December 20, 2017

TUDOR CITY LIT: "The Plant in My Window"

In the 1930s and 40s, newspaper workers gravitate to Tudor City given its convenience to the Daily News, Daily Mirror and New York Times buildings.

Resident Ross Parmenter was one of them, a Times music critic, as well as the author of a dozen books. His first book, The Plant in My Window, is the story of a man and a potted philodendron.

The idea is hatched in 1947 when Parmenter moves into Woodstock apartment 1608, a modest studio with a northern exposure. The previous tenant has left behind a legacy ‒ a half-dead philodendron.

At first, Parmenter ignores it, but the idea of reviving the plant slowly seizes his imagination. He waters it. He makes drawings of its progress. He polishes its leaves. He names it Phyllis.

Nursing Phyllis back to health sets him to thinking about living in general, and he begins to write about it. The resulting essay ‒ one part botany, one part spiritualism ‒ is published in 1949. Subtitled "An Adventure of the Spirit," it's naturally dedicated "to whoever left me the plant."

The reviews are glowing. The NY Times says this study of "apartment-house botany" is "astonishingly fresh and unusual." Brooks Atkinson finds it "fascinating from start to finish." The LA Times: "extremely satisfying." The Chicago Tribune: "simple, quiet and absorbing."

The book, rejected by ten houses, is eventually published by Crowell. 
The cover photo is shot in Parmenter's Woodstock apartment.

Parmenter's first drawing of Phyllis.

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