In Other Words: Calling a spade a spade

I don’t have a green thumb. Moreover, my plants know it: they lie down and die right in front of my eyes. I once had a potted palm that thrived on humidity. I placed it in the bathroom and gave it plenty of light. When I showered, it peered down at my naked body like a voyeur. I became self-conscious, and I finally gave it away.

My dental hygienist said that plants enjoy poetry and need to be read to 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. They pegged me as the plant deviant I was.

“Plants and flowers are like pets,” a veterinarian friend told me after I had admired his Yucca tree. “You must care for them as you would an animal.”

I placed a bowl of Friskies in front of my schefflera, and hoped for the best. It didn’t so much as bark or meow.

But now, I’m calling a spade a spade and admitting the truth: I don’t have a green thumb. Each spring, I feel a sense of renewal, and decide to explore greener pastures. This year, I’m educating myself on the intricacies of good gardening.

I masked up and went to a local nursery where I tried sounding plant-savvy. A kindly looking woman, dressed in appropriate garden garb, greeted me. She was cradling an orchid, and stroking it with tender loving care.

“May I help you, dear?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said meekly, “I want to plant a garden.”

I’ve learned this about garden people: they are genuinely nice. That’s because they don’t worry about the real problems of life. When I get stressed, I have a full-blown anxiety attack. When they become tense, they go outside and commune with nature.

My friend and neighbor Cynthia is a lot like that. She’s always smiling — constantly in a cheery mood. I attribute this to the fact that she’s a whiz in the garden. Her house is ablaze with flowers and plants, which she nurtured from tiny buds.

“Nice azalea,” I once told her.

“Thanks,” she said, “but it’s actually an amaryllis belladonna. It hails from South Africa and requires deep planting and lots of sun. I’ve nursed it along for months.”

Cynthia worships at the botanical altar. She doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. Like Cynthia, I want to be a gardener, too. I want to raise plants from tiny seedlings into full-fledged “adults” that sit in the sunlight looking handsome and healthy. So, when the woman at the nursery said: “Let’s get started,” I followed obediently behind.

“First, let’s address the matter of tools,” she said. “A proper gardener needs the right utensils.”

Little did she know that up until now my gardening tools included a knife, fork and spoon.

“We’ll start you off with a round-point shovel for cutting through thorny weeds and slicing sod. Then, you’ll want a spading fork for breaking up subsoil. It’s also useful for digging around rocks, or lifting compost.”

“I usually employ something even better for heavy lifting,” I said. “It’s called a guy.”

“Oh, no,” she whispered softly, “real gardeners don’t use other people. They do the job themselves.”

I was talked into purchasing a pitchfork, a heavy steel rake and a pair of sheep shears.

“I never gave a sheep a haircut before,” I said.

“It’s for the grass,” she said. “Very durable.”

After I was completely outfitted with paraphernalia, and felt like a garden fashionista, we moved into the “soil alcove,” wherein lay environmentally suitable bags of earth and pamphlets on various grades of soil, manure and plant nutrients. Then, she got serious.

“We need to address the weed factor. Tell me, do you usually have an abundance of weeds?”

“Only my hair,” I said. “I consider my hairdresser Robert my weed whacker.”

“Not to worry, I’m here to help. We need to condition your soil and you’ll need to till.” With that, she tried selling me a tiller, an aerator and a hoe. I settled on an economy-size watering can instead.

“I take it you don’t already have an existing garden,” she asked. “What exactly do you have?”

“Moss,” I said. “I have lots of damp, green moss surrounded by clumps of funny-looking grass with punk hairdos. And once, I was given the gift of a wandering Jew. It lasted a week until it had a nervous breakdown.”

She looked at me as though I were afflicted with a rare disorder.

During the space of an hour, I dropped over 300 bucks for garden equipment, seed selection, gardening gloves, a birdbath and politically correct dirt. I purchased “Gardening for Idiots,” and learned all about shade plants versus sunlight flora.

I’ve also been sociality distanced at Cynthia’s house “dishing the dirt” and getting into heated discussions on forsythia.

“Did you know that there are five species of forsythia?” Cynthia announced with bravado. “Among the best are spectabilis and suspensa.”

In one week, we covered a wealth of topics ranging from rock gardens to plant diseases, mulching, harmful pesticides, and the care and feeding of lawns. I was fast developing a gardening attitude.

“Let me show you my latest addition,” Cynthia said, as I breezed through her door one afternoon with a blooming cactus. “Are you familiar with strelitzias?”

“Of course I am,” I said. “Just last week I ordered two of them stuffed with Ricotta cheese and smothered in tomato sauce with a hint of rosemary, garlic and a dollop of pesto.”

I think Cynthia was impressed.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at joodth@snet.net or at judithmarks-white.com.