Truth’s Out: I’m A Black Thumb Gardener

In the waning days of summer, some fret that the pool is about to close. Others fret that school started too soon or that another Winter Storm Titan lurks around the corner.

Not me. I’m too busy worrying that once again, I’ll be outed as a black thumb gardener.

Anyone can garden well in the spring. Even mid-summer, I can keep most plants perky from the comfort of a recliner. But only the faithful weed-pullers and waterers make it through this final 30 days surrounded by the foliage they actually planted.

By now, unattended thistle stalks are waving through the picture window, while the coral bell leaves that were supposed to live there are rattling dryly like a pneumonia patient breathing his last.

“Don’t pull out the thistles,” my book group friends had instructed. That was back in June when the green thumbs among us noticed they were there. I was all too happy to comply.

Now they tell me I missed the other half of the message, which was “Cut them off to the ground.” Reading more, I notice that I was supposed to have identified the exact type of thistle to plan my attack and hope that it is not a bull thistle, which one expert describes as “at least a two-year commitment” to eradicate.

Two years? I haven’t gotten past a two-month commitment to any plant, even the ones I want.

I always start with good intentions. This year, when we left on an early summer vacation, I sent away for a plant watering system to hydrate the potted plants on the screened porch. It arrived, bubble-wrapped and direct from China, in two fat envelopes. After 45 minutes untangling little plastic tubes that were connected to little ceramic thing a ma jigs, I searched in vain for a clear picture and instructions in English. I decided to ad lib.

When we pulled out of the driveway, the porch was strewn with mixing bowls full of water and plants perched on upended vases with tubes hanging out of them like IVs. “Nobody’s home,” it screeched to any half-intelligent burglar. When we returned, the mixing bowls were still full of water and all the patients, even the mint, had died. Happily, would-be burglars were not as smart as I thought.

Next trip, I abandoned the watering system altogether and left the replacement plants to their own devices. When we returned, all but two revived. It is apparently more painful for plants to stare at water they are not getting than to fall asleep on a hot dry porch with no water in sight. With that, I decided that too much effort is counterproductive in gardening, and by mid-summer, abandoned efforts inside and out, altogether.

But by then, I had already dumped a couple pails of water with fertilizers and a special bluing agent on the hydrangeas, transplanted a few unwanted hostas from book group gardeners, and accepted a flat of dying plants from my green thumb daughter-in-law, who had not had a chance to plant them.

“They’ll probably die if you don’t take them,” she said, relieving all possible guilt.

At this moment, the hydrangeas have leaves as large as a garden flag but only two flowers (pink). The dying plants have breathed their last. And as for the book group, I won’t be inviting them back till after the first hard freeze. By then, the whole affair will look like wilted spinach.

“You should have seen it last week,” I’ll say. “It was beautiful.”

Copyright 2014 Pat Snyder

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