This section is from the book "Feeling Better? Amusements and Occupations for Convalescents", by Cornelia R. Trowbridge. Also available from Amazon: Feeling Better.
A SUNNY window with a broad sill or a table beside it affords a world of possibilities to the housebound.
Do you like to see first principles at work? Try getting seeds to sprout. In an earthen pot filled with good soil, one can raise a miniature forest of glistening green from the seeds of grapefruit or oranges. They will come up in four or five weeks if before being planted they are soaked in water for a few days and if the pot is covered with a piece of glass or an inverted glass bowl. The big brown seed of the alligator, or avocado, pear will grow into a very decorative house plant. It can be planted two inches deep in any pot or, if you want to see the long white root grow out, it can be suspended in a glass of water, just touching the surface of the water. If you have patience to wait several months for them to come up, you can raise palms from the seeds of dates. Acorns will sprout in a saucer of water. If you want quicker results, plant some of the larger seeds of vegetables, such as peas, beans, corn, cucumbers and squashes, in a saucer of moist cotton or moss or in a pot and see what decorative seedlings will come up.
If there is a canary in your household, keep saucers of bird-seed growing for him through the winter, small enough to be set in his cage. Or, if you like to rest your eyes on a crop of soft green, see if you can get a packet of Japanese grass seed and raise it in any small, flat dishes, even if there is no canary to enjoy it with you. It will flourish also if sprinkled on any porous substance standing in water, like a piece of brick or a sponge, or on a pine cone upright in a glass.
Flowering bulbs are easily grown in bowls filled with pebbles or dried moss and water. The bulbs should not touch each other or the container. They should always be kept in the dark for several weeks until the roots are an inch or so long, and not be brought into direct sunlight before their sprouts have turned green. The most dependable bulbs are the paper-white narcissus (polyanthus narcissus) and the Chinese sacred lily (narcissus orientalis), which should bloom in four or five weeks after they are brought into the light. Hyacinths, freesias and crocuses will also flower in bowls of water. Tulips and daffodils require potting. All bulbs bloom more quickly in late winter and spring than in the fall or midwinter. Bulbs that have been in the ground outdoors can be brought indoors for their blossoming time and then returned to the flower beds. If lilies of the valley are dug up, allowances must be made for long roots.
In the late fall or winter root vegetables will put out leaves from the nourishment stored up within them. A sweet potato in a glass partly filled with water will send up a vine that will run to the top of a window casing and go on growing for months. It will not need direct sunlight and will flourish in any corner of the room. The upper thirds of several carrots or the sliced top of a beet in a saucer partly filled with water will produce an attractive centerpiece for a dinner table. You can grow one for your family. A carrot hollowed out, hung upside down and kept full of water, will send out lovely plumes of green.
Before snow covers the ground or frost hardens it, ask someone who knows wayside flowers both in and out of season to bring you small roots of the perennials that are always green along the roadsides and in the fields. Though they may look dingy and unpromising, they are quite ready to start growing again. Ask for tufts of the field daisy, roots of clover, the silvery green rosette of the mullen, the feathers of yarrow, the fronds of ferns so tightly rolled. They will spring up for you in a beauty not always realized when it is merely a small part of the lavish wealth of June.
When the first warm days of February or March set the sap to stirring, spring can be hurried on its way if branches are brought indoors and kept in water. If there are no trees outside your door to pick from, a handful of twigs might be a bye-product of someone's Sunday motor trip into the country. Ask to have small branches, few in number and not more than three feet long, with well formed leaf buds.
If they are dry when they reach you, have the whole branches soaked in lukewarm water for an hour or two. Keep them in a vase in a cool place for several days until the buds swell and then give them warmth and sunshine. Change the water frequently and make fresh cuts across the ends of the branches. Silvery pussy willows will push out from their hoods of brown. The larch will come out in fairy-like pompons of green. Red maple will blaze into color. The tight catkins of the elder and the round buttons of the dogwood will open up when they no longer need to defend themselves against the cold. Most flowering shrubs will show promises of blooming after a fortnight indoors and with plenty of sunlight they will usually produce blossoms. Forsythia, deutzia, lilac, the spireas, shadbush, apple, cherry and plum will all flower under favorable conditions. Do not crowd the branches together. Half their beauty is in the lift and curve of their lines. Every kind of tree makes its individual silhouette against the winter sky and against a simple indoor background its characteristic forms will show in its smallest twigs.
Ask your friends to send you plants sometimes instead of cut flowers and to persuade the florists to part with them before they are in full bloom, so that you can watch the color come into the buds as the sheaths about them unfold. A cyclamen will bloom for weeks and bear twenty or thirty flowers. A primrose will rest and start again, dangling meanwhile green bells that are as decorative as the blossoms. Begonia, calceolaria and oxalis, as well as all the ferns, are excellent house plants. Seasonal plants, such as poinsettias, azaleas and Jerusalem cherries, can be kept alive to bloom again even if they shed their leaves. Cacti require very little care. In fact they seem to get on better, the more they are neglected. But toward spring most species bear delicate flowers with as much individuality as the plants themselves. The graceful shoots of the Chinese evergreen (Dieffenbachia) are very hardy and will live in any corner of your room.