Trying on a green thumb for size
By Anna Mitchael
Back in 2009 I tried to keep a plant alive. It was a flower arrangement that arrived at my office for my birthday. After only seven hours of having the special delivery on my desk, a co-worker, who was stopping by for a completely unrelated reason, commented on the flowers.
“I didn’t know you had a birthday last week,” he said.
Last week? There was a mini Happy Birthday helium balloon poking out of the plant on my desk. That morning I’d actually put on all my makeup instead of just the sections I could manage in my car on the drive to work. Not to mention I was also wearing a pair of high heels instead of my normal “let’s just make it through the day, people” flats.
“Actually,’ I told him, “Today is my birthday.” “Oh, I’m so sorry. Happy Birthday,” he replied. “I just assumed since the flowers were dying that your birthday had already passed.”
After he left I went around to the front of my desk to examine the flowers from a different angle. They were, in fact, starting to wilt a bit. I poured a little more water into the pot and sighed. I wish I could say I was surprised, but the truth of the matter is that I once managed to kill a plastic plant. It was invaded by some kind of plastic-eating ant that science has yet to discover but which, of course, managed to find me.
Until this year, plants were something I decided to simply avoid. But for many, many years that was also how I dealt with small children. I’d sit on the opposite side of restaurants and when boarding an airplane, I would stay in a constant state of apprehension until I verified my section would be free of screamers.
What can I say? Things change.
Maybe it was moving to a ranch so expansive it almost seems criminal not to find hobbies in the outdoors, or perhaps the impetus was that whole growing-a-child-inside-my-body thing. I’m not trying to compare my son to a radish, but once I saw him turning into a fully functioning toddler with 10 fingers and toes and a mouthful of teeth, it occurred to me that now might be the time to continue riding that wave of good-growing luck and try my hand at growing some plants.
And so this spring I followed in the footsteps of many Texans before me, spitting in the face of people who think our climate is suffocating and our idea of healthy eating is simply ordering the smaller-sized burgers at McDonald’s, and I planted my very first vegetable garden.
The process was not nearly as simple as it seemed. My own special gift in life is to approach every new project with a rabid intensity that either squeezes all the fun out of it or scares people away. In this case, I put many, many hours of research and reading into a carefully gridded diagram of my soon-to-be garden and then proceeded to force a spreadsheet-viewing upon everyone who came through my front door.
I like to think we have very few visitors because we live so far from town, but it also occurs to me that other factors could be at play.
For a couple of weeks, I have to admit that I really just liked having the spreadsheet. It was such a nice transition period. There I was, on the brink of attempting something new. It is impossible to fail when something is only a series of plans for the future.
But eventually I had to transfer my garden from the paper to the ground. And after a week of working two large rectangles, I had the beginnings of what I hoped would bloom into a cornucopia of success — er, I mean, vegetables.
For the next few weeks I did everything by the books. I watered regularly and even started listening to Neil Sperry on the radio. And then, finally, last week when I went outside to pull some weeds, I also found the first edible plant ready to be picked — a head of romaine lettuce.
It is something grand to know that you can turn over a new leaf, that you can work hard at a fresh endeavor and find happiness. But I must say there is also an odd sort of pleasure in that moment when you are washing your first grown vegetable, only to have your significant other walk through the front door and say something like, “Hey, babe. I saw this in your pile of weeds from the morning and thought I should bring it in to show you.”
Then you turn around to see him holding an uprooted green plant in his hand.
“It might have looked like a weed,” he said, “but it actually was your watermelon plant.”
Yes, though my mistake seemed like a disappointment, it was actually a thrill because that is when I realized — regardless of how many endeavors I undertake, how much research I do or how many spreadsheets I create — it is impossible to completely cover up who I am. I can work at having a green thumb, but I can’t pretend I was born with one.
Occasionally, in the last year of trying new things, there have been moments when that woman from 2009 felt lost to me forever. It is a comfort to know the rather imperfect, plastic plant-killing, watermelon-picking creature who puts on makeup while driving her car will always be within reach.
This column appeared in the June 2011 issue of the Wacoan.