Sunday, March 30, 2014

Growing Guilt

When the kids were young – or at least not in their forties, as they (sigh) are now – I was pretty consistent about feeding them. I never achieved that sort of reliability with the plant population of the house.

          Oh sure, it’d start out like gangbusters: I would be there every other day, watering can in hand and even offer the occasional conversation to help each one along. Inevitably, though, I’d spot the spider plant on my way through a room and think, “Gotta water that,” but the thought would fade away like the brown leaves falling to the floor and vacuumed up a few days later as crumbles of dust.
          As a result, this March I’m able to turn away from the lure of those handy pre-divided, pre-soiled trays and the nearby displays of seeds. I know what will happen because it’s happened every year. I will nestle the planted tray in a welcoming window and then within two weeks it will be a miniaturization of Death Valley, its desperate little sprouts lying exhausted and forgotten on the parched earth.  

          But I’m still laboring under the yoke of green despots. Our house is now an Old Plants Home, where things live an unnaturally long time, surely against the original divine plan. These plants have an uncanny ability to hang on through drought and flood. Added to that is my unwillingness to cut off their life support for the usual reason – guilt.

          We had a death in the family about eighteen years ago and instead of cut flowers, some well-meaning person gave us a green, living plant. Since it represents someone we all held dear, I’m honor-bound to water it on an almost regular basis.  

  We also have a Christmas cactus that I thought was really nifty, with its bright fuchsia flowers – and it was a cactus! The perfect plant. What could go wrong? That was in 1978.

          What went wrong is that in spite of being in the same pot and the same soil for well over thirty years, it has grown bigger and bigger. My husband even came home one day proudly bearing a big, unwieldy column to put it on, so it could take up even more room. It’s been with us through two houses, three grandchildren and major illnesses. Getting rid of it would be like driving the family pet to a squalid part of the city and slowing down only long enough to shove it out of the door.

          My inherent cheapness is only compounding the problem. At some point I realized there was no need for me to buy new flowers for our deck each year.  Back in my teaching days, when summer wound down, I would gather up all the geraniums and take them into my classroom with its huge, sunny windows. Then in June, I’d transport them all back home to the deck again, where they’d perk up and produce masses of big red and pink blooms.

          I’m no longer working, but after a summer of impatiently waiting for that year’s new geraniums to grow, I reverted back to my previous system. There’s no classroom anymore, so they reside in the basement and their chances of being watered are even more tenuous. But they must be channeling their longer-lived brethren upstairs, because they’re hanging on.

          In the world of geriatric plants at our house, I like to think of the basement as the Assisted Living facility, and the living room as offering (semi) Continuing Care.


  1. My dad had geraniums potted outside. Come fall they went to the east bay window and it was my job to water weekly. The leaves give off an odor when brushed by, for instance, the watering can.The smell choked me. I am no fan of geraniums. Looking at your spindly specimen, I am reminded of him rooting new plants in vermiculte filled shot glasses, after he dipped the cut end in some compound that promoted roots. I hope we both now know more than we ever needed know about geraniums.

  2. I needed a laugh today! I love, and can relate to the paragraph about the seedlings and Death Valley! I have given up on little trays of seedlings! :)

  3. I noticed classroom! And I thought teacher and plants in the classroom. I've been there. One day a kid said to me, "Mr. K , do you know how many plants you have." Of course I had not idea. The kid said 43!

  4. An amusing post Marty. I think most of us can relate to it because proper maintenance of houseplants is something that most of us feel guilty about from time to time. Shirley and I have a cactus we bought in 1980 and a busy lizzie (impatiens) plant that I have progressed through thirty five years with fresh cuttings every now and then. Gradually this botanical growth grows into your life - like silent partners.

  5. Busy lizzie - love the name. And you give me too much credit. Proper maintenance is a goal only to be imagined.

  6. You are very kind to help out elderly plants in this way!! :) Love that Christmas cactus!

  7. Really? Would you like it? Free mailing.

  8. Mercy, I have a couple of house plants similar to that..but nothing as lovely as your Christmas Cactus!
    It might take up a lot of room..but it is really looks healthy. My live plants have all been transferred to the patio which seems to be the perfect place for them all year long and they do well. I also am guilty of not watering. I seem to think that if the weather is cool..the plants are wet! I know, pretty dumb because when it's cool OR warm in California, it's very dry and the winds just dry things out overnight. So..I understand. My plant hospital is on the back patio..under the shade of a umbrella.
    OH NO! Am I too late to get the Christmas Cactus?? :):)

    1. Here in Massachusetts, we can have frost until May and it can begin again by October, if not before, so we gallop around covering things up and whipping them inside. Probably the most aerobic activity we get.
      And not to worry about the Christmas Cactus - did you see the size of that thing? I could probably share with every one of your 501 readers!

  9. Marty--At MY house, plants would be entering the crematorium...or the cemetery. I can kill almost any plant.

    I saw your comment on Lynn Obermoeller's blog. If you'd like to doodle--but don't think you're artistic--google "zentangle" or "pentangle patterns." It's just a different way to look at doodling, there's millions of patterns (free--just check them out on your computer screen) and it can be very relaxing, especially if you're stuck in a boring meeting).

    1. Thanks, love the doodling ideas. And now that I'm retired, the boring meetings are less frequent - but not completely gone. How did you guess that's where my doodling needs kick in? It's either that or have my head ricochet off the conference table.

  10. This is a brilliant post. Usually, I kill houseplants. Whatever I do, it’s the wrong thing.
    Like you though, I have two or three plants which refuse to die. Perhaps ignoring them is the right thing to do?


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