By Jeannette Gartner
As summer approaches, I’m reminded that green is the color of my heart, or New Jersey, or something . . . but not my yard. The only green around me is the envy I have for people who have green thumbs. Frankly, I never met a plant I couldn’t kill, whether it’s in the yard or house.
The decision about whether to have a house plant or not is not to be considered lightly. As with all living things, there is a certain amount of RESPONSIBILITY involved. One must take into consideration one’s ability to water and even feed when necessary.
In most cases, unless I really got carried away, the decision to have a house plant did not rest on my shoulders. Usually it was foisted upon me with utter disdain for my wishes by someone who thinks a house plant is the ultimate gift – or who wants to take the EASY WAY OUT and not have to consider that what I really want is a trip to Hawaii. I remember the first house plant given to me . . .
“Uh, what’s this?” I ask, suspiciously.
“It’s a house plant,” Green Thumb says, scathingly.
“Is it alive?”
“Of course it’s alive!”
“But what do I do with it?”
“Just enjoy it.”
Right away I’m in trouble. I have visions of having to spend hours throwing a ball to it or having it crawl into my lap for some petting. Even worse would be playing midwife when it is having little plants.
“What does it do?” I ask with trepidation.
“It doesn’t do anything. You just set it on a table or hang it from the ceiling,” (Ow! That hurts!), “somewhere and enjoy looking at it . . .”
Well, now, that doesn’t seem too hard. This was beginning to sound like something I might be able to handle, although I think one would quickly tire of sitting and staring at a plant. After all, once one has counted all the leaves and admired the different colors of green (and/or brown) involved, what else is there?
“. . . and water it about once a week,” continues Green Thumb.
Uh-oh. I knew there must be a catch somewhere. But, still, that might not be beyond my mental capacities. If I can remember to water it . . .
“Is that all?” I asked, feeling more confident.
“You should feed it occasionally,” Green Thumb advised.
Feed it? Feed it what? How about leftovers? Or does it have expensive tastes – like caviar? Do I have to cut up the food? And how often is occasionally? Once a month, a year, what? I am beginning to fear I am in over my head.
“And, you ought to talk to it once in a while,” said Green Thumb.
That tears it! Really, what in the world do I have in common with a plant? What would we talk about? Besides, with three boys, and three animals as permanent/periodic residents, plus all the friends and animals coming and going, there is enough talking going on – to say nothing of the grandkids who talk incessantly when they’re around. There are also televisions, radios, and stereos, and if the plant wants to eavesdrop, it’s okay with me, but I’m not talking to it.
In the first place, I’d feel like an idiot if anyone heard me. I mean, really, I already suspect that the little men in white coats are lurking just around the corner, hoping to catch me doing something, so there’s no way I’ll take a chance by talking to a plant!
Besides, I just can’t picture myself saying things like, “Okay, pick up those leaves. Don’t slouch! Sit up straight. Drink all your water!”
In the years since I was given my first plant, through no fault or choice of my own, I’ve received a lot of plants, usually during a stay in the hospital. Now does that make sense? Sure, give the sick person something else to take care of when she can’t even take care of herself. Whereas, in my opinion, the greatest gift for a sick person would be for someone to come and pick up all the plants, take them away, and take care of them, in my case, forever. That would really give me a rest, besides saving me from the trauma of killing yet another one.
I always thought the average life of a plant was about two weeks, based solely on empirical observations of plants I’ve had. It wasn’t until I overheard some friends betting on how long a new one would last in my house, that I realized this wasn’t the case for other people.
I can’t help but believe that, for some strange reason, all the plants I’ve had are ones with suicidal tendencies. Where are all those plants with a will to live? Why don’t I ever get any of those? There must be a “grapevine” between plants because I’m convinced that as soon as a plant hears it is coming to my house, it starts drooping and shedding leaves. Why, by the time it arrives at my door it is already half dead!
You’d think someone in my family would have a green thumb, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Once, when my husband bought a plant for me in a flower shop (he’s a slow learner, too; it only took 50 years of marriage for him to stop giving me house plants as gifts), he asked the clerk if we should be giving the plants rain water instead of tap water.
“You have to be careful doing that. It could shock the plant to change water,” the clerk said.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Mark answered confidently. “We’ll explain to it before we do it.”
The worst thing is that we can no longer dispose of our dead plants in the garbage, due to the insensitive behavior of the garbage men. It seems they were alerting the neighbors when they picked up a dead plant. Soon after one was picked up, we began to receive condolence calls from the neighbors. Then the neighborhood children started making regular visits to our garbage can. I tell you, it was unbearable when some of these delinquents would ring our doorbell. With trepidation, I would go to the door.
“Hi, Mrs. Gartner,” said one of these little twerps.
“Yes? May I help you?” I would ask with dignity.
“Is this yours?” asked the twerp, while with a sweeping flourish he would present the dead plant, gripping its dead stems in his grimy hand.
“Where did you get that?” I would stammer, thinking I had rid myself forever of the incriminating evidence.
“Oh, I just saw it in your garbage can. I just wanted to check our figures with you. According to our list, this one is the 14th this year. Is that correct?” he would ask, all sweetness and innocence.
“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” I would answer while trying to close the door on his size 5 foot.
“We’ve come up with a plan. How about if you saved all of them, and then once a month, the neighborhood could have a mass burial and barbecue?” he had the nerve to suggest.
So we did the only logical thing. We started sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to dig a grave and secretly bury the plant in the back yard. At least we did that until one of the neighbors reported us to the police, who showed up with sirens blaring to dig up the “bodies” we were burying in the back yard.
Since we moved out to the “boonies,” we don’t have to worry about the neighbors’ tsktsking. We just let the weeds grow at will and pretend we planted them on purpose. As to house plants, now we do what we should have done to begin with. When a flower shop truck shows up, whoever answers the door will say that the Gartners moved away and left no forwarding address.