I have immense admiration for those who consider themselves card-carrying members of the society of “Green Thumbs.” That glorious community is not something with which I can claim affiliation. These days my gardening consists of urging some potted plants on my porch to choose to live even through my sporadic neglect.
I didn’t always feel a sense of responsibility toward these confined living things. That all changed about 47 years ago when my mother bought me four potted geranium plants as a housewarming gift. Some weeks later on a return visit she told me she was shocked to see that they had died of thirst. Without remorse I callously said, “Oh, that’s okay, I can always buy some new ones.”
Her response was life changing for me. She said that those red blooms were totally dependent on me to care for them. They were living plants and did not have the ability to take a hike to the nearest watering hole. She went on to say that in accepting the gift, I was responsible for their health and well-being. I saw myself, for the first time in my life, as a cruel, unfeeling, monster that had murdered these poor plants.
From that day on, I’ve felt responsible for any plant that comes into my life. I don’t always get them to thrive, but I do the best I can. This attitude encourages me to be less cavalier about bringing a plant home. I must admit I continue to be tantalized by the dazzle of the flowering, potted plants that greet me as I enter my local food market – most especially the orchids. But then I remind myself that giving into this temptation is much like adopting a pet. Although I would not be obliged to take it for a walk or brush its fur, I would be entering into a contract of long-term, loving care.
No longer am I seduced by the ravishing, lipstick red of the poinsettia plants set out in splendid display for the winter holiday season because after they bloom they become sad and scrawny, so much so that it’s hard to be motivated to keep them alive for their next blooming. If you look up “poinsettias” on the internet you’ll get a wearisome list of how to care for them through the year in order to have even a remote possibility of coaxing them to don their festive plumage by the next year. I don’t do “live” Christmas trees for the same reason.
Before my mother died she wanted to buy me my most favorite flowering plant, which is a gardenia, but I declined because I knew I would suffer doubly if I could not keep it alive after her passing. However, I did bring home an aloe plant that had lived in her kitchen to be “on call” for healing if she accidently burned herself. I figured that I stood a better chance at keeping this succulent alive than the more temperamental gardenia. It still survives as one of the plants on my small front porch.
Recently, a neighbor, whose membership in the “Green Thumb” society is very up-to-date, noticed the aloe plant was in distress. This plant is now over 40 years old and my sentimental attachment to it is undeniable. So, for the last two days I’ve had my hands in dirt doing the best I can to give it a new healthy environment in which to thrive. I’ve divided it up from one very overcrowded pot to three more spacious ones, and I have my fingers crossed that the transplant will be successful. I also repotted my spider plant, which I find is very forgiving of neglect, and a Jasmine (as close to a gardenia that I dare to go), that’s been with me for two years now and even bloomed the second year. A success!
Now, all these plants live among the icons on my patio. No one in this apartment complex has such an eclectic range of religious (spiritual) icons – from Native American, Catholic, Buddhist, Taoist, Pagan traditions. (Hmmmmm, no Hinduism. I’ll have to see to that; I’m sure I can find a Shiva in my collection.)
Mother’s aloe plant (now plants!!) cradle these treasures and icons and nestle in the midst of the other successful plants. The plant she used to heal any accidental cooking burns has become part of the healing center on the porch of my life.
— Justine Willis Toms
Cofounder, Executive Director, Host