Someone gave me a plant last weekend for my birthday and it’s already dead. I watched it with a familiar confused hesitation as little dry leaves began to litter the counter like pine needles beneath an old Christmas tree in February. “But how can it be?” I thought. “I was only just gifted this living thing but a few days ago. It can’t possibly be dying already!” Only it was. Because I totally suck at keeping things alive.
There’s a part of me that would like to blame my mother—sort of the way you blame parents of kids who are coddled their whole lives, with all their domestic chores like washing sheets and making dinner taken care of until they move out of the house and are left to fend for themselves. The results are always dire, and the parents’ expert doting only robbed their children of valuable life-skills. Only my mom was great at taking care of the yard.
I have always been spoiled– growing up in a house surrounded by beautiful gardens that my mom leant her sense of “English garden whimsy,” a sort of grown-over casualness more appropriate for a Jane Austen novel than some ranch-style three-bedroom in the San Fernando Valley. I used to go over to other people’s houses, with their low-maintenance yards filled with dying grass and square hedges and feel badly for their verdant poverty. Didn’t their parents know how to garden like my mom knew how to garden?
No. Because I am now what they were then: a horrible, useless plant killer.
On occasion, my mother would put me in charge of watering the yard, a task I absolutely abhorred because I never knew how much was the right amount. Do you overwater, filling pots to the top until it begins to spill over like a tub? Do you underwater, watching the soil turn damp and flat? There was no recipe, no manual, and it is for the same reason that I naturally favored baking to free-form cooking. I needed structure and algorithms. All my mom could afford me was a simple, “Just water.” Needless to say, I was not put in charge often, much to the relief of every flower in the sod.
There is a part of me that hopes this green thumb thing is an inheritable trait, one that will just appear overnight, just like how your maternal instinct kicks in (only don’t hand me your baby; I’m not that good at that yet, either) or at least when the Ticking Clock starts booming unavoidably. It will be automatic, omnipresent, that little thing that’s been living inside of me all this time just waiting to get out.
In the meantime, I’m refusing to acknowledge these failed potted trials as legitimate tests of my skills as a gardener. Maybe, I tell myself, that plant simply didn’t want to live.