It's such an awkward question.
It’s such an awkward question.
“Do you have any still at home?”
The answer itself isn’t the problem – “Yes, three,” I say, but then I start praying somebody’s phone will ring, or it’ll be time for a meeting or the Jehovah’s Witnesses will come to the door. Anything to avoid the discussion that’s otherwise inevitable.
Not that my three are as bad as all that. One of them, in fact, is terrific: Healthy, sturdy, tall and growing even taller every day.
“Look at this guy,” people will say admiringly when they come over. “What a handsome specimen he is! What’s his name?”
“I have no idea,” I’ll say.
In fact I don’t. My husband and I buy plants based on one quality: their ability to get along with a minimum of nurturing.
“Tell us what can be neglected,” we say to the clerks at the nursery, and without batting an eye they do. Clearly, we’re not the only people who live by the principle, “Know thyself.” In fact, entire sections of nurseries are given over to people who know themselves — who know themselves to be careless, hardhearted, forgetful curs who never bought a plant they couldn’t starve, maim or cause to wither away from lack of water.
These days, thanks to understanding nursery workers, I own the kind of plants that thrive on neglect. They can take what I dish out (which is nothing). If they were toys, they’d be those inflatable punching bags that always bounce back.
This may begin to explain some of the other, less attractive qualities of my three plants. The very characteristics that allow them to live on when I forget their existence for weeks on end may go frond-in-frond with their innate hardiness.
Take the tree. Well, it’s not really a tree; it’s a huge plant with three thick stems, each the size of a garden hose. This tree would be quite satisfactory if it weren’t for the sticky glaze that appears all over its leaves and stems each winter. It’s as if I held it by its root ball and dipped it in a vat of maple syrup each October.
“Sticky?” people have said when I’ve described this glaze. I’ve asked seasoned gardeners about the phenomenon, thinking they would tell me how to make it go away, but no one has ever heard of it.
Meanwhile, this tree, which is a good five feet tall in its bare roots, is disgusting and untouchable during the eight months of the year that it’s indoors.
In the summer, we move the tree outside, where the rain washes away the stickiness and it blossoms — figuratively speaking — in the sunshine. We dare to hope as God is its witness it will never be sticky again, but then cold weather sets in, we bring the tree indoors and six weeks later, its leaves are shiny and sticky and practically dripping with an unknown yickiness. If you didn’t know better you’d swear the tree had a respiratory disease.
As if that weren’t dysfunctional enough, I give you our second plant, which wouldn’t be bad looking if you didn’t have to turn sideways and put your head on the table next to it to get a proper look.
Somehow, when we transferred this plant from its temporary plastic holder to its permanent ceramic pot, the plant’s roots took off in a direction I can only describe as misguided. As a result, the plant grew up cockeyed, off-center in its pot and looking very much as if it had two feet in one shoe.
In an effort to correct what appeared to be a botanical typographical error, I produced a larger ceramic pot, a bag of potting soil and an armload of derring-do, pried the plant from the small pot and placed it in the larger one, taking care to center it just right.
When I was done, I stepped back to take a look. To my horror, the plant was now parallel to the floor. Its roots were straight as little soldiers, but one inch above the soil the plant took an abrupt right turn and continued in that direction until the end of the line. Just looking at the plant was enough to give a person vertigo.
You’d think I’d take comfort in the third plant, Mr. Upright Eagle Scout over there, but frankly, it’s beginning to annoy me. For one thing, I suspect this perfection business has more than a touch of irony running through it. Nothing’s that perfect.
“Don’t look so smug,” I’ve taken to telling it on my way through the room. “I know what you’re up to.”
In fact, I have no idea what it’s up to. I have no what idea what any of the plants are up to, if it comes to that. But I like to think I’m keeping them off-balance. It evens up the playing field, at least.
Margo Bartlett can be reached at mbartlett@ thisweeknews.com.