In Other Words / My wandering Jew had a nervous breakdown
Published 12:00 am, Saturday, October 7, 2017
I don’t have a green thumb. Moreover, my plants know it: they lie down and die right before my eyes. It wasn’t always so. I once had plants in every room. On the windowsill was a blooming begonia. In the corner of the living room, in direct sunlight was a fichus, so stunning, my husband paid more attention to it than he did me. In the bathroom, a potted palm that thrived on showers peered down at my naked body like a voyeur.
Then, I got lazy. I resented treating my plants like children. I never baby talked to my kids, and I refused to stoop to this level with my anthodium and African violets. I felt ridiculous humming tunes like Tiptoe through the Tulips, or regaling them with passages from How Green was my Valley, which, I was told would add years to a plant’s life.
My dental hygienist said that plants enjoy poetry, and need to be cleaned regularly.
So, I flossed their stems and began reciting verse. My Gesneriads were particularly fond of Keats, while my Fittonia was a devotee of Longfellow. But, nothing happened.
I thought the world had gone mad when my friend revealed a well-kept secret: for years she had performed the soliloquy from McBeth in front of her strelitzia.
“These plants were raised on intellect and culture,” she said. “My little narcissus thrives on the classics.
I went home and read the entire first act of Romeo and Juliet to my geranium. It didn’t seem to care. I got so mad I spritzed it with water until it required CPR.
“Plants are like pets,” a veterinarian had once told me after I had admired his yucca tree.”
“If you take on the responsibility of owning them, you must treat them with the kindness and respect they deserve. Care for them as you would a cat.”
I put a bowl of Friskies in from of my schefflera, and hoped for the best.
But, my heart wasn’t in it and my plants, knowing that, refused to grow. I was guilty of the worst possible gardening crime: terminal neglect.
Then, one day when every plant in the house had drooped, I decided to mend my ways. I stocked up on plant care books, and threw a little sugar and honey into their water to sweeten their roots. My petunia went into a diabetic coma.
After that, I devoted my entire life to the care and nurturing of my fuchsia and freesia. I gave up visits with my friends to stay home and have tea with my philodendron.
“You look divine,” I told it, offering it a scone.
And the philodendron, knowing I was lying through my teeth, withered at my feet.
Despite my poor success rate, I continued to try. I talked to them, smiled at them and fondled every leaf. Hearing that light is a plant’s bread, I put my purple-passion vine in a candle-lit room and whispered sweet nothings into its stems. By the end of the month it had croaked. The others looked ready for intensive care.
“Buy a cactus,” my friend suggested. “They’re maintenance-free.”
“What, and be pricked to death by an irate ecchymosis?” I said.
“You need to develop a plant attitude,” my neighbor Cynthia advised. “Think green.”
She took me for a stroll through her backyard, which resembles the Botanical Gardens.
I stood there feeling forlorn and hopeless, while Cynthia planted a kiss on her azalea bush.
Then, one afternoon I received a call from a friend, who was leaving on a two-week vacation.
“Do me a favor,” she said. “Could you tend my plants while I’m away?”
“Define ‘tend,’” I said.
“Just come and check on them every few days, and water them when their pots are dry.”
Dare I tell her that if I so much as glanced at anything green it might expire right on the spot?
When I agreed, her “must-do” list got longer. “You should also give them a dollop of plant food, half an aspirin mixed in some sugar, and most importantly, talk to them for 10-minutes. They thrive on banter.”
So, every afternoon, I went to her house and told them some of my best jokes. I also sang a few bars of “My Wild Irish Rose.” Miraculously, they survived.
After a while, I couldn’t handle the whole affair. I was a plant deviant. I decided to farm out my plants to family members. I gave my daughter most of them, thinking that being around my grandchildren would breathe new life into their veins. Instead, my Wandering Jew had a nervous breakdown.
I’ve been without them for a while now, and frankly I miss my potted pals, who once added color to my life. Last week, I took my friend’s advice: I went out and bought a prickly cactus to keep me company. It sits in the sun all day minding its own business. The two of work well together: I don’t touch it, and it ignores me.
Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every month in the Westport News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at judithmarks-white.com.