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I have a confession to make. I must come right out with it and admit that I am not, on the whole, a devotee of houseplants. Now I realize that there are many people, excellent and avid gardeners, who devote hours of tender care to their flourishing and brazenly healthy specimens, which appear to grow so effortlessly beside window, door or hearth – or, and this is the truly maddening part – in the middle of a darkened room – but I, alas, am not one of their number.

However, some years ago I was given – as a Very Special Present – a small, three-leafed plant, which, I was assured, had been grown from seed. The plant in question was a bird of paradise, or Strelitzia reginae. I had not the heart to refuse – it was, after all, a Very Special Present (and deep down, I was rather flattered to be the recipient of such a splendid thing). I enquired, hesitantly, when it was expected to bloom – and I do like the blooms. Probably in about seven years, I was told. Quaking slightly I took the plant home, stood it beside the kitchen window where it received lots of sun; year after year, it threw out more leaves, and took on the aspect of a very nice tropical plant. But as the seventh year passed and it resolutely refused to bloom, I found myself developing a love-hate relationship with the thing – after all, I had tended it carefully, arranged for it to be babysat when we were away – and still it ungratefully refused to do what its brothers and sisters all over the world were doing – blooming profusely. And then, one day, when I was mentioning this to a friend, he suggested I put it outside on the balcony. Give it a shock, he said, and if it thinks it is going to expire, it will, as a last resort, throw out a bloom.

This I did. It spent the entire summer in what I would have considered unsuitable conditions – hot sun day after day – and then I took it in when the weather turned cooler. Not long after, to my utter surprise, a fat bud appeared. Weeks passed, the stalk grew even longer and the bulge at the end even fatter and more ominous. Finally, it turned slightly downwards and – there it was – Strelitzia reginae in all its glory. Since then it has bloomed marvellously. It remains in the house all year round, the leaves and stalks are longer than they would be in its normal habitat, a hot, tropical climate, and I am thrilled to bits with it. All of which is to say, even if you do not really “go” for houseplants, there are indeed one or two which will capture the imagination – and love – of even the hardest heart.