Glenboro woman tends tiny tropical garden in her home

A south-facing sunroom on a Glenboro-area farm home sees a tropical plant oasis in rural Manitoba

Ernestine Sepke doesn’t need to travel south in winter to be surrounded by orange, avocado and banana trees.

They’re growing in her sunroom on the side of her Glenboro farm home.

Some are so tall they’re brushing the ceiling. All were started from local seed — fruit bought at Glenboro Co-op.

“I just stick them in the dirt and if they grow they grow and if they don’t they don’t,” says Sepke. She and her husband Richard are now retired from operating a mixed farm their son is now taking over.

Summers Sepke spends outdoors, tending apple trees and enormous vegetable and flower gardens.

Winters indoors, she patiently waits for her pineapples to ripen. She has seven in various stages of growth. They were planted simply by chopping off a half an inch of the top of ordinary pineapples she bought at the grocery store, she explains.

“They usually take about two years for the first pineapple,” she says showing a visitor a spiky green-armed plant in a large pot. It’ll take another year for the second to ripen and less for the third, she said. Word gets out that the sweet fruits are nearly ready.

“They call asking, ‘are the pineapples ready?’” she said. “I usually have a pineapple party for the girls around here.”

Then there’s the banana plants. They’re about four feet high and occupy another corner of her sunroom. She started them about five years ago from the tiny black seed of store-bought fruit, too. She didn’t expect much, she says, but lo and behold they produced perfect fruit, too — just smaller than what you’d find on store shelves.

“But there’s scads of them,” she said. “They start in a cluster of about 30 and then another comes down, and then another.”

The fruit is purple, then green and yellow when ripe and just as sweet as the bananas her sister picks off the plants in her yard — in California. She compares notes with her other sister, in Memphis, Tennessee, who has them growing outside, too.

Her orange tree hasn’t been productive, even though it’s now as tall as her sunroom. It’s about six years old. She suspects it needs a partner to produce any fruit so she’s got some started in a pot, too.

“I started it from seeds from a Sunkist orange,” she said. A tiny chestnut tree also started from seed is growing in another pot.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with it,” she says holding it up to the sun. “My room isn’t tall enough for them and I don’t know if they’ll survive (outside) up here.”

Nor will her five-foot papaya plant and an avocado, also started from a stone plucked from its fruit.

Sepke isn’t sure where she got her decidedly green thumb or her love of houseplants.

“I’ve just been around plants all my life,” she said. “My mother was an avid plant grower, so was my grandmother. It’s just natural for me to throw something into the dirt and see if it will grow.”

She really isn’t very diligent about fertilizing, she said, but does make sure everyone gets watered — several times a week — which is a bit of work at this point.

The oldest plant in her collection would be her grandmother’s Christmas cactus. It’s blooming profusely with purple and white flowers right now. “It’s probably 30 years old,” she estimates.

In all, Sepke’s sunroom has about 50 plants, half of which are tropicals, plus many large cactus, and some beautiful bromeliads.

They built this space after the plants were starting to take over their home, she said. Her husband was starting to feel swallowed by the banana plants’ leaves, from plants behind his favourite armchair.

But the plants are most certainly a nice boost to their home, she says. Plants are just relaxing to be around. They clean the air. And they’re just a great hobby, says Sepke.

“It gives you something to do when you get to be my age,” she says with a laugh.

“And if you’re lucky enough to grow fruit on them, you can eat in the process.”

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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