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Someday You'll Thank Me

The negligent gardener


Like Mary of the well-known nursery rhyme, I can occasionally be quite contrary. Just ask my family. But that is where the similarities end. I have tried to grow many kinds of flowers in my life, but I never had the kind of garden Mistress Mary had.
It has taken me years to realize that while I have many other talents, making things grow isn’t among them. For years, I would purchase plants in the early spring — along with fertilizer, potting soil and trowels — with the firm belief that I could transform my front porch or my patio into a floral showcase that would make me the envy of the neighborhood.

The transformation I longed for never happened. It seemed the more I fussed over my plants, the more I watered them and offered them words of encouragement, the less they thrived. Instead of bursting with color and life, they shriveled up and died. By June or July, my plants looked like foliage that belonged on the set of a Mad Max movie.

How could this be? If I had inherited my mother’s love of reading, surely I must have inherited her talent for gardening. The only problem is my mother had no talent for gardening, so she couldn’t pass it on to me. As good as her intentions were, my mother was never successful at growing anything.

There was, however, one resident of our home who had magical gardening skills. His name was Rusty, and he was a mutt we found by the side of the road who became a family pet. Like everything else about him, his botanical talents were special. His approach to making plants grow was to relieve himself on them whenever possible.
We had a rose bush in our backyard that refused to bloom, despite my mother’s best efforts. Every morning, Rusty would go bounding down the steps and into the yard. He headed straight for the rose bush and, lifting his leg as high as he could, thoroughly watered it. He never went to any other plant, only to this one bush.
We were all convinced that the roses would die, but a strange thing happened — they began to bloom. Pretty soon, the rose bush was covered with enormous blooms bursting with color. Whenever someone admired the flowers and asked my mother what her gardening secret was, she would smile and say she had a special ingredient that was dutifully applied to the roses every day.

Not having a green thumb or a dog with Rusty’s special gardening skills, I had to think of another way to make my plants grow. If paying too much attention to them made them shrivel up and die, perhaps the opposite approach would work. Perhaps they would thrive on steady neglect instead of constant care. This idea sounded so crazy that it just might work.

The next time I went to a nursery, I asked one of the employees to show me flowers that thrive on neglect. He chuckled at my request and took me to the area where the vinca was on display. After he assured me that these plants were very low-maintenance, I bought a few and took them home.

After repotting and watering them, I put them on the front porch. I occasionally watered them and removed the dead petals, but otherwise, I ignored them. To my amazement, they began to grow. And grow. They grew tall and full and kept their beautiful colors. I considered putting them in a bigger pot, but I left them alone for fear of killing them with too much attention.

The vinca bloomed well into the fall and finally died with the first hard frost. Whether these flowers thrived because I ignored them or because they were stubborn like their owner, I will never know. Perhaps the ghost of Rusty aided them in their survival. Whatever the explanation, my flowers no longer resembled the foliage in a Mad Max movie.  

Someday You'll Thank Me, Mary Zahran