Growing Things and Pictures # 6 & 7

Not a single potted plant lives in our Alabama house.  It’s not that Lifelongnewyorker — or Mr. NYer for that matter — find plants fussy or see them as some kind of unattractive nuisance.  But in moving we learned that it’s just as easy to live without them.

When we set to living together, back in the last millennium, plants were very big.  So big in fact that one of our wedding guests gifted us with a Ficus tree. It arrived, along with herself and three other guests, incluuding my boss, just as we emerged from the church and they emerged from their car. They were late.  My boss, the Dean of the college from which I had recently graduated, and her husband, a psychiatrist, lived on 12th Street in the Village and, rather improbably, owned a white Cadillac convertible.  Which was fortunate, since this tree would never have fit in a VW Beetle.

But I digress.  I was speaking of house plants. During this period they were an essential ingredient for the post-hippie home.  The ideal was to have lots of them, hanging from macrame holders, training around windows, sitting in baskets on the floor.  It was supposed to look lush, but mainly the greenery served to distract from the cinderblock-and-particle-board shelves and the assortment of furniture you could afford in your twenties.

After the wedding, the Ficus — which in no time grew a robust colony of mealy bugs, turned sticky and died — joined an assortment of other potted plants.  We had a prayer plant that arrived with Mr. NYer and must have lasted for twenty more years.  There were snake plants, a favorite of my mother’s (which I’ve since learned are also called “mother-in-laws tongue,” spider plants, zebra plants and other garden variety greens.

With rain in the air, my mother hurried to put her plants out on the stoop.

With rain in the air, my mother hurried to put her plants out on the stoop.

We liked plants and, in addition to being part of 70s-era decor, we grew up with them.  Mr. NYer’s father had a green thumb that he mainly used outside, but he kept a ledge full of African violets in his living room bow-window.  My mother disliked gardening because the soil might contain worms, but indoors, in pots, it seemed safe.  That’s where the snake plants came from. She grew especially fond of African violets, and kept some intensely blue-purple ones on her kitchen windowsill.

My mother had some odd beliefs about plants needing to experience the outdoors (just like children and wet laundry). When the forecast promised the right kind of rain — not a downpour, not just a sprinkle — she put the pots out on the stoop to get a nice soaking.

She continued the ritual until she died, and one of our chores was figuring out what to do with her plants.  Most were kind of measly, but the African violets, upon which she had lavished care, were too fine to toss.  I took one, a sister took another, and my father-in-law, a man who could make a desiccated stump come back to life, took the third. From that he pinched and repotted and produced generations of the plant.  And everytime I visited, he would say, “Come and look at how well your mother’s African violet is doing.”

Rain in the air? My mother set out the plants.

Rain in the air? My mother set out the plants.

When Mr. NYer and I moved to Alabama three years ago, our plants presented a problem.  The movers would not, could not take them.  With two cats aboard, the car was packed tight; besides we’d be parking overnight in below freezing weather. We disposed of them as we could, pressing them upon visitors, offering them as tips, leaving them on neighbors’ porches.

And here?  If we really missed having plants, we would have bought new ones.  But something held us back.  Yes, we had one cat, the Mush, who liked to dig.  And no plants meant no watering or picking up dropped leaves.

I did miss those African violets, though.  They were a deep blue, a mix of indigo and midnight, with a little periwinkle thrown in. The Abandoned One took his grandmother’s plant from our house, but alas had neither the right location or the skills to keep it going.  At least those in Mr.NYer’s dad’s house lived.  We saw them this November, at Thanksgiving. They were beautiful, but I do not expect to see them again.

In December, my father-in-law moved into an independent living facility in Florida, with no plans to return to the house. He left a lot behind, including the African violets.  They are on their own, and the prognosis isn’t good.


3 Responses

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that white pot on the lower right looks like one of those Virgin Mary planters…a bust of Mary with a pot just large enough to hold a small pothos plant. Sorry to hear about the violets left behind.

  2. Excellent, Dynamo! I was waiting for someone to notice. But of course, you probably remember seeing that planter in the house somewhere. It couldn’t have held more than a cup or two of soil. Poor pothos.

    • I remember seeing that planter in any number of Catholic houses when I was young; but I probably did remember it from your Mom’s. I know my aunt and my grandmother had one too.

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