Last week, I threw out a potted plant. That last sentence was easy to write, but it was not so easy to actually do.
I am not a “plant guy”. Green things are alright, but plants are not things that do it for me. And that works both ways, as a green thumb is something that I do not possess. Therefore, pretty much any plant can do a lot better than to rely on me for its care and feeding.
I have always gravitated towards mechanical things. I will spend hours in diagnosing and repairing some stupid little mechanism, whether it is in my home, my car, or about anywhere else. Even when it is much less costly to replace a broken piece, fixing it instead gives me a feeling of deep satisfaction that does not come from many other things.
The plant kingdom holds no such allure for me. Of course, I do not desire to live with landscaping of rusting steel or somesuch. Well-tended greenery around the house is attractive. And I can appreciate the look of great landscaping as much as anyone. My problem is that I don’t know how to make it happen or how to keep it up once it is there. So grass, bushes and trees is about it for my yard.
And wild violets. Lots of wild violets. Why is it that anything really desirable in the way of landscaping is beyond my modest skills, yet so is killing that which is undesirable? It would seem that if the universe were ordered fairly, those of us who have difficulty tending the good stuff should have an easy job of killing the not-so-good stuff. That, however, is not the way the world works. Apparently.
But back to my potted plant. It was my first. And it wasn’t really even my idea. At my father’s funeral in early 2001, this plant was sent by someone who had known my father slightly, but whom I had known quite well at a job over twenty years earlier. I was struck by how he had cared to send his respects after so many years, and after the funeral, I determined that I would take the plant home.
I will confess right now that I have no idea what kind of a plant it even was. Some called it a Spider Plant, but I don’t know. It had lots of long, thin leaves. The bottom ones would dry up and turn brown while new ones would form from the top. The dead leaves left a sort of palm tree-like trunk. Four of these little guys in a single pot made for a very attractive little plant.
In writing this, my curiosity was up and I think I may have identified it as a dracaena marginata. At least it sort of looked like this one in its younger, more attractive days.
“OK”, I said to myself, “I am going to take care of this plant.” And so I did. For almost fifteen years, that plant sat in front of a window in my office. It could probably have grown into something really spectacular. For someone else, anyway. As it was, it grew taller and taller, with its four stalks becoming rather tall and spindly. Someone creating a scale replica of a southern California streetscape might have found the individual stalks useful substitutes for plastic palm trees. But then again, maybe not.
I suspect that a re-potting would have helped. I went so far as to buy a bigger pot. But whenever I went to the office, I did not go to garden, but to lawyer. So, legal work got done while the plant sat back and did whatever it is that plants do.
I came to admire its hardiness. The leaves would go limp from lack of water, which would tell me that in the next few days, I needed to pour a coffee pot or two of water into the pot. Once irrigated, the leaves would bush right back out and all was happy in my little twelve square inch agricultural plot.
Unfortunately, there is not so much that can be done with a plant that is as tall as me but is spindly and has lost whatever good looks it might have once had. Inertia is a powerful force, however, and whenever I felt a teeny urge to move it out of my life, something would stop me. That plant made me think of my father and of the friend who had made such a thoughtful gesture to my family. Then I would get all Charlie Brownish and think “Gee, it isn’t such a bad little plant. Maybe I’ll water it again. And re-pot it. I will have to re-pot it.”
Some things are, unfortunately, more powerful than inertia. One of them is the need to move to a new, smaller office, where a twelve square inch piece of floor would be too dear to devote to hobby farming. My children were helping me move over the holidays, and my middle son did the dirty deed and carried my plant out to the dumpster. “I’ve always wanted to know how it would feel to throw out a potted plant”, he said. Now he knows.
And now I know too. I think I did the right thing. The poor plant had become woefully unattractive long ago. And in addition to the pleasant things it reminded me of, it also reminded me of some not-so-pleasant things, like how I had failed to take care of it the way I should have. Or at least the way I imagine that someone who knew what he was doing should have. Loyalty has its place, but it is something that is reserved, I think, to at least the animal kingdom.
So today, I am working in an office without a potted plant, for the first time in many years. And I’m alright with that. Because, as it turns out, looking around and not seeing my plant reminds me of my father and of the friend who had made such a thoughtful gesture to my family. Which means that the beautiful little potted plant, which became an ugly big potted plant, did everything for me that it could possibly do. And isn’t that all anyone can ask of anything?