My thumbs might appear to be red, but they are actually green. All three of my grandmothers still garden. One raises her own produce patch from seeds, keeping the seedlings inside, until the snow melts. Another grows beautiful rows of flashy petunias, stately gladiolas, and vegetables for fresh eating. The third, rearranges her perennial grasses, coral bells, hen and chicks, and many other plants in her show-stopping flower gardens. I help my mother plant, weed, and hoe our own vegetable garden which contains anything from basil and corn to rhubarb and potatoes. Our house has flower gardens on nearly every side. On the east side, grow three varieties of tea, hydrangeas, and phlox. The south side boasts large rocks, path, pond and bridge, surrounded by lovely perennials like sedum, black-eyed Susan, and peonies along with a large dwarf blue spruce. The north side is a raised bed of green dwarf spruce, hosta, and bright impatiens.
I know that one must trim perennials hard in late fall, dig their beds, and mulch them in spring. I know that when chrysanthemums start to bud mid-summer, one must trim the buds off for blooms in fall. I know that gladiola bulbs must be brought in for the winter but tulips and daffodils survive outside. I know to plant annuals after the last frost comes and leaves. I know all this. My thumbs are green, yet I killed the succulent a student gave to me. Becoming detached from the roots, getting too little sun and not enough water killed my plant.
Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
Curious as to the anatomy of my plant one day, I probed around the base of the triangular shaped leaves of the little succulent. It seemed to be pushing up from the centre with its leaves pointing down around the edges. Neither mother nor I had grown one before, and I did not know quite what to make of it. Then it moved. Plants, botanists know, do not move; since they have roots to keep them immobile. I gently probed a little more and realized I could lift the little succulent up. Its root had come detached from the ground. What a queer plant! I babied that plant the next few weeks, giving it water regularly. It stayed green and even grew a little, but I know now that an inner weakening had begun, which foretold the end of my succulent.
That little succulent rode cushioned carefully in the back of my car all the way to college in August. I kept it on my desk shelf and watered it occasionally from my water bottle. I wondered briefly if it was getting enough sun and reasoned that with some light from the window and the study room’s lights on occasionally, it would be fine. Its leaves paled. Preoccupied with much to do, I hoped it would settle in soon enough. But three busy weeks when nearly nobody graced the study room, the lights stayed off. By the time I remembered that little plant, it had faded to grayish shade of mint.
As kin to cacti, succulents need little water. Therefore, I figured the occasional gulp from my water bottle would be enough for my little plant. After those three neglectful weeks, its leaves became a little spongy. Knowing the hardy nature of spider plants, another house plant, I doused the succulent in water, hoping to restore my dear little plant to its previous glory. But alas! Its crisp green leaves turned yellow and soft, like over-cooked zucchini.
In vain, I took the plant to the windowsill in my room. In vain, I trimmed off the yellowed leaves and buried the root in the soil. In vain, I watered and worried. My dear little succulent died a lingering, painful death for the sweet little plant. That death smudged my green thumbs with soot.
*I wrote this essay as an assignment. After writing it, I learned that succulents do not like wet feet, and therefore, my students over-watering it probably caused the first weakening.