Friday, April 01, 2005

Throwing in the Trowel

It's the first of the month, and time again for that dubious public service; that is, posting my monthly column from Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine, for those of you whose subscriptions have lapsed:

Spring is in the air, and that can mean only one thing: Recreational vehicles driving erratically up Interstate 17 on their way back to British Columbia.

No, really, it means gearing up for another exciting season of gardening in northern Arizona. For me, personally, April means it’s time to get the trowel out of mothballs... and then immediately put it back into mothballs, because I have no idea what to do with it. Or - wait a minute, trowels are those teeny little shovels, right? Trowels I can handle. It’s those little claw things that always baffle me.

I’ve never had the greenest of thumbs. My first bachelor-style apartment featured a couple of house plants, the efforts of some well-meaning relatives who thought they would make a nice counterpoint to the Bugs Bunny poster hanging in the living room. If I recall correctly, they were the kind of hardy houseplants that would survive a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster. I probably had to water them no more than twice a year, and they would have happily hung out in the corner of my kitchen, thinking houseplant thoughts (such as “Does he eat anything except macaroni and cheese?” and “I don’t remember the sun looking quite so long or fluorescent...”).

So as you’ve probably guessed, I killed them off within a couple of months, most likely because walking all the way over to the sink to fill a watering can was such a chore. I occasionally figured the carbonated water in Dr Pepper would do the trick. Had I thought of it, I could have applied for a US Department of Agriculture grant to study the effects of sodium benzoate on ferns.

I got somewhat better at taking care of plants through the years, largely thanks to my wife, Gretchen. When we lived in Washington, DC, she filled our sun-drenched balcony with plants. I enjoyed that quite a bit, partly because they were pretty, and partly because they distracted the local cockroach population away from our kitchen pantry.

When we moved the Flagstaff, we headed out to the Arboretum’s annual plant sale, and aquired the kind of plants a botanist would refer to as “ground cover”, and what I would normally refer to as “Aren’t those things weeds?” We dutifully watered them, and then watched them get progressively browner until we did, indeed, have difficulty telling them from the neighborhood weeds.

But we kept up with houseplants, which all did just fine until our daughter came along, and distracted Gretchen away from the tasks of watering, pruning, or even dusting them off now and then. So those chores have been transferred to me. And the plants are still alive. Some of them seem to be afflicted with skin conditions that lead me to wonder whether they’re going through a kind of horticultural puberty, but at least they still resemble plants.

And my wife and I still manage to do better than some. We once visited friends in Pittsburgh who had lush plants throughout their house. Gretchen made sure to ask them how they kept them so healthy-looking. It turns out that furniture polish does great work on plastic plants.

1 comment:

Carol Davidson said...

My favorite is the jade plant. You can put it in a corner for three months, cover it with empty Krispy Kreme doughnut boxes, forget to water it, and when you find it after some last minute panic cleaning when some guests are coming for dinner, it'll still look relatively good.

Uhm... from books I've read.