Green(ish) thumb

When Ray and I first started dating he had a small collection of houseplants, each with a story. Ray had been working in the home health care industry for several years at that point, and a lot of his work had been taking care of people who were dying. The families of several of his patients had sometimes asked him to take a plant that the patient had been tending. Ray said that often friends of people who were that severely sick would bring in plants to give the person a bit of the outdoors, or something. So after the patient died there might be a dozen plants in the person’s room

I had once or twice previously tried to keep a houseplant or two, but they never lasted long. When Ray and I first moved in together, taking care of the plants was his chore.

We acquired a few more. I wound up with some office plants from him (it had to do with my employer moving to a new building and several of us experiencing weird hay fever type symptoms in our offices; once I had a couple of big plants, mine went away). I had to learn to keep the plants alive. So I bought a couple of books. Soon, I was keeping multiple kinds of plant food around, managing the rotation of which nutrients and how concentrated based on the time of year.

When Ray got sick, I went from merely helping him with the home plants (while being fully responsible for my office plants) to being in charge of all of them. By the time he died, when a bunch of people sent flowers and sometimes plants, I was no longer convinced that any houseplant I was taking care of was doomed.

So it was a bit of trauma for me when one of the plants I had inherited from Ray—one of the plants he’d already owned when we met—began dying. At first I told myself that maybe it was just naturally dying of old age. But then I learned that Christmas Cactuses have lived for 70 years or more in greenhouses, getting to be the size of small trees. So, I learned more about them. I re-potted it, I checked the moisture level and pH of its soil every couple of days, and basically obsessed over it for weeks.

It still died.

This weekend I finally admitted that four of the houseplants that have been dying for months are unsalvagable and replaced them. Some of my friends think I should have given up on a couple of them a while back. I frequently adhere to the rule best articulated by the character of Keith the AIDS patient in the movie Latter Days: “We never throw anything out that isn’t completely dead. Right?”

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