Poison Ivy

My childhood home was a modest affair … a 3 bedroom, 1 bath rancher, that housed two parents, two kids, and at least three dogs at any given time. What set the house apart was the yard. We had a great yard growing up, large enough for a couple of fruit trees (apple and peach), an above ground pool, and forts. It also housed my mother’s garden.

Although, garden is not really a very appropriate description for it. More like a vegetable and fruit farmette. A field of food, if you will. On roughly a quarter portion of our half-acre homestead, my mother set up shop, growing green beans, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes galore, leaf lettuce, green onions, carrots, strawberries, and at one time, even corn. If it could be canned, this woman grew it.

My mother’s two green thumbs are the stuff of legend. She could probably plant a dish of eggplant parmesan and get a perfect crop. Have a sick plant? Take it to her… in no time it would be flourishing. Kids, pets, and plants. My mother spoiled them all. And, at least where the garden was concerned, the rest of us reaped the rewards. What didn’t end up immediately on our dinner plates was canned, turned into jam or sauce, and saved for later in the year.

Whether it’s the southern Appalachia in her or just pure genius, I truly think this woman could do it all. Gardening, DIY crafts (long before the era of YouTube tutorials), cooking, refinishing furniture, sewing a full wardrobe of clothes … you name it, she was amazing at it.  I guess I always assumed I would take after her in some ways. Cooking? Yeah, that I’ve got figured out. Crafts? Eh, not so much. Sewing clothes? Blech. Patterns confuse me more than Astrophysics. Pets? Now, that’s where I’m definitely following in her footsteps.

But plants? The jury is still out on that one. I’ve raised kids after all. Keeping a plant alive? You’d think I could do this one small thing. I mean, honestly, how hard can it be to take care of something that eats sunlight?

Outside plants – not counting vegetables and fruits (don’t ask!), I can grow those with ease. Columbines, Ditch Lilies (Day Lily to all you northerners), Coreopsis – all thrive under my watchful eye. The fact that these plants look to mother nature for sustenance and moral support is beside the point, I tell you.

It’s the indoor plants I have an issue with. Cacti collapse in on themselves at my loving hand. Apparently, I water them too much. I know they’re a desert plant, but I just can’t help myself!  Succulents soon lose their thick, glossy leaves under my ardent ministrations. Ferns dry up as if their leaves had caught fire … I still don’t know what I’m doing wrong there. African Violets are best left to others as none have survived a stint in my home.

I have one plant that has lived; if not thriving, it’s at least growing, and I’ve had it for quite some time. I hope I’m not jinxing myself by saying that. If it’s doing well, it’s only because it is a hardy plant hellbent on survival. It’s surely nothing I’ve done. So, there is that.

Deciding to dip a toe once more into the realm of flora guardianship, I picked up a plant right before Halloween. She was an impulse buy at the local grocery store, to be honest. Her name is Penelope. Penelope Pumpkin. You see, she resides in a pumpkin, so the name is appropriate.  I’m sure you’ve seen a hundred Penelopes around and never gave them a second thought. But at the time, I said to myself: “now here, here is a plant I can handle!”

What is Penelope, you ask?  Well, you know those air plants? The ones that are supposedly impossible to kill? They don´t need dirt or sunlight or anything really. They don´t even have a root system. I’m actually not entirely sure they’re “alive” in the traditional sense because they are so incredibly low maintenance.  Just spritz them once every equinox with a bit of water and they will thrive. “Oh, my toddler kept one alive in her room” I once heard someone say. There. That’s level zero. Nobody can fail with an air plant. Right?

Spoiler alert: I can.

I – a capable, full-grown adult – killed an air plant. That’s right, person with the gardening toddler, I can do even less than your genius spawn can.

It started out great – the cute little thing just sat there, not bothering anyone, lighting up a tiny corner of my desk with its little life force. Over time, my quiet little Penelope began to shrivel. The ends of her frilly tendrils started to look like burnt cat whiskers. I tried to revive her, but no amount of CPR or motivational quotes could bring her back to vitality. My little immortal plant had met its mortality.

That’s me, folks. The plant murderer. My mother must be so proud.

Penelope in better days. May she rest in peace.