I’m 54 now and while I’ve learned and mastered a great many things in my life there are still too many that baffle me. One of them is how to garden.
Now, I’m not talking the Martha-Stewart-let-me-show-you-what-I-can-do-with-that-half-acre-patch-of-weeds kind of gardening. I’m talking about the ability to keep even one potted plant from biting the big one.
Because sadly, while I can string together enough words to form a book and stay on top of the floating tufts of dog hair on my hardwood and keep myself in business for more than 60 months, I have a toxic thumb. One that cannot help but take a perfectly lovely blooming flower and, within a matter of days, turn it into a wasteland.
I marvel at the people I see outside on a sunny Sunday, tending joyfully to the colorful palettes that are sprinkled across their lawns like stars against a dark night. Then, I reflect on our own landscape, a colorful mix of mostly beige and brown, with flecks of green peeking out from under like curious toddlers at a hospice convention.
Usually, I just sigh in observation of the plant cemetery that lines both our small back deck and our robust asphalt driveway, and then let it go once inside our colorful and artistic home. After all, you can’t really kill a sofa or a fabulous painting (unless I’m painting it myself, but that’s another post). They are gloriously inanimate objects that, unlike plants, are totally unreliant upon my ability to provide life support.
But this past week, I had to do something about the outside since I was hosting a bridal shower for my stepdaughter and had to make the place shine all the way around.
In an attempt to do my daughter proud, I dragged my husband to Buckman’s Gardens—a specialty garden shop in the neighborhood. Sure, we could’ve gone to Home Depot or Lowes on the cheap. But they didn’t offer me the intensive instruction I required when it came to both buying what I needed and keeping it alive for five straight days (until the party) without incident.
Once there, we met with the well-shaped barely 20-something Lauren, who quickly, wisely, and accurately assessed who she was dealing with: Somebody with the botanical IQ of a newborn. I was so at her mercy, I didn’t even have the wherewithal to call her a “bitch” under my breath for being no bigger than a size two—probably without even trying.
The fact was I had bigger fish to fry. Starting with at least describing the environment we had to offer plant life. “Well,” I said to Lauren, trying desperately to help me make choices, “the back is sunny mostly, but sometimes, you know, come to think of it, in some places it gets a little shade, not too much though, but some for sure. Although, it depends if it’s raining, in which case it’s not sunny, but still warm. Does it matter if there’s a glare?” I then went on to describe the front of our house with equal clarity.
At that point, she started catching on I might be a lost cause. And Dan was too lost in the store’s collection of Webkins and other junk to offer Lauren another perspective. Not that it would have mattered, because my husband can barely remember where we keep the refrigerator. And C, well, her standard response is “I don’t know.”
And so with great patience—the kind you need when you work with disabled animals—she led me through their atrium of plants, dragging one after the other off its hook to get a feel for what I wanted.
“This is a geranium,” she’d say, “and it does very well in the sun.” To which I’d respond, especially if it were yellow, “That is such a bad color for me, really. Look.” Then I’d make her hoist the plant down so I could get up close to it. “See? It makes me look like I’m about to lose my lunch. Am I right? Huh?”
While I didn’t have the most educated commentary, I was able to make a few choice decisions about what to take and what to leave (being a proud “J” on the Myers-Briggs personality scale). And three hours later—the time it would have taken to watch 1.5 Lifetime Television Movies, a better spend in my estimation—we left with $700 less in our checking account.
Such an unsatisfying purchase for me, really, especially since I could’ve done great things at Home Goods with that money—and that in about two weeks, if we were lucky, we’d have nothing but a bunch of dead leaves to show for it.
But then again, if it won over the hearts and gloves of my stepdaughter’s gal pals (and my mother, now the truth comes out), it would all be worth it.
After buying plants and some new cushions for our wicker loveseat and chair set, we went home to do an extreme deck makeover.
First task: To get rid of the rusty smoker, dirty patio furniture (note to self: cover cushions next winter), and damp wood that looked like it threw up in splinters all over the planks. All the while, the nice gay couple and their two pampered dachshunds that live behind us looked on in quiet judgment.
