I have this suspicion that I won’t really be a Real Grown-Up until I can keep houseplants alive.
Sure, there are other markers of adulthood. Steady employment, discounted car insurance. Meal planning. Pets. Children.
But the children tell you when they’re hungry. They let you know if you forgot to water them. And anyway, they’re pretty resilient.
The plants let me know I’ve forgotten to water them by DYING.
It’s not the most foolproof of systems.
“No, honey, those are not dead leaves,” I explain to my preschooler. “No, they are mulch. Yes, they are all over the living room floor. Because the tree just MADE the mulch for us right now this minute, that’s why. It’s just a really good mulcher.”
That tree started off shaggy. Now it’s more, let’s say… streamlined.
I keep trying, though, because plants are magical, and their superpower is turning bad air into good. (Technically that may be less “alchemy” and more “biology.” It’s hard to say, really.)
I like to imagine them vacuuming toxins out of the air—the pollution and chemicals, yes, but all the other gunk we put out there too: the exasperated sighs, and the little huff that comes with rolled eyes, and the words that could have been gentler.
They take it all in and they breathe out air, clean and pure.
They breathe out life.
Plus they’re pretty.
And okay, yes, I’ve killed four ferns in the last six weeks. The strawberries in the backyard would probably be happier with more sun. And water. And dirt.
At this rate it’ll take us three growing seasons to put together one side salad and a ripe tomato. I think that makes us part of the slow food movement.
But you know, life is not a test.
Life is for learning. And I’m working on it.
I assume the rest of the plants have stopped cleaning our air at this point, in solidarity with their overwatered compatriots.
Because that is what happens when you have a two-year-old and a watering can: waterlogged root balls. This is one thing I have learned.
One thing I have not learned is who came up with the term “waterlogged root balls.” It’s an unfortunate word choice, is all I’m saying.
Still. Life is not a test. Life is for learning.
I am trying to learn how to keep the plants alive. My two-year-old is trying to learn why I bother.
“Yes, we do eat basil, but not the roots of it. Only the leaves. We’ll cut off the leaves—wait, not all of them! Oh. Okay. You know what, we can get another basil plant at the market.”
So I haven’t learned it yet. So it didn’t turn out this season.
There’s always next time.
“What is this stuff on the pots?” my husband asks. “Is it some kind of mildew?”
“It’s CHARM,” I say. “That is vintage charm.” Some people pay extra for that. Ours is DIY. Unintentional DIY that kind of looks like mildew.
A real gardener knows what the plant needs—more sun, more shade, more water or less or drainage or none. Plant food. Mulch. Pest control.
A good gardener shapes and helps and directs and provides.
I am not that gardener yet, but life is for learning, and I am working on it.
For the green things (ficus?) out on the patio, for the leafy stuff (ivy?) on my bathroom counters, it may be too late. This is what we call sad but true.
So this is what I am telling myself:
It’s okay to keep trying.
And it’s okay if you have to try again after that. Life is for learning.
I have already learned how to neglect lavender until it dries in its pot (it’s not that hard, really), and how to drown a spider plant (opposite method, same difficulty level). These may not be USEFUL lessons, but I have learned them.
The rest of it? Well. I guess that gives me something to learn about tomorrow.