Two Novembers ago I was set straight by Jane Callan, who tends the flowers in The Star’s windows, as I was bemoaning the season that was falling into “the sere, the yellow leaf.” Winter, she said, to the contrary, was not a sad time — not a sad time for a lover of flowers, at any rate — but a time of renewal, a time for gathering strength “so that they’ll come back even stronger and bigger than they were before.”
There is a wonderful resilience in nature that is eminently evident to anyone who has ever had a plant, but too few of us, she thinks, really pay attention. “Most people,” she said during a conversation this week, “want the plant to be where they want it to be, not where it wants to be. I see that a lot when I go into people’s homes.”
She traces her love of plants to her childhood when she visited greenhouses in New Jersey. She likes to see them grow and thrive. She won’t go so far as to say they speak to her, but by keeping an eye out she is attentive to their needs, which, she says, are not great. The flowering kind basically need proper light, proper water, and to be free from stress — just as we do, in order to live long lives.
“I can see that that one,” she said, pointing toward a hibiscus in the window, “needs a drink.”
Anybody passing by this office can tell that these plants, which include the aforementioned hibiscus, gardenia, jasmine, and citrus tree-form “standards,” as well as cyclamens, roses, begonias, lantanas, bougainvillea, and flowering cacti, are where they want to be, and that The Star truly “shines for all” in their case.
“I’m not sure what direction the sun is coming from,” she said in answer to one of my questions, “but they like it, and they like the cool nights. In the summer, I take them home and keep them outside in the pots so that they can have the sun, fresh air, and the rain to wash over them.”
Interestingly, she keeps no plants in her own house. “There’s no light. Because of the overhangs. It was built in the ’60s.” Were she to do so, her plants would languish, merely exist, rather than live.
“I feel sorry for the plants I’ve seen that haven’t been properly cared for. You can tell — they look scraggly, sapped of strength. Most people don’t know what they’re supposed to look like . . . they’re just there. They’re thought of as a design element. It’s always a problem: Who are you thinking of? The plant? Or yourself?”
A question we all, or most of us anyway, could take to heart.