When it comes to plants, some people inherently have a green thumb.
Me? I’m just happy the kids are still around considering my complete inability to grow anything requiring oxygen and water.
It’s not from lack of trying. I really like plants, and have a decent collection of them scattered throughout the house. Of course most of them are plastic, but even those appear as though they haven’t been watered in a while.
The few live ones are of the “hardy” variety, meaning that much like cockroaches, they’re able to survive a nuclear winter — the requirement when I bring one home.
It’s somewhat surprising since gardening is in my DNA. Growing up, my grandmother loved planting so much that she and my grandfather purchased an acre of land a short distance from their home and turned it into one, big garden they called The Ponderosa.
As a kid I loved going to The Ponderosa. There were massive flower beds, rows of lush vegetables, corn stalks, strawberries, raspberries and a big oak tree with a tire swing that hung from a long branch.
I spent a lot of summer days sitting beneath the shade of that oak. According to my grandmother, one afternoon when I was 4, I studied a caterpillar making its way up the side of the tree before asking her where she thought it was going.
She replied that it was probably going home to its family.
I then wondered if the caterpillar had a mother and father, and she said yes.
I asked a couple more philosophical questions before the conversation took an awkward turn.
If my grandmother is to be believed, I also apparently asked if, in name of science and discovery, I could pee on it to see what would happen.
In her infinite wisdom, she simply asked if I wanted the caterpillar to pee on me, effectively ending the discussion, since I didn’t.
Those were some happy memories, which is probably why, despite my botanic limitations, I attempt to put in my own garden every year.
Each spring, like an emperor going into battle, I maneuver my oversized push cart with the single, squeaky wheel stuck to the left, up and down the aisles of The Home Depot garden center, looking for soldiers brave enough to join me in the fight.
Though I can’t be sure, I sometimes get the feeling that some are playing dead or feigning a blight in hopes that I’ll keep walking.
I’m no fool, however. I still manage to spot the true warriors, the herbs and vegetables that look hydrated and ready to sacrifice their lives, all in the name of ancestry and horticulture.
Upon arriving home, I unload them from the trunk and judiciously set them near the rocky, clay-packed dirt patch they’ll call home for the summer, before promptly forgetting that I ever went to the store.
A week or two later, I remember while checking the mail, and by the sheer grace of God and natural selection, a handful survive, so I plant them just for trying.
Feeling guilty, I initially tend to my weakened, fledgling annuals like Martha Stewart.
Wearing stylish gardening gloves and pastel pants, I breezily announce to everyone that I’m “going out to the garden,” where, for a time, I fastidiously weed and water my plants, all while dreaming of the pesto I’ll make with my bumper crop of basil and the salads that will benefit from my garden-fresh cucumbers.
But as with most things, I eventually run out of steam, complaining that it’s just too much work, it’s too hot outside, I’m too busy, I need a pedicure, whatever, and neglect settles in.
By mid-August, anything that isn’t dead is either crawling with Japanese beetles or deformed in some spindly way, as though it attempted to grow itself out of the garden and into a place where there might actually be sunlight or water.
It’s around this time that I throw in the towel, swearing off gardening forever, before developing amnesia a year later, and doing it all again.
Maybe one day I’ll get it right, in honor of my grandmother and The Ponderosa. Then again, there’s always Whole Foods, which, last I checked, has plenty of basil and cucumbers, and, as far as I know, no caterpillars.