If I look up from my writing perch in the sun room right now, I can see a crust of snow on the glass roof. My position on winter in general, and snow in particular, is apathetic at best. In my darker moments, it's outright opposition. As American comedian Carl Reiner put it,
A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.*
This is a moment when I cherish anything green and alive as an antidote to the deadness of the garden, and for me that means houseplants. After Christmas, in the thin days of early January when I was still glassy-eyed from an excess of sleep and cake, I arrived at the office to find a cactus on my desk: a new plant is usually cause for joy, but this one had a strange look to it. According to the label, it's a Glowing Wonder - yes that's right, a glowing cactus (it also has a helpful warning symbol - a knife and fork crossed out - indicating it's not edible - well phew).
The website shows more spray-painted plants - mainly Echeverias. A slip of paper starts by telling me the bleeding obvious: "WARNING! YOUR PLANT IS A CACTUS VARIETY AND THE SPINES ARE EXTREMELY SHARP. PLEASE HANDLE WITH CARE AND ATTENTION."
So, does it glow? Well, sort of. I put it in a dark cupboard at work to satisfy curious colleagues on this matter, and the verdict was it glowed "a bit". Once back home (transported there wrapped in bubble wrap, both for insulation and protection from spikes) it did light up in a completely dark kitchen at night, but you wouldn't be able to read a book by it, as you can see from the somewhat Blair Witch Project photo opposite. There are some pictures of these plants on Pinterest in which they look a bit more, well, glowy.
I was expecting my children to be a little bit excited by the prospect of a glowing plant, but they were completely underwhelmed: possibly because they've seen way cooler indoor plants. Even in our kitchen, there's a stagshorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) on the windowsill, for instance: one of the weirdest-looking houseplants you'll see. (Once the kitchen's revamped, it will take pride of place mounted on a plaque below the skylight ...).
I wish I could say that the glowing effect was some kind of natural genetic mutation, like a botanical firefly, or even that it was a GM modification (this has been done although apparently even those don't glow bright enough). But no, this is just some stuff sprayed onto the plant, which although no doubt harmless enough, just makes the cactus look like it has a really bad case of mealy bug.
This is, it seems, a "trend" - houseplants, particularly Echeverias, sprayed with silver paint in the run-up to Christmas, heathers inexplicably stained with pink paint in kitsch ranks at the garden centre, and now these glowing plants. In case you haven't guessed, it's not a trend I'm keen on ... I'm digging way back into GCSE biology here, but surely spraypainting plants must limit their life by blocking the stomata?
And anyway - and this is the key point - who needs to spraypaint plants to make them look cool? Houseplants are already amazing: I refer you back to the stagshorn fern. And these guys. And countless more incredible, stunning and utterly paint-free plants. We need a houseplant revival, and we need one NOW. Watch this space to find out exactly how that's going to happen...
*Although my son's face when my husband put him on the sledge to pull him to school did melt my heart just a little.