This column comes too late to advise Black Friday shoppers, not that I necessarily believe in a holiday tradition whereby the family gobbles Thanksgiving dinner and then, instead of a brisk game of touch football in the yard, dons sneakers and races off to the nearest mall for some pre-Christmas bargain shopping. If you are looking for gifts for gardeners, you can relax at home on Black Friday with a good book or a binge-watch of “Great British Garden Revival” and wait to head out on an alternative Green Friday to look for a living plant for a gift. This is a much more pleasant endeavor for several reasons, among them the opportunity to breathe for a brief period greenhouse air, moist and tropical, with faint scents of blossoms and earth that we in Northern climates miss so much once the ground is frozen and the super-heated air in our homes becomes desert dry.

There are some who would say that giving a living plant as a gift is right up there with giving a puppy. The responsibility! The guilt, should it croak! But I say, don’t worry about it — most gardeners are familiar with crop failure and, if the plant doesn’t thrive, it can have a brief but happy life and, then, off to the compost with it. Try to select a plant that will have a chance to thrive even briefly under any conditions, but don’t, under any circumstances, give a plant that has a scent. This includes paperwhites, jasmine and even the ubiquitous lavenders; one person’s notion of a delightful fragrance is another’s idea of overpowering eau de litter box sanitizer. This is why those dramatic amaryllis and poinsettia are so popular as holiday gifts: all the showy blooms and holiday color without the questionable fragrance. Ditto orchids, scentless, easy-care bloomers that, once they reach the empty-stick phase of their life, can also be tossed. Sure, if cared for, they’ll bloom again, as will amaryllis, but unless your giftee has a good friend who lives in sub-tropic Florida and is willing to adopt these dormant plants and leave them outside, where they will live happily ever after, don’t feel bad about giving these plants with explicit Do Not Resuscitate instructions.



If you are giving a houseplant that is intended to add some greenery to an interior space, there are a lot with minimal care requirements that have a new look to them. You’re probably familiar with such old standbys as rubber plants, rattlesnake plant and hoyas, all of which are easy to grow but previously something only your grandmother would love. Breeders now have more colorful varieties available such as a ruby rattlesnake plant whose large, dark green leaves are variegated with tones of white, purple, and red. Hoya “Rubra” is a wax plant that has variegated leaves that blend shades of green, creamy yellow, and pink on its reddish rope-like stems. Boring old dracena now comes with blades of variegated foliage, narrow chartreuse leaves striped with contrasting dark green, a revived look that brightens up a low-light corner. And that sad, vining philodendron now has a striking relative, the non-vining “Congo Rojo.” The broad, thick, dark green leaves grow on sturdy reddish stems. New, unfolding leaves are deep burgundy with red-purple stems. “Congo Rojo” is a large, vigorous plant, growing to three or four feet, so it can add architectural interest to a room. Contrary to appearances, it requires very little maintenance, thrives in bright indirect light, and can move to a shady outdoor spot in summer.

If you’d like to give a blooming plant that both novice and experienced gardeners will enjoy, a streptocarpus, or Cape primrose, is a good choice. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed this plant, which was introduced to me by a South African friend many years ago. They are profuse bloomers, relatives of the African violets that grow in the mountainous, wooded ravines of South Africa, where they are shaded from the heat and intensity of the sun. Their open-faced blooms come in the same deep blues and purples of African violets but they have dark green, strap-shaped leaves rather than the furry ones of the violets. As a houseplant, streptocarpus prefers the same growing conditions it finds in the wild, bright but indirect light and day and night temperatures of 60 to 75 degrees year-round.