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MATCHING THE GIFT PLANT TO THE PERSON

So you'd like to buy a flowering plant for that special someone this Easter, and you can't make up your mind which one to choose?

The azaleas are gorgeous, the tulips so springlike and the lilies so heavenly. And this doesn't even include all the other blooming plants that clamor for your attention: begonias, African violets, cinerarias, hydrangeas, pocketbook plants, mums, miniature roses.

With all the colors, shapes, sizes and forms of springtime flowering plants, choosing that perfect one can be tough. But maybe if you take a closer look at the "personality" of the plant, that is, its cultural requirements, and then try to match it with the personality of the recipient, you'll be able to make the right choice.

First, let's consider the azalea. It's one of the loveliest flowering houseplants around, but it makes a terrible gift for someone who either continually forgets or isn't around enough to water.

You can't just let an azalea get by on a weekly watering schedule. Once or twice it may be forgiving about a missed watering, but more than that and the azalea will drop leaves and flowers at an alarming rate.

Besides that, an azalea recipient should be the type who won't mind giving the plant some special care after the blooms are gone. Most gift azaleas, for example, should be summered outdoors but need to come back in when the days get cold.

Oddly enough, the ethereal-looking Easter lily can be a whole lot more forgiving. It will do quite well with bright indirect light and cool temperatures, and doesn't demand constantly moist soil. And after it blooms you can unceremoniously plant the lily outdoors in a bright, well-drained spot.

An Easter lily cannot go on indefinitely as a houseplant, though. So be sure the intended lily owner has either the heart to bid the lily adieu after it has bloomed, or the space outdoors to plant it.

Mums are wonderful plants, especially for the purchaser, because they usually are very inexpensive. Mums come in so many colors and flower types that it's easy to please the fussy everything-has-to-match homeowner or apartment dweller.

Because of their diversity, mums are the great equalizers of the gift plant world. They can be dainty and delicate or stout and flamboyant. Potted mums will last a long time indoors -- especially if they are kept in cooler temperatures and bright light -- and they require little special care while they are in bloom. They're great plants for anyone who doesn't have a green thumb.

Pocketbook plants (calceolaria) and cineraria are lumped together here because they're both the ultimate in disposable plants. The pocketbook plant with its sprightly little pouches and the cineraria's large clusters of brightly colored blooms are also hard to resist. Both plants usually are discarded after blooming, so these plants might make good choices for someone who gets bored easily with having the same plants around.

The true houseplant lover, of course, would probably best appreciate the African violet. No one can ever have too many African violets. But if you really want to be a hit, try one of the newer miniature varieties. They are truly delightful -- so perfectly petite.

Because African violets need a lot of light in order to bloom, be sure that the recipient you have in mind has sufficient light before dooming him to years of waiting for that plant to bloom again.

Finally, the flowering plant that is fuss-free and foolproof -- the wax begonia. Give a wax begonia and you have given a plant that will bloom non-stop almost forever. It is, after all, known formally as semperflorens, which means ever-blooming.

It's a delightful plant that needs only bright light and well-draining soil, the kind of plant that anyone, anywhere will welcome and appreciate.

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