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Dying on the Vine

Pathos plant in my living room

As a child, I remember discovering my dislike of houseplants. My impression formed when visiting others’ homes, where I cringed at the sight of dirty clay pots crammed onto windowsills. Worse than that was the time-yellowed and water-stained layers of newspaper the owners had placed under them to sop up sloppy waterings or catch overflow.

When I finally had a home of my own, I don’t know why, I took a stab at keeping one or two plants, until the fatality of my over-watered cactus re-affirmed it made no sense to try to be something I was not.

The living things I am good at nurturing are people and selective pets. I think I understand them. I am clueless about plants, even though I once, as was suggested, attempted to fool them with warm words of encouragement.

Many years later in my “second life,” I fell in love with a gardener. A plant lover, who admittedly did not understand people. Our puzzle pieces fit in so many ways.

Soon, we were living with green, artistically potted, lush, vibrant and lovely varieties of plants, some on display, others the living backdrop of the room. Without them, I came to realize rooms are just spaces filled with dead things.

I became fascinated watching him tend to them. I marveled at his scrutiny, the consternation in his intent, the gentle care with which he cupped the leaves in the palm of his hand, inspecting the stems and branches, primping, pruning, dusting and watering—sometimes with smelly potions. Even under his expert and attentive care, some did not survive, because that is the way of living things.

In this current home, our little sunlit kitchen alcove became the “greenhouse.” The primary function of the space, for a dining table, became secondary. Many large robust plants and small trees appeared. I often sat down to eat meals with leaves brushing my elbow or branches poking into the back of my head. No matter, I had long before come to love his plants as he had my people. I was not only appreciative, I was cultivated and I grew.

In the dead of winters past, the kitchen and morning coffee came with the joy of huge coral-colored blossoms and soft of green leaves that otherwise belong to summer. The proud and gentle grace of an orchid on the living room coffee table accompanied evening cocktails.

The 2018-2019 winter is almost over. Going into it, he only had, I surprise myself in knowing the names, a Ficus tree and Fiddle Leaf Fig in the kitchen. They remain, as does a naturally long-blooming orchid, still beautiful on the coffee table. I am doing my best to care for them, fearing failure and the deep sorrow I know I will suffer with their demise.

Last, but not least, in the living room window there is the pothos, in my favorite shade of vibrant green. Pothos, they say, requires very little maintenance.

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