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The Miracle of Winter Flowers

Houseplants can be a cheering, freshening presence during the cold, dark season.

The miracle of winter flowers

I love my outdoor garden, and I spend my winters blissfully planning its spring debut. But the main reason I keep my nose safely buried in a seed catalog is that I have never been a successful indoor gardener. My houseplant failures are too many to count—and one, where I failed to sustain a precious plant that had been kept alive since my husband’s great-grandmother gave it to him on the occasion of his birth, was utterly heartbreaking.

Since I lost that plant three years ago, I stopped trying to grow anything indoors. I know houseplants can be a cheering, freshening presence during the cold, dark season. But why bother trying again after so many discouraging outcomes?

This Thanksgiving, my aunt brought me a kalanchoe plant that was bursting with tiny, multi-colored flowers. It was extremely hardy, she said, and it would flower again. How nice, I thought…for someone with an indoor green thumb. I enjoyed the plant immensely, taking pleasure in what I was sure was a temporarily green, living plant.

But then the strangest thing happened. Walking by the plant recently, I noticed something I’d scarcely ever seen on any houseplant under my care—new growth. I watered the plant and started checking it every day. Sure enough, more growth. And this week, amazingly, I saw the plump, pointy beginnings of flower buds.

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Succulent plants like kalanchoe are indeed hardy and low-maintenance—an excellent category for any novice indoor gardener. I will likely soon visit the succulent section at my garden center.  

Meanwhile, I’ve taken an important lesson from my surprise houseplant success. I’ve been reminded of a hallmark of what makes gardening such a satisfying, even mystical pursuit—past failure is not a reliable predictor of future performance. Who knows why so many other plants died under my care—poor light, too much or too little water, the wrong pot or soil?

In the end, it doesn’t matter. The process of cultivating any living thing means staying engaged, tolerating failure, and having hope that some series of mysterious, ineffable factors might align in your favor. Your reward, when that happens, is a burst of color in a dark season, a delightfully surprising breath of freshness to carry you through to spring.

I’d love to hear your indoor gardening stories. What are your favorite houseplants?

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