martha and Donna, after Martha Lee and Donna Dull, who manage the annual fruit sales for the church. Unfortunately, neither has bloomed as yet, hence we are awaiting their fruit production.
Without consciously trying on my part, I have developed a bit of a reputation for being a plant nut. In order to preserve our marriage, I have assured my Good Wife that I have no intention of trying to exceed Mrs. Mallory’s record of 102, but from time to time the number does grow by one or two, but nothing at all like that of the onslaught occasioned by Bert Kuelhorn’s magnanimous gift. Granted, in a few weeks I shall be starting some garden seeds indoors, but their time with us will be short until being transplanted to the outdoors.
I remind my Good Wife that the houseplants are working for us by filtering the air, absorbing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, which is perhaps a stretch as she has taken far more advanced science classes than I have, and offering vistas of beautiful flowers and leaves. Thus far, that approach seems to be working efficaciously.
In writing this column I strive for accuracy in what I say. In that regard I now realize that in the headcount of house plants, I inadvertently omitted two in the utility room, thus the correct number should be 61 and not 59. Perhaps one day Mrs. Mallory will fall to second place.