Plants are a necessary burden.
At this point in my life I have a lot of plants, and they bring me a lot of joy. When people admire my plants, I tell them "they represent the sum of the survivors." What they don't see are all the others I have manage to kill or neglect over the years. Some of these "survivors" are plants that I happened to save from certain doom, so the argument could be made that for some, I have brought them back to life. In writing this it strikes me that human relationships are much the same: there are some people who we inspire to bloom, or who we slip into easy harmony with, while there are others who we over water or don't value enough to nourish in a moment of need. For the plants that have survived or thrived under my care, we are at a point of understanding with each other.
I always liked the idea of having plants. Some piece of the natural world existing within the bubble of my human domain, a curiosity. At this point it seems evident that I seem to enjoy the shackles of caregiving with the sentiment that something could flourish given the resources to do so; so it is a win win. I watch something thrive and I feel my effect on the world around me. Like so many things, plants require patience. You literally watch them grow, that's all they do. Plants have been my gentle teachers, training me in what it means to care for something. The only consequence of my absent mindedness is some dead leaves to sweep up -- for while I may enjoy the idea of caring for something, the practice of going through the motions to do so takes, well, practice.
For years I lived under a giant eucalyptus tree. It used to shower my little patio with leaves. The wind would blow in other things too, like the occasional palm frond. Every few weeks I would get out my rake, and sweep up the leaves and put them into bags for the dumpster. Did I need to clean this patio? No. Plenty of people never bother with the leaves (or with house keeping for that matter), and that's their prerogative. We all have our priorities and preferences. I bothered with my leaves because I liked tuning into the cycle of nature. One day my patio is full of dead leaves. I rake them up and scrape my hands snapping twigs and shoving them all into bags. Before I know it my patio is clean again, transformed by my efforts... until the leaves fall and come again, and so on and so on and so on....
My first "plant success story" is that a big bushy plant that I purchased in Beverly Hills about 11 years ago while I was still in Film School at UCLA. At the time, I wanted something with an established root system. The plant I found was in perfect health and seemed like it would be impervious to my naiveté. I brought it inside, put it in front of my best window, and watered it in. It looked great until the leaves began falling off. I figured it needed more sun, so I took it outside and left it in my back yard for a couple days. All the leaves got scorched! I didn't realize a plant could get a sun burn. Between the over/under watering, the sunburn, and the light deprivation, the whole structure of the plant changed from something bushy into something spindly and sparce. Little did I know I was creating my own bonsai the unintentional way by presenting obstacles to its healthy growth.
This plant has stayed with me through multiple moves, broken pots, spider mite infestations, California dust storms, and survived both indoors and outdoors. It's pretty happy now in this window of dappled sunlight. When I open the window, I imagine that the plant gets to have an airy conversation with the tree right outside.
And then there is Fernarys: the fern that Oscar defouled into nothingness when we disappeared to the hospital for the week of Mylo's arrival on earth. Amazingly, Oscar had been trained to pee and poo in the toilet (crazy times, yo) -- but once we were no longer home to reward him with cat treats he defiled the fern, shredding it to bits in a foul fury of digging and scratching in the "holy litter" of its dirt. I almost threw the plant away, but the root ball was so vital and strong that I just replanted it in a clean pot and waited. It took about six months, but finally a little fern shoot of life appeared out of the barren earth. Today she is a bushy beast who lives high above the musings of felines.
Seeing the fern rise again taught me a lot about plants as well as people. If the roots are strong, new foliage will come when the time is right. I have applied this wisdom to this delicate little beauty countless times, cutting her down to a 6-inch branch of trunk in order to address an infestation of scale. She has regrown like a phoenix, again and again, always taking new shape and form, always spreading out her whimsical canopy of leaves. She needs some sun, but not too much. Too little and she turns into a thin vine seeking the light. In recent years I have learned that "Mrs. Meyers All Purpose Cleaner" is a great non-toxic treatment for a number of household insects: scale, mites, ants, etc... After the sun has passed for the day I saturate the leaves, and rinse them off an hour or so later with fresh water. Repeat as necessary.
The easiest houseplant of all has to be the benevolent pothos. They merrily roll along no matter the circumstances, making the most from what they've got. The optimists of the botanical world. It is possible to cause them misery, but like, you have work at it. You have to look at them thirsty for weeks before you see a leaf fade to yellow. You loose a few leaves, the plant goes limp and wilt, but a nice bath of cool water perks them right up, and with consistent water they are off to the races. And oh how they love to expand under the right conditions! You want to turn your living room into a jungle in no time?? Get some pothos.
Of all my plants, one has recently captured my special attentions: a baby almond tree. I sprouted this little guy inadvertently. I'm always soaking nuts and making almond milk and what not, and sometimes I don't get to all the nuts and seeds in my fridge. One day I noticed an especially plump looking sprouted almond, so I put it in its own little jar and left it alone. I rinsed it every so often. In a few months, it had grown into a leafy sprout inside the jar in my fridge. I took it out, and finally planted it in a little pot. It outgrew that pot in short time, and now his 17-inch self warrants a name worthy of a tree: Alejandro. We are looking for a good spot for him at The Ashram. With any luck, he will grow up to be a tall and nutty fellow :)
These two giant aloes started as one plant. Then the mother gave birth to her daughter and eventually that little girl grew up and needed her own place, so I helped her move out into a new pot. Now the mother has another baby sprouting up, but she has become so huge she is outgrowing the pot! Maybe she is trying to escape? Time to retire to a sunny pot in the garden, Momma, and leave the patio life to the youngsters.
Other Notable Characters...
Whether Mother's Day gifts, drugstore purchases, or inherited leafy beings, these little guys have stuck around.
The Succulent Gallery
I have discovered that succulents and I are especially well suited to each other. They don't seem to mind that I forget to water them -- in fact, I think they prefer it that way. Many of these I have grown from tiny babies into the small monsters they are today. Some of them I even started from cuttings or scraps of succulents found out in the world. I just bring them home and put them in some soil. It doesn't always work, but it works more often than you would think.
This spider Momma is currently withdrawn. She was the happiest outdoors, covered in birdshit.
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Maecenas vehicula tortor!
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Spend quality away time with family.
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