(Note: this article originally appeared in the July 11th edition of the LaFollette Press, in my Letters from the Nest lifestyles editorial. I highly doubt you will learn how to plant a garden from this piece, but you will know that there is hope for fellow house plant killers. )
Confession for your Monday: I have never, in my life, been able to successfully keep a plant alive. Why, you ask? I mean, all you have to do is water it. It is in a controlled flower pot environment, there should really be no reason why someone could not sustain life to such a simple seedling. But if thriving gardeners have what they call a “green thumb”, then my thumb is black, with a little fungus around the nailbed.
It all started in college, when I had a large floor plant gifted to me after the death of a relative. It was a situation in which the family had so many plants and flower arrangements at the funeral home that they were handing them out left and right. And then the crowd parted and there I was, the girl who lived in an 8×8 room with her best friend and her twin bed was hoisted up on cinder blocks to make way for storage. She would be the perfect plant companion, they concluded.
I found the perfect spot for this peace lily, right next to the front door of the dorm room suite surrounded by movie posters heavily taped to the gray cinder block walls. It had a tiny ornamental bird that was carefully hidden amongst the lush, shiny leaves. I felt I had performed a civic duty by bringing a plant into a dorm room, thus naturally cleaning the stale air of Doritos and late night study groups and arguments over card games.
Only problem was, I couldn’t keep it alive. The soil looked dry so I would take my last swig of bottled water and dump it on as I was heading to my 8am class. The soil seemed too wet so I would put the plant under some harsh artificial lighting. Next thing I knew, there were a few branches left where the leaves used to be, and my roommates filmed a documentary about this plant and the bird it left behind. (No kidding. They filmed my dead plant. If I can run across that tape I’ll show it to you sometime.)
So, when we decided to plant a garden for the first time ever this summer, my mind went back to the time in my cubicle at work when a few co-workers felt it necessary to intervene with the four plants I had on my desk. One would take care of them if I were on vacation, and the other just took them over completely, bringing a large gallon jug of Miracle Gro and bringing life back into the greenery. I needed serious help.
But despite the fact that if it were a criminal offense for killing off plant life, I would be spending life in prison without parole, I still really wanted a garden on our farm. A place we could tend and grow and see tangible results. So I decided to do things right this time and follow the advice of those who have gone before me. A fellow farmer came to till our land. We kept our plants indoors at first, watering them every other day until after May 1st. We carefully measured between each tomato plant with precision, making sure to give them adequate space in case this whole gardening thing actually worked.
For the first time in my life, I planted something that didn’t die. We collected a bounty of cucumbers, tomatoes and onions this summer, with baskets so heavy I could barely lift them. As a small family business, we even set up to sell our spoil at the local farmers’ market, making new friends and selling things that grew in our yard, all at the same time. The peppers surprised us toward the end, growing leaps and bounds overnight. But that could be because I dusted crushed egg shells around the plant base. You can learn so much from Home Depot. Calcium, people.
Audrey Hepburn once noted that “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” and she could not be more correct. Because tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the weeks to follow, pickles and fried green tomatoes are on the menu.