Late last fall, I found fresh trimmings from the garden’s grape vines in the compost pile and decided to experiment. I made cuttings, put them in a jar of water on the kitchen counter, and let them be. Over the course of a couple of months, these sticks began to bulge with roots and
then shoots—and now leaves of a delicate pale green. Decoratively speaking, they make a lovely living centerpiece for the table. I’m hoping I can eventually get them to grow more permanently in a pot on our balcony as well. I have in mind the stories of homegrown wine in Greenwich Village: Italian families bringing grape vines from Italy, growing them up the outside walls of their buildings, and pressing their own wines. A truly local production.
Other winter projects are taking place on windowsills, inside cabinets, and on top of the refrigerator. For instance, I’m growing ferns! Thanks to a class in propagation, I now have a mound of fern prothalli growing in a sealed plastic cup. These heart-shaped, leaflike organisms are where eggs and sperm meet (given a droplet of water falling exactly in the right spot for a sperm to swim to an egg) and reproduce to form a sporophyte that grows into a fern plant. The spores of the Osmunda regalis are startlingly blue-green (though only the green shows up in the photo below) and thus photosynthetic.
Oyster mushrooms occupy the top of the refrigerator where it is warm and dimly lit. These sculptural fungi are highly decorative. I put them on a table in late afternoon and the setting sun flamed out around their votive-like caps. Quick and easy to grow, they also make an
excellent indoor gardening project for preschoolers. Oyster mushrooms have a fairly strong smoky—and of course, oyster-y— taste, so they are not necessarily ideal for the taste buds of young children. For everyone else, I’ve found preparing them in a vegetable broth with some miso and wine (I happened to use sherry in a recent concoction) helps balance the smokiness while bringing out the intense earthiness of this mushroom.
In the cabinet over the fridge, a bulb-forcing operation is taking place. In the same plant propagation class, I learned to scoop a hyacinth bulb. By wounding all the scales with a sharpened spoon edge or pen knife, a wound response is triggered, leading to the growth of
adventitious bulblets. A sealed baggie keeps the bulb happily humid although it also makes for a nice environment for fungi. When mold developed, I thought that would be that, but a dusting with fungicide gave the bulblets a chance to grow.
When a friend needed to bring her summer garden indoors, she invited me to handle the succulents that she could no longer fit on her apartment windowsills. That has been inspiring me to understand them better, learn their names, and create miniature succulent scenes. It’s a little like setting up a dollhouse—and presents another way to engage kids with plants during the winter. Placing stones and shells is something three- and four-year-olds can’t seem to resist.