Thoughts from a Gardener


Raising plants is one of life’s simple but great joys. Under the caretaker’s watchful gaze, green tendrils, nodding leaves, and the occasional splash of color gently unfurl and reach for the sun. But there is more to take pleasure from than the beautiful view. After all, a vase of cut flowers doesn’t bring quite the same level of satisfaction as the potted plant, or the tree rooted in soil. There is an unmistakeable fondness that forms within our hearts when providing a plant with love and attention—not just momentarily, but over time.

Flora have dominated our vast planet for far longer than we have existed. They thrive in places where most of us would dare not go, in places we could only imagine. They spend their days singing with the bitter, howling wind, or embrace the night in the darkest of tiny crevices. In their myriad of forms and shapes, plants have watched the ages come and go.

It is interesting, then, that they willingly submit to our clumsy attempts at nurturing them. We are but children in their eyes. We understand nothing about the world but we are forever trying to bend it to our will. We take plants’ limbs and put them in small containers of earth and grow proud when the plants do as they have always done.

How will this tiny sprig of green like its new home? Hopefully it will enjoy its fresh bed of moistened soil. Its pot is roomy but not too big. The little plant may not know it yet, but she will be watered regularly and be exposed to an optimal amount of sun (according to the notes from the nursery.) She will be shielded from harsh winds, drumming rains, and extreme heat. Once she gets used to her new surroundings, surely she will be happy and flourish.

Sometimes it is fun to imagine what form the plant will take over time. Maybe this one will grow straight and true, a single strong stem climbing confidently towards the sun. Or maybe with the right care, that one will grow full and round with many branching arms. Hopefully neither of them will be scraggily or thin.

But maybe we were actually lucky enough to find the funny little plant, the one that defiantly leans to the side and ignores the form of its brethren, cresting in strange ways?

And what color will the leaves be? Deep and rich green? Can I coax this one to be a little golden, or maybe the richest of ruby reds come autumn? Or maybe she will blush to orange as the sunlight works its magic.

Excitement
Nurturing

Once she grows bigger and stronger, maybe we can introduce her to some friends. This new family will of course have similar water and light needs, but there are still so many individuals to choose from. Which members of the garden will complement her best? The rugged, patterned leaves of the Haworthia fasciata? The delicately draping strands of the Senecio rowleyanus, with its pearl-shaped leaves? And which pot shall this little community thrive within? Of course there is the trustworthy terra cotta bowl, but the light neutral wash of the clay pot or the bright sheen of the colorful ceramic dish are just as alluring.

Every day we check back on our little garden, holding our breaths for a new leaf or the creeping tendril. How many buds are there now? In our anxiety for the plant’s happiness, we poke and prod and check whether the roots still strong and deep. We run our fingers across the surfaces of the leaves, eager to remove the dust and show our little ward the extent of our love.

It is a curious thing, how these plants respond to our little experiments. Maybe we’ll give the pot a little less water today, because the sun hasn’t been shining as strongly recently. Or perhaps it has been a dry and hot week, so we give our garden an extra helping of water. This stem could use a little extra support from the carefully placed stick. These leaves could use a little more sun to bring out their true colors.

Of course, sometimes these experiments fail. There will be times when we are overeager and drown our plants, or scorch the leaves, or provide too much fertilizer and disrupt the delicate balance of nutrients in the soil. We inadvertently introduce pests, spores of mold, microscopic bugs that are more than happy to make a meal of our precious greenery. Sometimes, the failures make us want to give up. Must another plant submit to my ignorance and neglect? Surely they deserve a better caretaker than me and what I have to offer them.

Experimenting

But plants are quick to forgive. Even through the hardest of struggles, they will reach for life and heal themselves. Once again they will grow strong and true and become a thing of beauty. Soon we can once again marvel at their propensity for life. Over time, we will once again enjoy each other’s company.

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