You could just tell by the way the humans folded their arms and tilted their heads under their expensive awning, surrounded by tealights and gilded potters, that they were thinking, “It’s about time. How much longer were you going to have to make us look at that rat’s nest of a deck?” Of course, theirs looked like something off the set of The Bachelorette.
And frankly, if they were basing their opinion solely on the décor of our back deck, I could see how they might think of us as some sort of 21st-century suburban version of the Klampetts.
Still, I was aiming to change all that.
After we swept the decks, we moved on to the next step: C went out to look for stray caterpillars. Dan went to the bathroom. And I had a diet Sunkist Orange soda and three bites of the low-fat chicken salad I had bought the day before from None Such Farms. (So not low-fat.)
Soon enough, I started to fashion a plan for where to put the seven plants we bought for the cost of rent. And then directed my husband like I can only guess Marty Scorsese directs Robert DE Niro:
Marty: The two hanging there, the small one on the table, the two others in the ceramic pots—empty the rainwater first—and just rest those others over there by the extra tank of Propane.
Bobby: So I’m feeling like a plant. Like hanging myself. Like there’s nothing left to live for. I climb up onto that wrought iron and just float in the wind, asking myself how long I’ve got. The questions plague me: If I weren’t hanging, where would I be? Which way would I face? Which direction would I turn? Will it hurt while I spin? Would I rather face the troubled neighbors or my own dark kitchen? It sure would be great to have a little refreshment—a nice drink of water, a nip of fertilizer, a cool breeze. But no, no, I couldn’t…
All I can say is that while the deck did look better once we got it all together, the big question still loomed just as large: Could we keep the plants alive until the party?
Suffice to say it was a grueling five days, during which my husband and I were virtual prisoners to the new landscape.
Case in point: One night, Dan casually mentioned that the plant that looked like a big green afro was browning. I growled at him and shoved the chicken breasts I’d cooked in his favorite marinade down the garbage disposal. “Screw you,” I snapped, and promptly retired to the bedroom.
Another night, we were actually sitting on the deck, when my husband (who never learns) asked me if “that one” looked saggy. Fortunately for him, he pointed to a plant.
“Well, it doesn’t look as good as the red one.”
“Or the yellow one in the corner. That one looks like a bunch of computer wires with balls.”
“They don’t look like balls.”
“They do. Small round balls.”
I rolled my eyes. “Do you think we should water it?”
“Go ahead if you want to. I don’t want to be held responsible.”
“Why do I always have to do it?”
“Because I don’t know how.”
“What’s to know? You lift up the hose and pull the handle. Water comes out and you hold it over them. You’ve built museums. You can’t water the plants?”
Later that night, we went to a seminar on how to pay off your mortgage faster than 30 years. In the middle of the guy’s presentation, it started to thunderstorm. I couldn’t help but raise my hand and ask him: “I just watered my plants. Do you think the rain will kill them?”
The instructor looked at me like I’d just offered him a half-eaten hamburger from the dumpster out back.
Dan nudged me. “He doesn’t know. Ssssh.”
Of course, I’m always working on the premise that it never hurts to ask. After all, sometimes you just don’t know what people know.
Sure enough, the next morning, the purple and pink plant once in need of hospice did look a lot perkier. But then the red plant was wilted and the yellow plant in the corner really did look like it had hanging balls and the plants in the front of the house, which needed shade, seemed to be baking in the two hours of sunlight I forgot we got in that spot.
Which led me to four exciting revelations:
It’s a good thing I never had children.
I want my $700 back.
Those shower ladies (mom) can’t come and go soon enough.
And sure enough, they did. The party was yesterday and it went off without a hitch. I’m sure they had no idea of the angst I had over dolling up the back deck, which they raved about like opera fanatics at a Salome revival.
On a positive note, the deck looked beautiful through the sliding glass doors. On a negative note, that was the only way to see it, since it stormed all day.
Fortunately, that was good enough for the most important old lady in attendance (my mother).
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Jill Sherer Murray is an award-winning writer and speaker who studies creativity, relationships and self-growth. She is also the founder of Let Go For It®, a lifestyle brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk as well as her advice column, Big Wild Love: Let Go For It® were created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill @letgoforit on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.