GETTING AROUND TO IT
I love our house plants. A few have come from professional growers and were generously given to us on special occasions, but far more have been shoots off other plants. Some have fallen victim to cat antics that tumbled a pot and broke a branch; a little quiet rooting time in water turned them into survivors and multiplied our number of Christmas cactus significantly. For years, I have casually announced that our plants take what they get, and either adjust or die. Yes, I try to be careful about where they are placed in relation to sun, and I do periodically feed them fertilizer as well as water, but that’s all I promise. The care is more generic and random than they would choose. It’s easy to say I don’t know much about what particular plants need, but I have been known to successfully research answers to other questions when I was invested enough. The truth is I don’t seem to get around to repotting or trimming, and seasonal adjustments to encourage blossoms are as likely to happen as watching roses bloom in our north country winter yard. Finicky plants don’t last long, and I’ve been grieved to bury several peace lilies and strawberry begonias. Just not grieved enough to clean up my act or customize their care.
All that neglectful nonchalance has been a challenge as plants with sentimental attachments have made their way into our house. When Ben and I married, my assortment gained a hoya that had been his grandmother’s. It fairly quickly developed a fungus and died, but I was rescued by a new shoot from his mother’s plant, and that one continues to thrive, grow and blossom in good health. When my mother died and we split up her plants, I hesitantly accepted an African violet, mindful of the violets that had already passed through my hands with fairly short stays. We don’t have a good history of life-sustaining chemistry, but no one else was going to take the plant, so I figured I’d give it a try. What did I have to lose? I’m happy to report that it is in good shape, has been repotted once and produced several rounds of beautiful purple flowers. So far, so good.
When my father-in-law died, we came home from his funeral with a plant garden that had been given by a kind friend. Eventually, I managed to break it up and get a couple of the plants into pots of their own. One grew and sprawled, despite my best efforts to kill it. The other held a place of honor and importance in the middle of our dining room table, where I could focus my gratitude for a man’s love that graced my life for too short a time. For more than twenty years, it accepted the terms of residence under my care, and held its own with tenacity and grace. It ebbed and flowed a bit between seasons of growth and decline, but we peacefully coexisted for many years.
Gradually I became aware that a season of decline had been longer and deeper than earlier ones, and I asked a daughter-in-law to take a look. She primped and trimmed, repotted and returned the plant to me with a healthy and reenergized look. A move and a couple of years later, I again handed her the plant and asked for a repeat of her magic. She dug in the dirt and uncovered fresh green shoots poised to make their debut. Because we were about to move cross country in January, she offered asylum to the plant, and returned it to me in May bushy and bright. Profuse with gratitude, we packed the plant with the hoya and violet, and headed west. It survived the trip, but a few months in its new home and the new growth was nothing more than a crumple of dead leaves. I moved it from one window to another, wondering if that would fix what ailed it. It didn’t. The daughter-in-law visited for Christmas, and I suggested it might be her concern again. One thing led to another, and in the aftermath of the best Christmas ever, the plant was as sad and unattended as before she arrived. I mourned its demise and assumed its end, never doing more than looking and pouting.
One day in early winter, Ben picked up the pot and proceeded to investigate. He dug deep enough to find four seed-like kernels, so we quickly found a new pot and fresh dirt. The seeds were spaced carefully, and a toothpick planted to mark each spot. He googled and read, and we moved the plant yet again and established its own, distinctive watering protocol. In a matter of a few short weeks, life sprouted from each seed. One shoot ventured out and quickly gave up the ghost; one sent up a stalk and leaf and then withered and failed; the other two have produced a stalk and a pair of leaves, and now show signs of yet more growth swelling at the stem. It’s amazing what a little care and attention can do, even to a plant that has crossed death’s threshold.
I’m grateful that Ben moved into action and rummaged for potential while I remained immobilized by inertia. As I watch the shoots develop into plants that appear to be deepening into new life, I savor memories of my mid-life Dad and the ways his smile embraced my hungry heart. And I wonder about other activities I only consider, infrequently moving beyond daydreams and good intentions. What am I missing when I fail to get around to watching setting sun spectaculars and midnight sky performances, when I leave mountain trails unexplored and biking paths unvisited? What is the cost to relationships with phone calls not made, letters unwritten and emails not returned? Oh, and did I mention that the plant is a prayer plant? If I’m going to be honest about it, the first word in that pair is where I need to start, not finish, a reflection on the consequences of my stalled good intentions. I’m reluctant to confess the ways in which my relationship with the Beloved whimpers and wilts from its hard-packed soil, depleted nutrients and generally overgrown, untended state. I don’t believe the treatment plan is obvious or to be found on the internet, but it’s out there. Or more likely, within, to be discovered when I move with eyes wide open, speak with ears on alert, welcome with heart poised for the unexpected, and rest in the confidence that my life and the life of the world are held in tender, loving hands. Maybe, if I’m paying attention, I’ll even meet up with God when I care for these plants.