Monday, April 26, 2010

Wanted for Multiple Planticide

By Susan Esther Barnes

There were no early warning signs when I was a child. I was not caught lighting bushes on fire or throwing potted ivy into the swimming pool. True, from time to time I could be seen stabbing toothpicks into an avocado seed, but that was ostensibly for the purpose of growing a plant out of it.

My first apartment was completely devoid of all plant life, other than the mold on the dirty dishes in the sink. This did not inspire me to visit a nursery, but it did result in a promise to myself that my future residences would contain a dishwashing machine. Who, then, could have predicted my future would include the horror of multiple planticide?

My crime spree started after the death of my paternal grandmother, may her memory be a blessing. She had a fine collection of african violets, which some fair-minded person decided should be divided among her survivors. The two or three plants assigned to me didn’t last long.

My misguided career in attempted plant care may have ended there, but for my misfortune in marrying a man who had multiple plants, both live and plastic. Neither of us ever touched the things, which thrived under the care of the housekeeper, who only came once a week, making it look easy.

Alas, I did not heed the warning sign when I decided to buy a new houseplant and then stopped for groceries on my way home. It did not occur to me that the admonition not to leave pets or small children locked in a hot car might apply to plants as well. I can still see the bewilderment on the housekeeper’s face as he timidly asked, “Why did you buy a plant with so many brown leaves?”

Buoyed by the housekeeper’s success, and perhaps unconsciously hearkening back to a simpler time when I harbored mold in the sink, when my marriage ended and I found myself once again in my own tiny apartment (with a dishwasher!), I concluded I could likely nourish some plants of my own.

Imagine my shock when, some months later, I stepped through my front door to find plant bits and dirt strewn across my living room floor. What planticidal maniac (and possible soulmate?) could have broken into my apartment and, in a fit of anti-herbacious rage, proceeded to tear my poor houseplant limb from limb?

I considered fleeing in case the intruder were still nearby, but instead I summoned enough courage to investigate the scene of the crime. The victim had been a succulent, with multiple “arms” meeting in the dirt in the center of the pot. Apparently, overwatering had caused the bottoms of the arms to rot where they met the soil, until eventually the weight of the arms caused the lower parts to break off suddenly, thereby turning each arm into a separate catapult, launching the dirt and rotted plant parts in all directions. It is now remembered fondly as the Amazing Exploding Plant.

After I remarried and we moved into our new home, my husband and I were given four or five houseplants as housewarming gifts. Some succumbed quickly, while others struggled in a gamely fashion for some time, but within a year the only survivor was the orchid. After the flowers died the leaves still looked green, I went to the nearby nursery for advice. “How is this plant the sole survivor,” I wondered, “Aren’t orchids hard to care for?”

The nice man behind the counter assured me, “Oh, no! Keep doing what you’ve been doing, and it will bloom again next year. Orchids love neglect!” I followed his advice, and the orchid is once again in full bloom, lording a glorious row of gorgeous flowers over a half-dead victory rose, a hibiscus stump, and three pots of scraggly herb sprouts.

And that is the trouble that keeps us addicts and serial killers coming back for more. Despite the horror and the suffering, it is these moments of ecstasy that we keep trying so desperately to recreate. “If I just get one more plant,” I tell myself, “maybe this time it will bloom and thrive.” And so the planticide continues. Pray for them.

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