Younger Son and his lovely wife recently brought me a gift: a bonsai tree. These plants are things of beauty to me, their intricate modelling a siren song to the artist in me to come out and play. The problem is, that siren call is horticultural, and in my heart of hearts I’m known as Madame Black Thumb.
Younger Son possesses a thumb so green it’s virtually fluorescent. No matter what kind of plant he brings into his life, one touch of that magic thumb of his and drooping leaves spring to life; seeds sprout and leap into energetic growth; his small outdoor garden produces bunches, heaps, mountains of vegetables; and his flowers bud and bloom like mad things.
I think of him as Plant Man.
As one example of his prowess in the plant world: among all the other gorgeous plants growing contentedly in his vicinity, YS has an orchid, a plant I’ve always heard can be finicky to raise. Apparently they produce, at best, only a few flowers at a time. I’m here to tell you that, although they might be tricky for most indoor gardeners to raise, Plant Man has no such problem.
His orchid not only flourishes under his care, it also produces bunches of flowers on each of its two stems. Yes, I said bunches. Year round. It’s almost beyond belief. The buds actually appear to be crowding each other out of the way so they can get out there and show off.
Where that incredible green thumb of his comes from, I have no idea. Sad to say, it doesn’t come from me. I have a dismal history of indoor plant management.
With all the good intentions in the world, my touch has proven again and again to be the kiss of death to nearly every poor house plant unlucky enough to live within the walls of my humble abode. I over-water where I should be sprinkling. I under-water until the poor things are gasping, groping along the tabletop in search of a drop to drink.
I study the instructions that come with the plants, but the reality never seems to match what the rules promise.
I mean, obviously if a plant is so limp it’s hanging down over the pot, then it needs water. But some plants given too much water do the same thing. Sure, dried leaves shrivel up and turn yellow; but hello, so do drowned leaves!
How’s a person to tell the difference, anyway? It’s always a conundrum to me, how much or how little water each plant needs to drink at a sitting.
In point of fact, the only plant that has ever survived in my house for any length of time is the humble philodendron, which I’ve discovered is nearly indestructible.
Give them too little water, and they’ll hunker down to wait for rain – indefinitely, it seems. Too much water, on the other hand, and they simply grow more roots in the mud. They also seem not to miss sunlight at all, as long as there’s artificial lighting somewhere in the room.
They’re the perfect plant for someone like me.
For years, in fact, I had one huge philodendron that grew and apparently flourished in spite of the fact that I kept forgetting to add plant food to its water – or even to water the poor thing most of the time. It got doused with several gallons of water when I remembered, and parched in between times. It was remarkably resilient, and I have no idea what kept it going. Perhaps it was a Breatharian at heart.
Eventually, though, it too succumbed, and when it went on to its reward, I decided that Madame Black Thumb would no longer wreak havoc on innocent live plants. I solved my plant problem by buying a half-dozen lovely green plants from IKEA. They’re so well crafted that no one would guess they’re plastic. In fact, I often receive compliments on them.
Now I’m back to being the owner of a live plant, and somehow I have to keep this little tree alive.
The question is, can Madame Black Thumb transform herself into Madame Green Thumb?
Only our bedroom windows have a southern exposure, which to my mind defeats the whole purpose of having plants. I want to be able to admire this little bonsai, which means keeping it somewhere I can look at it, such as in my kitchen, which has a western exposure. Would that work? Summer sunlight is bright enough, but it only appears in that window after lunchtime. Can my bonsai survive with only half a day of sunshine every day? Will I have to buy plant lights? If I keep it outdoors, what will I do with it in the winter?
In spite of my bad reputation and many technical problems, though, I’m determined to do my best by this newcomer. Aburst with good intentions, I glance over at it sitting primly on the counter next to my kitchen sink and swear to myself, If Plant Man can do it, so can I.
Reality immediately raises its ugly head, looks me straight in the eye, and bursts out laughing.
Wish me luck.
[P.S. Bonsai Update, End of Week 2: Bonsai 2, Black Thumb 0. So far, so good.]