The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making

SURVIVOR (A Follow-up to the Great Plant Experiment)


Back in November – yes, November – I left for Cedar Key, FL and left my 30+ houseplants behind not-to-die and not in anyone’s care. I set them up with water and had many pep talks before saying good bye and good luck. We shut down our house – drained the pipes, turned off the heat, etc. I returned March 20th at 3 am. Did they make it?

Well, yes, and no. Yes, they had sufficient water and I believe sort of went into a dormant state because of low light levels. There was also a glitch – the heat didn’t actually get turned off … until our propane ran out. No, because unbeknownst to me this winter would decide to freeze below the safe zone of our frost line. (My experiment relied heavily upon the fact that my plants were stored in our cellar below the frost line.)

They froze.



My orchids are black.


The orchids I won’t give up hope on – they may send up a new shoot like this one that traveled to Florida with me (with the hope of finding a new home, but that didn’t work out). I scorched it in my new greenhouse – it was black, too. But a few months in the sunshine state and look (below)! I stick to my story that orchids are tough, tough plants.


My Jade and aloe (Medusa) were mush. I took a few cuttings of the Jade that looked okay (but aren’t looking good now) to start a new plant. I was deeply saddened about the Jade – I would have thought it to be one of the hardier plants.


I also saved a few parts of Medusa – she may make a comeback. I am saddened about her, too – she was so glorious.



Medusa before

My Rosemary is petrified. I declare it dead. It isn’t the first Rosemary I’ve murdered.


So, what is the tally?


Violets (compost)

Peace lilies (although I cut these back and will give them a few weeks to see if there is any new growth)

Begonias (same treatment: cut back, wait and see)

Spider plant (same, also saved a cutting to try to root)

Croton (compost)

Philodendrons (compost)

Cactus (compost)


Succulents (not pretty but hopeful for a comeback)


Orchids (Comeback remains to be seen.)

Terrariums (Alive but ugly – that’s okay, I’m going to whittle down to one gorgeous terrarium.)

Rubber Tree (Still drooping but has leaves – hopeful.)

Shamrock (I always cut this back when I bring it indoors/outdoors summer and it always rejuvenates.)

Shefflera (Damaged, but I think it will be okay! That’s it below next to the Norfolk Pine.)


Norfolk Pine – Looks gorgeous!


Christmas (Easter) Cactus – blooming!


I believe all of the damage to be frost bite. Next trip perhaps I can rig up some type of heat source or find a heated area to store what remains of my plants. The watering system of both ceramic spikes and simple strips of cotton fabric worked wonderfully. All the pots had adequate moisture in the soil, that is why I’m hopeful for a few comebacks.

In conclusion, I will not be buying any more houseplants. I will buy plants that can go dormant, however. The canna lily bulbs all look good and I’ll be soaking them in water and potting them up soon to get them going again.

Thanks to all of you who sent good wishes to my plants. I need to give some of them a little more time before declaring the experiment a failure. It wasn’t a total failure but I’m not thrilled with the success rate either. Think green!


Author: Kathy Sturr

Cultivating art, growing soul, and creating plant-based food in the beautiful 1000 Islands, New York and Cedar Key, Old Florida.

17 thoughts on “SURVIVOR (A Follow-up to the Great Plant Experiment)

  1. Oh Kathy I think this was a great success as they had a bit of heat, lots of water, some light and dormancy. The only problem unforeseen was the chill and freezing….jade are temperamental so I would guess it would die. My uncle had one growing in his CA garden where it was usually warm and grew huge….mine would hate even a draft in my apartments and die.

    Here’s to learning and trying again.

  2. Kathy sorry to hear about your house plants. I have been retired and spending winters in Florida for the last few years and have had the same results with my house plants as you have. I try to think of it as my plants retiring too. I killed a few the first year. I have given away some who survived but I have whittled down my collection to one milk crate that can be brought in and out of guest rooms (traveling to & from FL). If it will not fit in my crate it gets given away. When I arrive in FL I always treat myself to a trip to the garden center and treat myself to a few inexpensive flowering plants to enjoy for the next few months. I think of this as my long lived bouquets to myself for the winter. When I leave I give them away to neighbors & friends. I have even put “give aways” out at the curb like the “Zucchini Lady” in Fisher’s Landing. Good luck with your new whittled down indoor garden. You will miss your houseplants but I think, the warm weather, sunshine & tropical views are well worth it.

