January 14, 2008
Freshman year of college, I remember visiting a friend’s dorm for the first time and noticing that she had a small potted tree and several other plants in her room. I was impressed. As a young adult living on my own for the first time, I was barely getting the hang of keeping myself alive. My idea of cooking was using a plate; I cackled gleefully every time I left the house in winter without a hat. I was not a good candidate for the custody of anything with even basic needs.
A year after graduation, though, once I had settled into a house where I planned to stay for awhile, with furniture that hadn’t all been dragged in from the curb (some of it I carried), I began to pay a little more attention to the art of interior decorating. Plants lend elegance to a room, I decided. It is cheerful to surround oneself with living things that did not spring forth from overlooked supper dishes.
I yearned for my home to give an impression of maturity and sophistication, deserved or not. I wanted people to visit my room for the first time and think to themselves, “Now here we have a girl with a sense of style. I’ll bet she reads good books”, rather than the more probable, “Nice ‘Snoopy’ sheets. How long has that coffee cup been there?”
So gradually, I began to accumulate plants. It became something of a habit. An impulse purchase at the supermarket here, a baby spider plant acquired from a friend there. They grew larger, I repotted them; I bought more plants to fill the empty pots. Eventually, in a suspiciously healthy way, the urge leveled off. Something in me felt that I finally had a suitable number of leafy green companions.
Now, however, there are other problems to contend with. I have enough plants that some of them have come down with various planty afflictions. These illnesses are mysterious and frightening to me. For one example, there’s the hearty backyard tomato plant that I potted and brought inside to protect it from encroaching cold weather. It began looking droopy and wrinkly-leafed not long after it moved to my indoor back porch. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it,” I told a visiting guest. “It looks like Bea Arthur. Is that a known plant disease? Could my tomato plant have Bea Arthur?”
“Your plant has spider mites, you dummy,” she said. “Just look at it.” I looked closely. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of tiny red mites swarmed all over its poor little leaves, encasing them in debilitating strands of web.
“Gross,” I said compassionately. I turned to the Internet for help. Several websites recommended various chemical sprays that sounded toxic and difficult to pronounce. Others suggested wiping the mites off with a clean cloth. I shuddered. This plant-owning thing had suddenly become a little too intense, too real. I wanted to be a passive spectator in the lives of my vegetation, but I had been forced into the ring. Wincing, I did as the Internet advised, but it was to no avail. Tomato succumbed not long after.
Other leafy misfortunes have since followed. A sweet-potato left to its own devices on a table by the window in my apartment began sprouting leaves with great determination after several months. Upon discovery, I applauded its indomitable starchy spirit, and potted it immediately. A few months of vigorous growth later, I noticed that the undersides of several of its shiny green leaves were coated in what looked like small black dots. Several Internet searches for the source of the problem brought me to an unsatisfying conclusion: my sweet-potato plant had contracted what is scientifically known as “Black Dot”.
“Seriously?” I shrieked. Currently there appears to be no cure for Black Dot. However, against all odds, sweet-potato appears to be holding its ground, so to speak. I am pulling for it.
Through it all, I will readily agree that although plant-ownership has had its ups and downs, and has introduced me to some distressing ailments of the plant-kingdom, the joy and beauty that my silent and immobile friends have provided me have made them very worthwhile companions. Also, the forest of undergrowth in my place is excellent at hiding my bad decorating, dust, and clutter, which is really quite handy.