Apoinsettia on the sun porch is beginning to blush. It was an accident.Here's what I usually do. About this time I buy a cheap poinsettia or two for the copper cache pots (they get polished once a year) by the fireplace. If I haven't killed them by the time warm weather arrives, I cut them back by two thirds and put them outside in the sun. They're almost always dead by the end of summer, so for the holidays I go out and buy a couple more.

This one survived.

I know the drill for re-blooming them. Grow them outdoors for the summer, bring them inside in September and give them a bright window and twelve hours of dark every night by putting a box over them or shoving them in a closet at cocktail time and bringing them out at breakfast. Right, like I have that kind of discipline. Or any plants still alive in September.

By some miracle, this poinsettia survived the care I don't lavish on plants I don't really like. So a few weeks ago I brought it in and dumped it on the sunporch along with dozens of other plants. The switch for the sunporch light is three rooms away - we moved the door but didn't bother to move the switch - so I never go out there at night.

Without intending to, I gave it just the conditions it needed - minimal attention and long cool nights, providentially provided by nature. It is a lesson I have learned many times over, but never learned well: Nature delivers what the plant wants. That's why they have survived for eons without our help. And if nature in your area does not align with nature in the plant's native home, you need to fudge it. That, or give up on that particular plant.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico. In fact, they can grow into sizable shrubs there. And contrary to popular belief, it can get chilly at night. Enjoy this year's poinsettia in the living room during the holiday season, but then put it in a cooler room with bright light, like a spare bedroom. And put it back there next fall, stay out at night, and like me, you just stumble into a success.

Another Christmasy plant that likes things its own way is cyclamen. Cyclamen wants it cold, sometimes very cold. I have some blooming outside in the ground now. Yes, right now.

That doesn't mean you can take your holiday cyclamen out and plant it. Well, you can, but it will die. The ones in the flower section of the supermarket are florists' cyclamen and they are more tender than hardy cyclamen.

Many plants you are given on holidays have cousins that grow outside but can't hack it themselves. Hydrangeas and mums come to mind.

Hardy cyclamen have slightly smaller flowers than the pot plant, but not so small that they aren't appreciated when they are the only thing blooming in early winter. They like shade and dry conditions in summer, when they go dormant, so they are perfect for under that maple tree where even grass won't grow. One tuber is easy to miss, but after a few years they can self-seed into large colonies.

Your gift cyclamen won't take freezing, at least not much, but it does like it cool. The cooler you can keep it, the longer it will last. And they also like a dormant period starting in late spring, so when it starts to die back, don't think it is something you did.

There are people who get florists' cyclamen to bloom again. I've seen their pictures in magazines. I'm not one of them. If you are, don't rub it in.

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