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Apartment gardening

crassula

In case it’s not obvious from the empty house pictures: we haven’t moved into the house yet. We’re still in our apartment for the time being. It’s a good little apartment, and I’ll definitely miss the view. One major drawback of this apartment, though: no private outdoor area. There’s a communal spot out back, with clotheslines, but no individual balconies or anything like that. So our potted plant collection has been growing.

No, it will never get old hearing Australians refer to them as “pot plants.”

I’m totally a gardening rookie. I regularly turn to Jamie’s mum and sisters for advice, who in turn learned a lot from their aunties and countless gardening books. Coming from the desert, I had to adapt to these things called “seasons.” Even in the windowsill, there’s still a good amount of change in temperature and sunlight hours. My plants aren’t anything spectacular, sure, but I’m quietly proud that these ones aren’t dead.

This window in the living room is the largest and it’s north-facing, which means it’s primo plant territory. Most of my chili plants live here. They were one of the first things I wanted to grow, because chili pepper selection is sadly lacking in Australia, especially if you’re from the southwestern US and you’re accustomed to the many dried chiles available at your local supermercado. I miss Mexican groceries, you guys. It wasn’t until recently that jalapenos were available locally. True story.

I have two habanero plants, which I got as seedlings in one of those “let’s face it, you are probably not going to successfully grow chili peppers in Tasmania” summer clearance sales. They were from different nurseries, and they seem to be different varieties: one loses its leaves and sulks all winter, while the other is thriving through the cold. That’s my delicate one above, on the left, back in autumn. The first year, it didn’t produce much, but the second year I got quite a few habaneros off it. It’s my special little guy.

The plant on the right is a cayenne, or a Thai chili, I’m not sure. Its peppers are usually 3-4 inches long and they’re very hot. I have two of them, because when it comes to plants that I really want to survive, I tend to get in pairs because what if one of them dies?? Both those chilis have survived two winters, though! When all the chilis move with us to the house, I’ll keep them outside in summer and bring them inside in winter.

The newer and more cold-resistant of my two habaneros. It was the last habanero sprout at the nursery, marked down to $2, all holey and bug-eaten but still healthy. This was taken not long after I potted him.

Mishka has been very good about not eating our pepper plants. She has a few pots of her own that she can chew on all she likes. Why eat this boring thing when you can nom on catnip and the monster lemongrass?

These guys live in our bedroom windowsill. That’s the sad habanero sprout above, but a little more growed up. That plant can deal with the cold windowsill, and the direct sun helps a lot too – it’s been putting on leaves ALL WINTER. It’s doing way better than its wussy cousin. The green fruit on it is orange now, but I haven’t tested how spicy it is yet. (ETA: Not even half as spicy! Pity.)

Also hanging out is a little pot of cat grass, for certain grass-gnawing cats, and a little echeveria that I’m saving for a succulent patch down the track. I’m going to reuse that turquoise pot for my baby bonsai.

Meet my very teensy baby bonsai. This is an older photo, so it’s put on a few leaves since then. Imagine it more filled in, but not really any bigger.

This tiny tree is a serissa, or ‘tree of a thousand stars’. It doesn’t like the cold, so that’s why it doesn’t live on the windowsill. In proper bonsai technique, you let ‘em grow in the ground to thicken up in the trunk first, but bonsai seems like one of those pursuits where you either do it right or you don’t bother, so, looks like I’ll just keep it as is for now.

Some of these plants are just hanging out until they can go into the house garden. We bought this lime tree last September and it used to live with Jamie’s sister, in her backyard, until she moved halfway up a mountain and we figured it would be happier inside our house for the time being. It’s a Tahitian lime on a dwarf rootstock, because full-size lime trees get big. I’ve helped prune my parents’ lime tree in their yard, it sucks, I don’t recommend it at all. This little tree is another thorny, needy goddamn citrus tree that wilts at the mention of cold weather, but hey, I love the idea of having limes growing in our backyard one day and its blossoms smell fantastic.

The red spiky plant, the ‘Red Star’ cordyline, was originally a much larger plant that was half-dead and clearanced for stupidly cheap. I’d already been planning to get at least one cordyline eventually, but I saw this one and thought, what the hell, I’ll see what happens. It had crown rot, so I pulled off all the dead and dying fronds, cut off the diseased bit of the crown, and sprayed it down with copper fungicide. New fronds began growing on the side, into a very healthy offshoot. Success! When it’s bigger, it’ll go in the yard somewhere.

That’s our monster lemongrass on the right. It’s like, four feet tall and we’ve had it for two years. We use it for tea and soup and stuff, but our cat definitely likes it the most.

It’s fun, figuring out which succulents like the weather in Tassie. This one’s a crassula tetragona, it thrives on neglect. Someone brought it to the tip shop and now it’s mine. It looks like little palm trees! So cool.

The one annoying thing about apartment gardening is when you do get pests. It’s like, how the hell did I get spider mites indoors? With no natural predators, the little bastards spread and flourish.

Somehow we got aphids, and I tried for well over a year to get rid of them using all the organic soft options until I gave up and sprayed Confidor on all the plants. I wouldn’t use it outdoors, ever, since it kills bees, and I didn’t spray any of the plants that our cat eats, but here it got the job done. The plants were littered with little white aphid corpses. For this infestation, the nuclear option was definitely the way to go. Suck it, aphids.

Even though we’ll have a yard next summer, I’ll still keep plants inside. It makes our apartment feel welcoming and lived-in, or at least I think so. I’m already thinking about what trees would go well in pots. I’ve learned a bit from apartment gardening, with chilies, succulents and a watchful cat all in one space.

This one is going to love having a outdoor garden too.

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