The House of Plants

The Home of Mr. & Mrs. Martin Whenal

By Dorothy Dean Holman

The Shoreliner, January 1952, Vol. II, No. VII, pgs. 42 & 43

THE WINDOWS of the Whenal home in North Hampton are filled with blossoming house plants. Denying that she has a "green thumb", Mrs. Whenal attributes her success with even the most temperamental varieties to "just luck". African violets are a specialty with her. She has twenty named varieties, in all stages of growth.

There's a little Cape Cod style house situated just around a bend on Mill Road in North Hampton that causes you to slow down and take a second look as you drive by. In this house are twenty-one windows -- and twenty of them are filled with house plants. It is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Whenal, and the plants are Mrs. Whenal's pride and joy. And well they may be, for each sturdy and healthy specimen thrives and blossoms under her watchful care.

There are flowers everywhere -- on the lower sill, on the upper sill, on brackets on the side, in hanging pots, on stands in front of the windows, and on the mantel and end tables. They lend a decorative touch to the room, providing just the right splashes of color to make it bright and cheery.

Mrs. Whenal has always loved flowers. When she was two years old, her mother kept her out of mischief by giving her a basket and turning her loose in the fields to pick wild flowers. As she grew older, she transplanted wild flowers from the woods to her yard and called it her "garden". Every year her favorite birthday gift in May was a basket of pansies which she set out and tended herself, allowing no one else to touch them.

"I guess I have about every kind of plant there is," Mrs. Whenal says in her slow, quiet way. That is easy to believe, for among her collection are to be found various tyres of cacti, succulents, geraniums, begonias, coleus, African violets and gloxinias, as well as many rare and little known plants, and Mrs. Whenal knows them all by either the botanical or common name!

A huge Christmas cactus, its stems an inch in diameter, stands in a north window of the living room. "That's as old as my John," says Mrs. Whenal, "and he'll be twenty-three in Julv." She is referring to her son who is a member of the Armed Forces and has been stationed on Okinawa for the past year. In a recent letter to his mother he wrote, "I suppose my room is a jungle by now!"

A rosary vine, the "beads" plainly visible, hangs in the same window with the Christmas cactus. These "beads" are the plant's bulbs, which appear along the stems among the leaves. Appropriately enough, a Crown of Thorns plant nearby is aglow with its tiny orange-scarlet bloom.

Mrs. Whenal laughs as she tells of an Easter lily cactus she used to have. A particularly spiny variety, it once pricked Mr. Whenal as he brushed by it while doing some carpentry work in the breezeway. Soon afterwards, Mrs. Whenal missed it and learned that her husband had boarded it up inside the partition. "I put it where it wouldn't prick any one else," he explained.

There are plants everywhere, in living room, dining room and kitchen. They even spill over into the breezeway, where Mrs. Whenal has them "hardening", preparatory to their summer vacation in the garden. She believes that plants, like people, appreciate a change, so all but the violets and gloxinias and a few other tender varieties, are set outside under shrubbery, in the rock garden, or placed in the ground in a border among the perennials. "I have to put them out," she says, laughing, "Otherwise I couldn't open the windows."

A particularly beautiful gloxinia, which Mrs. Whenal raised from a leaf, has twenty crimson blossoms on it with more buds yet to open. The leaves on this plant are immense, some of them measuring six by eight inches. A white gloxinia occupying a stand by itself has a spread of two feet. Last year this one had one hundred and forty ruffled and spotted blossoms. Colors of other gloxinias include royal purple, purple and white, rose and white, and pink.

Closely related to the gloxinias are the African violets. These Mrs. Whenal has in twenty named varieties, in all stages of growth, from the started leaves through the small growing plants to those in full bloom. "Lady Geneva", one of her favorites, is strikingly beautiful with its blue blossoms edged with white. Then there's the lovely blue Double Duchess, a Pink Beauty, White Lady, Blue Boy, Blue Girl, Redhead, Lavender Pink and many others, all aptly named.

One window of John's upstairs room is Mrs. Whenal's "infirmary". Three rather tired looking violets, covered with a yellow powder, sit dejectedly on the sill. "They had mites on them so I quarantined them," she explained. "They are new ones and were infested when I bought them. I think I've got rid of the mites now, but I'm leaving them I here a while longer to make sure."

Yes, she has plants in the upstairs rooms, also, the bathroom being the only exception. Seventy can be counted on the second floor and there are' one hundred and twenty downstairs, not including the just-started slips. It takes Mrs. Whenal an hour and a half to give them their daily watering, but it is a task she greatly enjoys. When told she must have the proverbial green thumb, her modest reply was, "I just have good luck that's all."

A north window in the laundry is the starting section of her house plant family. Arranged in glasses of water are cuttings from the various plants she wishes to propagate. Some of the African violets are rooted in this way, but the majority of them are started in soil in aquariums.

A group of begonias includes the double white, pink, rose, Angel's wing, Beef steak, and a new one called "It". There are also tuberous begonias, mostly of the Camelia type, in twelve gorgeous shades.

Surrounded by plants as the Whenals are, one might think it would be like living in a greenhouse or perpetual flower show. Monotonous, you say? Not if you love them as Mrs. Whenal does. Some day she hopes to own a greenhouse, but until that dream is realized she will continue to keep her windows full of these blossoming plants, which give so much pleasure to both their attendant and passersby.