    • Elayne, what a great idea that I think I will adopt (to the dismay of my husband). I enjoyed having my two orchids with me this year – why not a milk crate? I can give plants to our local co-op this year for the store so I have already found a home for any that bounce back. I guess my problem is that many of my plants are quite large. The Norfolk Pine I will keep as I hope to plant it one day in my tropical garden. (; I agree, escaping Winter is worth the sacrifice!

  3. Well, it was a grand experiment and you learned lots! Onward, ho! 😉

  4. If your house were heated, your basement would certainly have stayed above freezing, but when none of the building is heated, well, even below the frostline I think it would have frozen, no matter what, because the cold from the upper floors would make its way down to the basement. But I tend to agree with Elayne, the loss of a few houseplants is worth being able to winter in Florida. Thank you for reporting on the results of your experiment.

    • Thank you Kathy. I should have consulted with you beforehand. Honestly, I am a little relieved. I had way too many houseplants. I would like to keep only five really stunning houseplants. I’m not sure if I will ever get there but it would make me, and the plants, happy. Yes, I agree, too – Florida vs. houseplants and Florida wins!

  5. I had to make the comment above about Eliza-she always knows just “what” to say to lift spirits!
    I am so sorry-Kathy!!!
    They are like your “old” friends go back home and expect to see them again. I would not give up yet-they just might make a come back.
    I gave up on house plants a long time ago with my cats. They were eating them and decided it was best to not have them in the house for the cats were trying to dig in them or mess around with their leaves. I do have some of my summer bulb types stuff I take inside, for example, elephant ears and banana plants. Cats leave them alone since they are just too big!
    I have crocus and reticulated iris up in the garden, but the bunnies are eating some of my spring blooms-grrrrrr!!!

    • I agree Robbie, YOU AND ELIZA know how to lift spirits. I am saddened Robbie – just as I was to give up my fish tank but I try to think of it this way – I am making room for new things. I am excited to work on my pond this year (which will be my new fish tank), and I am excited to learn about new plants that I can keep in my cellar totally dormant while I’m away – Elephant ears and bananas sound promising because I think they can be overwintered in a dormant state. I saw my bunny yesterday – running from the feral ? cat. Both made it through winter. I’m wondering if my bird absence is due to the cat. I would take bunnies over that cat. I used a spray last year that worked well – just make sure if you use a spray that it contains rotten eggs – Putrescent Whole Egg Solids or some derivation thereof and not coyote urine – cruel. I am supposed to post about the spray I use because they sent it to me for a review. I will do that this year because I keep my word. I’ll try to find the bottle and let you know the name of it!

      • My old punk use to take care of the bunnies, it was horrible when she found their nest-no detials! but you know where it went with a dog:-(
        I look forward to reading your reviews, that would be useful for the bunnies are a problem in my garden!
        I am having to learn how to grow some things that make it in my area outside. This Global Warming is making a difference in how I garden over the past few years!

      • The spray is Eco Safe Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent. Warning, it really stinks! But that’s also why it works I’m thinking. I don’t call it global warming because it certainly isn’t warming here – CLIMATE CHANGE although I can think of a few better, more appropriate names with more impact ha ha! It’s affected how I garden, too.

  6. So brave of you! It’s good to weed out the weak and make room for new…I think. Thanks for sharing your experiment , It taught me and I’m sure others how strong or weak certain plants can be.

    • Why you’re welcome Matt. I wish the experiment would have had better results but it was a doozy of a cold spell. I didn’t know Easter/Christmas cactuses were so hardy! Still I’m glad I was not here to endure the winter. Things are looking up, though – high of 55°F predicted for tomorrow!

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