Unexpectedly Awesome

May 20, 2012

When I was a kid, my grandma had a rose bush in her yard. It had scruffy little blooms that only lasted a few weeks every spring. But boy, did it smell fantastic.

A few years ago my sister planted a rooted cutting from Grandmoo’s rosebush in her own yard. Thus we found out something my grandmother must have known when she planted that bush in the shade: given fertile soil and sunshine, it turned into a monster. It took over entire flower beds. Cutting it back severely, we learned that it had wicked long thorns and a vicious will to live. We named it Lucille, after my grandmother, who we considered had some characteristics in common with the plant.

In my experience, people outside the American south don’t understand about sharing plants. To wit: when I lived in L.A.,  the British receptionist of the law firm where I worked decorated her desk with a vase of roses from home. Her husband was the gardener in the family, which meant that he was in charge of the hispanic dudes who did the actual gardening. I admired the roses in the vase and asked her if she’d bring me a fresh cutting. I didn’t know if I could successfully root the plant, but that wasn’t the whole point; mostly it was an act of friendship.

I thought she’d be happy to share the fruit of her husband’s hobby, but in fact she wrinkled up her face in an expression that roughly translated as: what is this dog shit on my shoe? and proceeded to brush me off. I suspect she was one of those people who, having once been poor, frowns on anything that smacks of poverty.

Back home in North Carolina, gardeners still bond over shared plants. When I admired a pretty cactus in (yet another) sister’s living room, she immediately went searching for a butter knife and a ziploc bag. More tasty cuttings were offered, and I left delighted with bits from three different house plants, like a tiny package of potential in my suitcase.

Of course, I’d recently got rid of the extra plant pots taking up space in my apartment. But I unearthed 3 miniature clay pots lurking in an obscure corner. I cut a bit of old pantyhose for the bottoms of the tiny pots, added potting soil, cuttings, and gravel. There were no tiny saucers, but I had an old desert plate handy, big enough for all of them.  The effect was oddly magical.

Usually, I think too much about how things look, until small projects become huge. I consider my options, change my mind a lot, and make special trips to the plant/fabric/yarn store. But this little thing couldn’t have turned out better if I’d planned it. Hrm. Thinking on the implications.

Clockwise from top left: 1) offspring of a plant I gave my sister for a birthday, 2) the cactus in question, originally given to my sister by a friend 3) a goofy succulent originally shared by our aunt.

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6 Responses to “Unexpectedly Awesome”

  1. Nice! I love this: “like a tiny package of potential in my suitcase.”

    I don’t know anything about how plants work. But I’ll share a quick thing here with you. I recently read about the Lewis and Clark expedition and was so fascinated by the history I took a field trip to Monticello to learn more about Jefferson and hopefully some tidbits about Lewis too. Jefferson’s gardens are amazing, and some of the plants that are thriving there now are descendants of the very seeds that Lewis sent back! In the gift shop you can buy any of hundreds of varieties of seeds. I bought three types of flower seeds that were all plants first described to science by Lewis to Jefferson. So, while it’s not really like sharing a plant, I am trying to share a bit of history through a plant. Also, I lied, apparently, about the ‘quick’ part of this. Thanks for your post, I enjoyed it.

    • I’ve heard about the awesomeness of Jefferson’s garden, and when I saw your pics from Monticello I wondered why it is that I’ve never been there. (Note to self: go in summer!) I didn’t know Lewis sent seeds back, though. I might pick up some of those too when I get a chance.

  2. erika said

    Those plates! was i there when you got them in L.A.? Is that why that pattern always reminds me of you? If you were nearer, I would give you hostas and a cutting from our amazingly fragrant purplish rosebush, and black-eyed susans, and if you wanted them, hosta thinnings. Next year my black iris will be ready for division.

  3. Hrm, I don’t remember? About the plates I mean. I do love that pattern though! Ooh, fragrant purplish rosebush and black iris! You know I’ll remind you of those offers :)

  4. Verna Lee said

    I have some potted plants that were my mom’s before she passed away in 2002. The aloe vera was in a huge pot but still thrived and was crowded. I repotted some for my sister and hers has thrived the same. Unfortunately mine recently got some kind of fungus and finally I had to discard it with the comforting knowledge that my sister is now going to give some of hers back to me. Mom’s Christmas cactus has never bloomed for me but I’ve made several pots from the new branches. They all thrive and grow and again I’ve given some to my sister. I think of mom each time I water them.

    • That’s exactly the kind of thing I mean. I also have a huge succulent that grew from a piece of a plant that belonged to my college roommate’s grandfather. It’s so incredibly easy to propagate and grow that I call it the “friendship plant.” It’s the only plant that has made it through every single move- and many of my friends have their own now.

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