The sad cyclamen sat on the sill, the gift- wrapped remains of a once-vibrant present to an elderly rest-home resident.
Its misery suggested a story for a wintry garden feature, discussing what plants or cut flowers make good gifts for rest-home residents.
Obviously not cyclamen, given the dry, heated atmosphere and variable indoor-plant-care skills of housekeeping staff if the recipient can't monitor the watering regime themselves.
Or so this story started out.
That assumption may have all you knowledgeable readers smiling, and it admittedly reflects my own brown-thumbed abilities with pot plants.
But Rowena Jackson Retirement Village gardener Linda Reid was charitable in putting things on the right track.
Linda's expertise has featured on this page before, and she was the obvious person to call, as she's also a florist.
After checking with caregivers, she reported cyclamen are, in fact, top of the popularity list, and with staff as well as residents.
Provided they are bought when still fresh from the supplier, cyclamen provide six to eight weeks of blazing and varied colour and do stand up well to heat of about 20 degrees Celsius.
Linda pointed out that there was no way of knowing how old the miserable specimen observed was at the time of purchase.
In addition, residents can be very loath to throw out plants, especially if they are gifts with emotional attachments, she noted.
If they had been gardeners, they might also still be tuned to a past where they could resurrect a plant with more water, or by putting it out in the garden, or by taking cuttings.
Where others see a dying plant, they see potential.
Their mindset decries waste and throwing things out does not come easily, and carers must respect that if there's no harm.
It's a reminder, though, that modern potted plants are bred and raised for show at the time of sale and, while some skilled (or lucky) gardeners manage to nurture the likes of cyclamen through successive years, six to eight weeks is actually good value, even more so when a cost of about $15 is compared with the life and price of cut flowers.
Linda's other suggestions are gerberas, anthurium and the peace lily (Spathiphyllum).
African violets are temperamental, chrysanthemums are surprisingly unhappy and indoor begonias don't like the heat either.
She has been surprised by some of the things that have done well, such as a button fern that came in a little mixed garden and long outlasted its companions.
Space is always a consideration, so cymbidium orchids are too big, but moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) do well, as do poinsettia at Christmas.
Safety is also an issue if you start thinking of anything exotic, and is a major consideration in units caring for confused elderly people.
Linda notes that pot plants often wander in such situations, when someone takes a fancy to something and adopts it.
She also suggests cut-flower arrangements set in deep Oasis in a terracotta pot, which seems to act like a natural fridge.
Sunflowers and gerbera are good choices of flowers to plant in Oasis.
The best gifts not only bring colour into people's lives, but they inspire conversation and interaction and inexpensive trinkets like ladybirds, butterflies and stars add talking points.
At this time of year, conversation can arise out of something as simple as a sprig of pussywillow or japonica, something that will open out in water, but if you are leaving them, consider taking a container.
Little flowers like violas can just be wrapped in a wet tissue, then cling wrap.
Bainfield Park gardener Barbara Heath adds polyanthus, potted ivy, geranium and fuchsia to the list of possible gifts, and both gardeners noted that whatever plant you choose, you'll improve the chances of your gift's survival if you take a deep saucer so it can be watered from below.
People who still have a keen interest in growing plants may also welcome something very fast- growing, especially something hydroponic, where root growth is as fascinating as shoots. Avocado pits would be ideal.
The one that featured on this page is still going strong a year later, nearly 60 centimetres tall and still producing new leaves, and with no added fertiliser.
The reptilian Amorphophallus would be another - even just its name a talking point ("amorpho" means misshaped), let alone its creepy form and rapid growth.
I grew one to feature in a story, but unfortunately it failed to perform very spectacularly for photographic purposes, pushing out an innocent umbrella of leaves when only a few centimetres high.
But it's definitely a gift suitable only for someone who still has a sense of humour.
After all, one version, Amorphophallus titanum, is the infamous corpse flower.
Any further suggestions from readers are welcome, through email@example.com.
- © Fairfax NZ News