The Seeds of Destruction

Two weeks ago this naked vine had healthy green leaves, like the shoot in the foreground.

Today it’s plants that have me depressed. Inside, mostly, but my spirits are crushed as inexorably as Lynn’s front garden, beset by pound upon pound of ice slid from the roof.

At one point I fancied myself quite the green thumb, although this didn’t stem (get it?) from any great knowledge of plants. It was probably mostly luck. I’m one of those for whom a little knowledge proves to be dangerous: I scour the internet for advice, and then end up causing more harm than good.

There was a time where plants really didn’t factor into my life at all. The first plant I took responsibility for came somewhere shortly after college, after my parents moved out of the family home for a year while my stepdad participated in a Forest Service management program and I moved in. Left behind was a sad straggly spider plant that I felt responsible for.

This was long before the internet so my care consisted of water, and I have no idea what the outcome was. I don’t still have the plant, but that’s all I can tell you.

I ended up with a couple of plants along the way. One came from my friend Julia, and I still have it. When I left the newspaper the administrative assistants at the middle school who were always so helpful to me, Chris and Patty, gave me some plant that Lynn knows the name of but I do not.

But I didn’t really embrace plants as a way of life until Lynn came along, bringing several with her. She’s one of those ruthless gardener-types: if it’s not working, it’s gone. That only worked for her before I came along. Like my sad first little bequeathed spider plant, I figure they are living things that deserve every chance of survival.

So when she was ready to let some outside spiky plant fade with the season, I brought it inside — and now in its pot it’s a nine-foot-tall palm tree. One day she set a palm whose fronds were forever turning brown outside because she was over it. I looked out the back door one morning as sleet and wind were lashing this poor creature of the tropics, loaded it in my car and took it to work. Where it promptly developed scale that spread to the handful of other plants at work and defied ladybugs and neem oil. We ended up with scale at home, too, and it required some fertilizer spikes that ominously advised us to wash our hands after touching to make the scale go away.

The palm had to come back home because the shop gets too cold in the winter, and now it enjoys strong morning sunshine in Lynn’s zen bathroom. The baby Norwood pine that I gave Lynn a dozen years ago outgrew the ceiling at the old house and is about to hit the ceiling here, although that’s despite my last effort to help it when I repotted it right out of half its rootball.

Which brings me to the notion that I may not have a green thumb at all, as I fail plants while trying to help them.

So far my most spectacular failure lies with “lucky” bamboo that was unlucky it ran into me. Kara took two stands of it away from her friend Alex, whom she said was neglecting them, and brought them to work because she had implicit faith in my alleged green thumb. But the shop was way too cold for them, so I took them home and tried room after room after room, trying to find them some light that would make them happy. The last surviving stalk now lives in a corner of Lynn’s bathroom.

An African violet was the envy of all who saw it at work, until I tried to help the poor crowded thing by repotting, which many experts love to tell me should be done annually. Only one of four thriving segments survived, and I had to revive that by bringing it home, where it loves the winter sun from a distance of about three feet from our south windows.

While the new home has been kind to Lynn’s plants, many of those in my care have struggled. Our laundry room, which I thought would have the same indirect west light a couple of them thrived in at the old house, turns out to be tipped just that much more to the northwest, and it is not a viable plant space. Now my only successful poinsettia rescue project and my Chris-and-Patty plant are doing better near the north end of the good room, near a solar tube like they’re used to.

I’m fearing the worst for the tiny remnants of the little succulent we were given as a moving gift after the stem of what had been a happily-growing plant necrotized and had me texting my neighbor Jackie, a graduate of our local master gardener program, in a panic.

She may be hearing from me again in a day or two as we get to the root (get it?) of my current depression: I seem to have unwittingly sent our wedding-gift philodendron into a death spiral, one yellow leaf at a time.

This is another plant that had to go through a period of adjustment after moving. I set it on the same tall bookcase it had lived on in the Before Times, but now instead of east light it was getting south light, and last year leaves started turning yellow and coming off.

The internet sent me back to indirect east light, in the guest room, and it was so happy we were rewarded with a new shoot as well as accelerated growth along the original vine, or however we refer to it. And then I made a mistake. Of course I didn’t know it was a mistake, and I’m trying to atone, but I don’t know what to do.

All I did was redirect the philodendron. I had it on thumbtacks on the south wall of the guest room, and it had crawled out the door and was starting to head into Lynn’s bathroom. So I moved all of that back into the guest room, redirecting it along the east and north walls. Now everything along the first third of the vine, except for last year’s new shoot, has turned yellow and come off.

Every day I watch the next leaf in line start to curl up and lose its luster. Desperate, I followed internet instructions to check the roots for rot and ended up repotting it because the roots were growing into the fabric of its Smart Pot, sides and bottom.

That was two days ago, and it doesn’t appear to have stemmed (get it?) the problem. Gilly counseled patience, but I’m terrified I’m going to lose the entire plant while figuring out what it wants. I’d move it back to the south wall and let it wend its way to the bathroom if I really thought it would help, but in the long term it won’t because doors sometimes get closed. I’m afraid to move it any more — I’ve caused enough damage as it is, even though previous moves didn’t cause it to act like this.

It’s a conundrum, one that depresses me daily as I check and see the damage crawling steadily along, even though it seems to be continuing to extend its reach along the north wall and the offshoot holds firm.

Life was a lot easier when I wasn’t so invested in plants.

The so-far healthy part of the philodendron.

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