“I don’t want any apartment plants, they’re just not my thing.”
That was my usual go-to reply whenever somebody wondered why there were no plants in my home. “I’m not good at taking care of them, I have neither the time nor the patience to keep them alive,” I would continue, if they insisted.
That was the easiest way of avoiding a conversation on a topic that was somewhat unclear to me too. I liked decorative plants. Yet I knew I didn’t want them in my home.
Frustrated and tired, I was walking fast towards the exit of the large store – one of my last hopes of finding the perfect curtain rail. I was in the middle of renovating and redecorating, and it was more exhausting than I had initially imagined. They were all either the wrong size, or the wrong colour, or the wrong shape, or the wrong price. I was obsessing over curtain rails, the same way I had been obsessing over each and every little detail, when I stopped abruptly in front of a 50% off shelf. I picked the small colourful pot with a small cactus, instantly wanting to take it home with me.
It seemed perfectly healthy, I thought while carefully placing it in the cup holder in my car. The moment I saw that prickly thing on that depressing shelf, I felt just the energy boost I needed. For a second, I could see it clearly, where I would place it and how it would look, once the renovations would be over, when everything would be the way I wanted it. It helped me see the bigger picture, the one that was going to be worth all the stress and effort. For that, it deserved to be given a proper home, especially since it seemed like it was just what mine needed.
It grew quite a bit ever since (for a cactus) and it now has little ones… because the truth is, I’m not really terrible with plants. I never have been. I do like them and I do enjoy taking care of them… even if there have been a few green casualties over the years.
Detaching certain activities from certain people and the memories they bring up is not always easy, or even possible. It can take years. Or years may not be enough and we may never get there.
I grew up in a home where decorative plants were treated better than people. I was always shocked when hearing my grandmother talk to her potted plants, not because I thought it strange, but merely because I never heard her use such a warm, affectionate tone towards a human being. I must have been 8 or 9 when I caught myself feeling jealous of a cactus – what was I supposed to do to deserve such attention, such praise?
Nevertheless, plants and people weren’t all that different for her. They were all things she could show off. When a plant wasn’t as impressive as she would have liked it to be or one of her friends had a better looking version of it, said plant would be given away. They may have received her kindest words, but her care for them was erratic and shallow, I eventually realised. Large plants were never repotted, it was too much effort; but they were placed strategically, where they could be seen and appreciated. Small plants were constantly being moved in larger and larger pots, because she was convinced that was all they needed to grow faster and prettier. Only years later, when I started caring for my own decorative plants, did it occur to me that she never fertilized them. As for the one that incurred my childish jealousy… that was her favourite one. The very old, very large cactus didn’t go with anything, but it was her pride and joy; and as a result, it got dragged in a nice, cosy spot in the living room, right by the door. Nobody could miss it… except for the sun light.
We give up too many small pleasures because of the negative experiences with which they’re associated. Sometimes we give up entire pieces of ourselves. Digging through the layers and layers of pain, memories, healed scars and bleeding wounds form our past may lead to some pleasant moments and experiences they might be suffocating.
This morning I picked two cherry tomatoes and put them in a ball with the ones from previous days. My small gardening experiment amused me over the summer. Looking at the cherry tomatoes, I picture my great-grandmother and I can hear her laugh at them and then at me, joking at my expense. As a child, I would visit her in the country and she would teach me all sorts of things about gardening. When I wanted to have a small patch of ground for my own flower garden, she lectured me on the waste of time in growing something you can’t eat, but then taught me how to plant bulbs and care for them, so I’d get the flowers I wanted. She would mutter about it, but I knew that caring for the small flower patch between my visits was something she enjoyed doing for me.
She’d call me crazy for growing cherry tomatoes in flower pots outside my window and we would laugh together. She would probably find the mini herb garden acceptable and useful. She would call my orchids and other decorative plants an atrocious waste of time and space, then she’d point out which ones need more attention. Plants and humans had some things in common for her too – they needed to be constantly cared for in order to thrive and she could generally see them for what and who they really were.
Peeling off those layers (when possible to do so) is often a lot more painful than letting them build up and suffocate certain pieces of what used to be…