Thursday, November 19, 2009

When Good Plants Turn Bad


I am a bad plant parent. There, I admit it. I don't know why the plants I own haven't wilted and passed on. Certainly, it is not for lack of trying. I am not sure how I have kept alive the plants I have been given, as by most accounts they should all be dead.

I don't kill them, I just neglect them and they continue to thrive, much like that mold growing on the unrecognizable thing in the back of my refrigerator. Perhaps it is that benign neglect which toughens them up, makes them strong. It's how I justify it to myself. The plants realize that they won't be watered much, that the light will be bad, and plant food will be non-existent. So the plants get tough, pull themselves up by their root-straps and just do what they have to do to survive. By winter's end most are hanging on by a leafless thread...one yellow, wilted leaf clinging to broken branch like in a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I know it's wrong, yet it happens. I can't even say my parents abused plants as a child, they didn't. I have no excuse. I am sure at this point their little plant brains (wherever that might be) start wishing for some chlorophyll chloroform to put themselves out of their misery.

Thank God there is no Division of Plant Protective Services for neglected houseplants like they have for children or I would be up on charges faster then you could say, "Report him to TreeFYS'" My philodendron would be in foster care and the African violets put up for adoption in Malawi. Angelina Jolie would start a charity for them and they would be adopted by Madonna.

It's not that I don't care about them as I see their dry, wilted leaves starting to sag. I do. It is that I promise to water them tomorrow, or re-pot them in the spring and, well, tomorrow never comes, or should I say, it comes and then goes...and there they still sit, waterless and pot-bound two sizes too small. I justify it by saying I am protecting them from soggy root-rot, but we all know better. It is as if they go into a winter coma and wait for a spring resuscitation.

How do I know? Well, because just as I think they have finally sticked-the bucket or gasped their last baby's breath, somehow by April they have managed to drag themselves to the back door on their own. Who knew potted plants had that kind of get up and go? By Spring, looking dead-as-doornail, as I am about to give them the final toss, I notice a newly sprouted bit of green on a branch, or a new bud sticking out from the dry packed pot, just that one small bit of growth which tells me there is still life somewhere in there when every other part of them looks like scorched earth and I can't bring myself to send them to Hefty bag heaven. So I set them outside on the deck at the first sign of warmth and by the end of Summer they have re-grown twice the size that you would have thought the damn things had wintered in a private hothouse in south Florida. Personally, I think they hang on through the winter just for spite, but what do I know?


So now the bright bloom of warm summer on the deck has ended and they have gathered themselves together in solidarity, again in the hope that this winter might be different. That they might get some coddling by me in the house...better light, non-rationed water, a little more care than last year and perhaps a short pep talk. I am sure they wish to be sent off to a greenhouse for the snowy months.

They look happy sitting there in the sunshine. I wonder if they know what's coming?

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