Getting Real With Amy Larson

With spring knocking on our doors, I’m going to have to get strategic.

The truth is, I’m not a green thumb at all. I merely look at plants, and they’ll tremble and immediately start to wither. It’s been this way my entire life. If a plant in my charge happens to thrive, it’s not expected…it’s a mystery.

In contrast, of course, my husband has houseplants he’s kept alive since the 1980s. They dwell on our plant shelves, high above me. That’s no accident, I suspect. I’m not fooled; they’re far away so as to be out of my touching or glancing distance. My husband claims that they all will ‘look better’ when placed way, way up there. He may very well be right.

Since I like the idea of gardening and like to be outdoors, season after season I attempt to cultivate a tiny plot of my own. (Note my use of the word ‘attempt’.) Come harvest time, all of my neighbors complain about how they’ve got boatloads of tomatoes on their hands, while I’m standing over my tomato plants coaxing, ‘I know you can do it, baby. Just give me one.”

I know, I know. I’ve tried the growing serums. The plants stretch out, growing to mammoth proportions. I get all excited and prematurely brag to spouse, children, neighbors, and whoever else will listen that this will be the year I’m rolling in the produce. And then, nothing. It’s the same with fertilizer. The plants green up, seem to love the dirt, get large. Then it’s failure to launch.

Looking for someone or something to blame, I began to point the finger at the little Scottish terrier that lived next door. He sometimes got loose, got into our yard, and has been seen urinating on my plants. I’ve never known the dog’s real name, but personally named him ‘Pierre’ a few summers ago. It just seemed to fit. A few summers ago, however, Pierre and his family moved out, other dogless neighbors moved in, and my plants still struggled. Pierre certainly lived up to his name –we have eyewitnesses- but he wasn’t an actual part of the plant problem.

Once when I was much younger, I mentioned wanting to grow a garden to a lady I went to church with. This prominent doctor’s wife looked at me and with a flick of her diamond-bracelet-laden wrist said, “I just buy a few hundred dollars’ worth of canned vegetables and call it good.”

I come from a do-it-yourself, get-in-there-and-roll-your-sleeves-up kind of culture, and when the church lady said that to me, I definitely judged her. I thought maybe she felt she was too good to get her hands dirty. Not so these days. I’ve been chastised from twenty years of seasonally trying and failing. That’s given me a new empathy for non-gardeners.

There is an exception. They say zucchini is about the most encouraging thing you can stick in the ground, they say it grows like a weed. We have a joke around here that if you leave your car unlocked during zucchini harvest season, when you return to it, your entire back seat will be filled with those deep green, all-purpose ovals. Given that, I thought for sure I could grow the stuff.  It turns out that I can. Last year, we had six. Not plants. Zucchini. From two large plants, I got six. The family thought I’d lost my mind when I came running into the house with them, cradled in my arms. Not expecting anything, I’d found them late in the season (October), after an early snowstorm. True, they were small and partially frozen, but I still counted that as a bounty. I take what I can get.

“You have to be thinking positive thoughts the whole time,” advised my spiritualist friend, “If your vibes are bad, your plants won’t grow,” she told me. Which would be believable if only I didn’t know hundreds of Negative Nancys that grow incredible gardens. I’ve tried to keep only positive thoughts in my head, I have. Trust me, I’ve prayed over my little plants. Every. Single. Year. It seems to make no difference.

This time, this Spring, I have a plan. I’ll channel my inner doctor wife and invest a little, buying all of the canned veggies and fruits that my dream garden –if normal- would bear up. Stacking the cans neatly in my garage, I’ll then be covered when it comes to produce. Come springtime gardening, this will be strictly for pleasure. Perhaps with no amount of pressure on my plants, they’ll think, “Eh. What the hey, maybe I’ll surprise her this year. Why not?”

I’m polishing my salad forks.