Chief among Things I Am Terrible At But Keep Trying Anyway is keeping plants alive. I won’t even go so far as to say gardening, because that fails to fully encompass how thoroughly incompetent I am at anything even resembling said activity.

When we’d been dating for about a year, Matt gave me a beautiful orchid. I named it Oscar and cared for it tenderly. It died about a year later.

Matt presented me with a new orchid to persuade me to throw away the shriveled ex-plant that was Oscar. I named it Octavius and cared for it tenderly. Octavius lasted about six months before it shuffled off its mortal coil.

When we moved into our house a year ago and Matt realized that I was still refusing to get rid of Octavius’s remains (perhaps, I thought, it’s just dormant! Or pining for the fjords! If I dump enough water on the twig that was Octavius, it might revive!) he bought me a third orchid. A miniature version this time. I named it Oliver and cared for it tenderly.

Oliver only lived about three weeks. (I still have it, unless Matt disposed of it when I wasn’t looking. Maybe if I ignore it long enough magic will happen!)

At this point Matt not only flat out refuses to buy me any more orchids ever for the entire course of our lives, he also steers me away from them in the store in case they see me coming and die preemptively. I grudgingly admit that this is probably a fair course of action.

“But wait,” you’re about to tell me, soothingly, experienced plant-keeper-alivers that you all are, “Orchids are difficult. You should have started with something simpler.”

I did. I have also killed petunias, spider plants, a Christmas cactus, a regular cactus, and a few assorted unidentified green things. (Now assorted unidentified brown things.)

Despite my abysmal record, when we bought our house last year I had visions of vegetables dancing in my head. A yard! A place to love and cultivate and grow delicious things! So this spring I bought seeds for every fruit or vegetable that looked good in Meijer. I had peat pots and the recommended soil for starting seedlings and a light in the basement that I turned on and off at the appropriate time every day. When I announced to Matt that my plant babies were successfully in the dirt and watered in the basement he groaned and said “No, don’t call them your plant babies—then it will be so much sadder when they die.”

Alas, he was absolutely right. I planted probably fifty seeds. Most of them came up! And then all but three inexplicably shriveled.

Not one to lose hope (apparently, despite the veritable flood of evidence that I really probably should), I planted a second round of seeds. Most of this second round didn’t even bother sprouting. “What’s the point?” I imagine they asked themselves, already resigned to their fate.

But between the few seedlings I managed not to exterminate and the plants I bought at Horrocks, we had enough to plant a small garden this year (see stubbornness, n.). We vanquished the giant weeds eating our backyard and put in the new plants, ever-so-gently tucking them in with the rich garden soil. I sneak over and check on them every day when I get home from work (the sneaking so that they don’t become frightened; we’ve established that I have something of a reputation among plants, after all).

Less than half of the garden has died two weeks after we planted it: victory.

Most of the plants look decidedly bigger than they did two weeks ago. If nothing else, I can delude myself into thinking that the remaining others are growing at least a little: super victory.

One of my tomato plants has an actual tiny tomato on it: it is as if I myself formed the tiny tomato.

Maybe there’s something inherent about gardening—the smell of the earth, the literal productive nature of it, the necessity of being outside—or maybe it’s because I recognize that this is not one of my life skills, but I think I’m prouder of my garden than I am of anything else I’ve accomplished this spring.


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    Oh, plants. Congratulations on your tomato. 🙂

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    I hope your plants thrive! And if not, at least you got this terrific little essay out of the attempt. Here’s what I’ve learned so far in my own efforts to grow things: amend the soil, use Miracle Grow, find the spot where the plant in question will thrive and stick with it. Give lots of verbal encouragement.

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    My husband accuses me of committing herbicide on a regular basis. I counter that a plant that dies after three months is still cheaper than cut flowers every few weeks, which I do not receive from (ahem) a certain person. He has the grace to look slightly sheepish and to not mention herbicide for at least another six months.

    This strategy has worked for me for sixteen years.


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