Even indestructible plants don’t have a prayer

Contributing writerFebruary 3, 2013 

My prayer plant is not praying. According to the label, this plant takes its name from the fact that it folds and lifts its oblong leaves in changing light as if in worship. I was charmed by the idea and that it’s supposed to be easy to care for. So far there’s no sign of folding, lifting or praying, and I’m beginning to suspect that my plant may be an atheist.

Everyone has their gifts and mine is the uncanny ability to kill every plant I touch. For a while, I took the easy route and replaced all of my living plants with plastic ones that I thought would be indestructible. I put plastic plants along the top of my kitchen cabinets with the idea that they’d brighten the place without requiring cleaning. I suppose after six years they might have gotten a little dusty. In fact, it turns out the dust is all that was holding my ivy together. Over the course of time, the ivy leaves have wilted away. Nothing left but stems. I didn’t know that could happen.

Usually I wouldn’t start thinking of plants until spring, but a week ago, in the dead of winter, I suddenly had a plant crisis. Last spring, No. 2 Son (the number refers to birth order, not character evaluation) sent me a gorgeous basket of plants. I can’t imagine what he was thinking. I was so touched that, incredibly, I managed to keep the plants alive for six whole months. A new record. Then came a heavy freeze – I left the basket outside one night too long and everything froze.

I’m very reluctant to bring outside plants into the house because of the little green tree frogs who live on my porch. They move into the planters to get out of the cold.

When they’re brought into the house and warm up, the frogs hop out for unintended squashing. I stepped on one in the middle of the night a couple of years ago. It was not a happy experience for either of us. So I’ve developed a Frog Early Warning System (patent pending) to notify the little fellows when a move is imminent.

My method is to leave the planter on the porch by the door, and every little while I go out and hit the container smartly with a broom handle. The resultant noise and vibration serves as my tenant’s eviction notice. When I’m sure they’re all out – an inexact science at best – the planter can come in.

There are those among you who will protest that this is upsetting to the frogs, but so is being stepped on. While I was evicting the frogs this time around, that heavy frost came along and the plants were beyond rescue.

I checked at the Home & Garden Show for some sturdy plants. They offered me a gray fuzzy nubby cactus that had the advantage of looking as if it were already dead, saving one whole step.

I should be able to do this. More than 29 million American households have container gardens. My daughter raised a whole vegetable garden last year on a porch smaller than mine, and my dad grew his beloved tomatoes in a raised-bed, long after his knees refused to allow him to get down to their level.

At the show, I settled on six plants whose labels proclaimed them easy to raise. They practically shrieked and reached back with their little tendrils to their companions as I took them away. Besides the sturdy plants, I chose one irresistible beauty from the tropics called China Doll. It’s delicate and probably won’t make it through the night, but it was still alive 12 minutes ago.

I put the basket back together, and if you don’t tell my son, he probably won’t notice that I killed his original gift.

There’s still no sign of supplication from the prayer plant, but I think I know what the problem is. It has probably sensed that from the moment it came to my house, it didn’t have a prayer.

Dorothy Wilhelm’s website is itsnevertoolate.com. Reach her at 800-548-9264; PO Box 881, DuPont, WA 98327; or Dorothy@itsnevertoolate.com. She is the author of a teeny tiny book, “No Assembly Required.”

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