Confessions of an Accidental Gardener


Photo copyright The Tara Chronicles, 2016

I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever owned. Well, almost every one.

Once, back in my 20s, I bought a hanging fern for my apartment. My “first plant.”  Its leaves gradually turned brown and dropped off, until it was a mere shadow of the glorious fullness it was when it came home with me. I had a violet plant once too – back in college – that was a gift from my big sister. That died before the semester was even half over.

I have, in the past, attempted to grow various seeds – which fell into a variety of science-project type categories. The infant basil and cilantro made it about 3 inches out of the soil and then keeled over and died. I grew this pot of edible grasses for the cat, who gnawed at it for a week until it was all gone and I don’t care what they say about healthy digestion, he yakked up at least one serving of the stuff. The notorious bean growing experiment from home school was a complete disaster. I am not a gardener.

When I was married (round one), my mom gave us this tree-plant. By some miracle this thing survived for nearly 13 years, growing taller than me, until Oliver decided to use it as a toilet. My ex promptly tossed him out along with the tree. By this time we were divorced but still negotiating property, and I was not only locked out of my home, but locked out of some very basic decision-making. In this case, then, I proclaim my innocence on the death of the tree – which is surely fertilizing a landfill somewhere.

When we bought the house, we inherited an extensive and lush garden that covered more than half the backyard. The garden beds surrounding the house were carefully planted and colorfully full. I didn’t have to do anything. Except weed. I LOVE to weed. There’s something so satisfying about ripping something undesirable out by the roots. It became a therapeutic means for coping with the unhappiness that lived inside. He planted some things here and there, and his mother – an avid and talented gardener – arranged some large pots of flowering plants on the deck. I never watered a damn thing. I left it for him to do, and I guess he did it because nothing ever died. Except for a dogwood tree he planted near the fish pond.

I had one plant inside – what turned out to be a very hardy rosemary plant, another gift from my mom – that grew full and beautiful on the kitchen windowsill. I think I watered this one. I don’t remember. But it lived a good long time. I don’t know what happened to it – I think my ex got custody of it.

When Todd and I moved here, the tenants had 50% of our driveway covered in potted plants – and don’t think this looked pretty. Nearly all of them were in various stages of death. While I was angry and disgusted by the curb-appeal appearance, I was secretly overjoyed that there was actually someone in the world who was worse at gardening than me.

The front of our home is no Longwood Gardens. I think our friend’s exact words, when he was over, were – at least you don’t have to worry about Martha Stewart stopping by. I hung a couple of plants on our back deck, which the sun scorched to ash like little vampires caught at sunrise. Todd bought me some tulips that first spring we were here, which I kept inside and watered a few times until he mentioned something about planting them so then I put them outside on the deck and promptly forgot about them. Out of sight, for me, is apparently out of mind. (The pot is actually still where I left it.)

Last summer was the first year we actually made an attempt to make the front pretty. Hard as this may be to believe, an artist and a writer have zero knowledge and creativity when it comes to planning and planting a garden. We know what we like, we know what we’d like to see, but we can’t put it all together. We went to a garden center one weekend when I bought the hanging plants and we might as well have been in a foreign country, where everything in every direction was brand new and we didn’t speak the language. We talked about what we liked there, but were too overwhelmed to pick anything out. We’re lucky we had the hanging planters. They were easy though – already arranged and selected from the “full sun” greenhouse. I’m proud to say that I knew not to pick out any from the “part shade” greenhouse for our full-sun back deck.

We ended up buying bags of mulch and a handful of plants to plant out front. We ran out of mulch and the gardens looked bare, except where the stray cats remodeled the little bit of mulch. I was disheartened by my lack of gardening skills, and held out hope that mom would come down and help. Well, that never happened but my neighbor took pity on me, or it was a desperate attempt to spruce up our eyesore, and leant me a landscaping book.

The pressure is on this year, as we prepare for my in-laws 50th anniversary at our home in just over a month. I started weeding. I dug out the edges of our sidewalk, creating clean lines – one of my favorite things to do. I cleaned out the beds around the front of the house. Veruca and I went shopping for plants and filled a shopping cart with $100 worth of flowers and bushes that made our gardens look pretty and simple. We had a pile of black mulch delivered and the four of us went out after dinner one night and spread it through the gardens. It looks so clean and neat now and I’m so excited that it has rained every day this week and I haven’t had to remember to water it at all.

I’m really good with cut flowers. Just don’t ask me to water them.

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