Brown thumbs

Gardening

After a few rocky months of uncertainty and disharmony, Boy and I have suddenly found our way back to happy love zone. This means that we’re again spending most evenings and weekends at home, rather than out and about. (This is also why I have no recent love games stories.) This has also been the perfect impetus for one of my latest (excessively numerous) hobbies: gardening. (I’ve also been on a massive DIY binge, but that’s another story for my next entry.) Plants, as it turns out, really liven up and boost the lovely factor of a home.

They’re also a lot more labor-intensive than you’d think.

My collection so far consists of three herb plants (rosemary, thyme, and basil), six types of succulents (a black rose, a jellybean plant, some variety of echeveria, a panda plant, leaves of a jade, and my favorite, bear paws), and a tree left behind by the prior tenant of my apartment.

I have a beautiful bay windowsill and plenty of southeasterly sun pouring into my apartment all day, so naturally, I thought plant-raising would be a cinch. Three months into being a plant “mom” — fawning, petting, watering, repotting, and feeding my babies — I realize I’m an idiot. In fact, all my plants have done anything but grow into robust, hardy green troopers.

Let’s start with a look at my herbs.

In celebration of Earth Day on 4/22, Google was giving away these happy little guys. I took my pick of thyme, rosemary, and basil:

Herbs

It’s now been about a little less than a month since I brought them home. Here’s the rosemary:

Curling rosemary

See those curled-up leaves? A recent attempt to repot showed that the plant was severely root-bound, with its roots wrapping around the pot and sticking out the drainage holes at the bottom.

More heartbreaking is my thyme (incidentally, an office-mate who keeps her thyme at work and barely touches it save for weekday-only, once-a-day waterings, is enjoying a mass of green and tasty leaves.):

Dying thyme

Turns out even with the basil — which, with its tall, green stalks, I thought were healthy and fine — I’ve been doing everything completely wrong:

Gangly basil

Tall and gangly should really be lush and bushy.

I haven’t had much better luck with my succulents. Echeveria and jelly bean plant, before:

Echeveria and jelly beans

Note the fat little leaves and lovely pastel patina.

Echeveria and jelly bean, now:

Shriveled jelly bean

Like little raisins.

Shriveled echeveria

Similarly, black rose plant (which Boy, bless his soul, saw, thought I’d like, and bought for me — no before picture, but here’s how it’s more or less supposed to look):

Black rose

Black rose plant, now:

Bad black rose

The worst offender by far, however, are my bear paws. I first became enamored with the excessive adorableness of these perfectly named critters when a friend in Chicago introduced me to his in his beautiful terrarium collection and have been wanting one of my own every since. Once I had a suitable sunny apartment and habitable windowsill to bear, I embarked on a long search for bear paws online and on foot, perusing various seedy-looking websites, considering Etsy purchases from vendors in SoCal, and ransacking some 20 different florists in Manhattan. I finally discovered some small bear paw plants at Gea’s Garden Jewels (Boy and I also just discovered another store near Hester Street Fair that sells more robust bear paws).

Bear paw plants generally look something like this:

Cute bear paws

Here’s what’s happened to the two plants I proudly brought home with me:

Mangled bear paws I

20130519-082022.jpg

It didn’t help that I dropped these guys while trying to repot them. Something like 9 paws dropped off immediately.

By the way, the description for all of these plants (except the basil and the tree)? “Hardy. Low maintenance. Minimum water. Tolerant of neglect.”

Somehow I couldn’t help but draw a connection to some of my past relationships. How often had I jumped into a relationship with enthusiasm, only to find that it wasn’t growing and flourishing as I’d expected? How often had I wanted to shower a significant other with affection and love, only to be brushed off as suffocating? And how often had the most beautiful ended up being the most heartbreaking?

These words of wisdom from a kindly and more experienced gardener of succulents (who discovered me one day wandering the aisles of Home Depot with a look of tragic confusion drowning my face) seem to sum it up best:

It’s exciting when you first get into it, and all you want to do is pamper them. But then you learn that you have to just leave them alone and let them grow on their own. If some of them don’t make it, that’s okayYou have to kill a few to learn. People who say they’ve never killed one either lucked out with their plants (and have no idea what it is they’re doing right), or they’re lying.

Anywho, for those of you interested in planting. Here are the solutions I’ve researched/conjured up myself to address the issues detailed above (and here’s to hoping they work):

Rosemary: Repotted into regular potting soil with generous helping of perlite, cut back waterings to once every few days, moved into fuller sun (considering pruning roots). No improvement just yet.
Thyme: Repotted into part regular potting soil, part succulent soil mix with generous helping of perlite, cut back waterings to once every few days, moved into fuller sun. No improvement just yet.
Basil: Apparently, basil plants need pruning. Pruning stems will encourage stalks to divulge into two stems, vs. a long single. Looks like fresh basil will regularly feature on the menu for a while to come.
Succulents: Repotted from store arrangements. Added pebbles to bottom of pot, extra perlite to succulent-soil mix, and rocks on soil surface. Echeveria and jelly bean have recovered somewhat since repotting. Wait-and-see approach with mangled bear paws. Also partly gave up and went out and bought a new bear paw plant.

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