Turning My Brown Thumb Green

Turning My Brown Thumb Green

I finally got my own room when I was 12. My folks had an addition built onto the back of our house that included a master bedroom and bath, as well as a family room with a fireplace. I got my parents’ old room and Corina got the room we shared to herself (the larger room). We used that fireplace all of about three times because the chimney released soot – as chimneys do – that dirtied the roof of my mom’s white sedan. That, and the fact that one of the dogs knocked the Christmas tree over and some of her favorite bird ornaments were scorched to little charcoal puffs.

Before we knew the fireplace would be a bust, a neighbor who was cutting down a tree offered us a load of lumber – a nice find, actually, because fireplaces were not (and still aren’t) all that common in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. One of the pieces of wood was less a piece and more the actual stump of the tree, minus the roots and dirt. This stump had a little shoot sprouting from it, so when my mom saw it, she said, “That’s not dead. We can plant it!” And plant it she did. By the time we moved her into a nursing home some 30 years later, that tree had grown to nearly 40 feet. There were regular citations from the utility company because it interfered with their wires, and we could never rake fast enough to keep ahead of the leaves and pods that fell from it.

shoot on stump
The stump my mom replanted grew to more than 40 feet.

That was just one example of my mom’s gardening prowess. She would also take the seeds from the watermelon we had at dinner and literally throw them on the ground – and weeks later, a fully formed vine could be found growing along the next-door neighbor’s fence. Before her illness really took hold, my dad built her a greenhouse and she grew all manner of vegetables. The one that stands out was a cucumber the size of a fire extinguisher. She most certainly would have won some sort of prize if she’d entered that thing in the Arizona State Fair.

Mom’s green thumb didn’t exactly make its way down to me. I had my moments, of course. I grew fantastic sunflowers and a few decent vegetables at my house in Tucson before I moved to New Jersey. Then I grew nasturtiums and mini pumpkins from seeds in containers in the backyard of the house where I lived when Eric was born. I never minded the squirrels the way native Northeasterners do … until those thieving varmints ate every last one of my mini pumpkins clean off the vine. For some reason, though, all growth seemed to stop at the threshold – my indoor plants were usually doomed. I’d buy a few, forget to water them, and they’d die. Then I’d get re-energized and head out to try again. I came home one time with a few terra cotta pots, all ready to start anew, only to have Tony quip, “Oh, look. Little plant caskets.” I wanted to punch him at the time, but now it makes me laugh out loud every time I remember that. He was always funny in that sardonic way.

little plant caskets
“Oh, look – little plant caskets.”

About the time I met Tony, I took a road trip with a coworker out East. We met up with her boyfriend’s family and were invited to dinner at his dad’s home. I still remember the lush plants his stepmom had growing in one particular corner of their Baltimore home. I always wanted that kind of greenery in my house – but never quite got it together to do. Space was often a factor, as was attention to detail. Turns out that most of the growing will take care of itself if indoor plants have appropriate light and are watered once in a while.

Our new home has provided me a chance to try my hand at both indoor and outdoor gardening, once again. I think I’d have to put some real effort into destroying the outdoor plants – mostly rose bushes – we inherited with the house. Mary, John’s grandmother, brought them as clippings when she moved here from New Jersey in the late ’80s – and they are still thriving. They require little effort, other than trimming the dead flowers, as a drip irrigation system was set up when she built the house, so they are always receiving just the right amount of water and sunlight. We are planning to change up the front yard a bit, and this will involve planting a new rose bush and some bougainvillea – so there will be some original effort required on my part to get those going. Fingers are crossed already!

Mary’s original rose bushes, transplanted from New Jersey

Perhaps all will be well, because I will have had a couple months to practice in our atrium – which is sort of the best of indoor and outdoor gardening. When Mary lived in this house, the atrium was finished with the same ugly rocks as the front and back yards have – and a GINORMOUS concrete fountain that weighed about 200 pounds. Perhaps the fountain worked at one time, but in all the time I ever visited with Mary across 8+ years, I never saw a drop of water in it. It was one of the things I was happiest to release at the estate sale.

My initial thought was that I would grow edible plants inside the atrium, but the more I got to thinking about it, the more I remembered my friend’s stepmom’s plants – and I wanted to do something like that. So, the attempt is underway. So far, so good. Of course, it’s still only getting to the mid-80s to high 90s right now. Once summer comes, that place is probably a heat column – so even with the green shade screen, we may need to install a mister to keep it cool enough for things to actually survive in there.

Laura’s atrium Zen

I’ve picked up a number of plants in various places since I decided to go for the green. A few of them I inherited from my sister. I neglected those a bit in the months leading up to our move, but they seem to be doing better, now that they have a secure home and some regular TLC – oh, and water. So my goal is to honor both my mom and my sister by reincarnating their green thumbs. Perhaps the nicest facet of the new plant-festooned atrium (you’d think that’d be redundant, wouldn’t you?) is that I can look into it from the desk where I type up these little posts. Seeing those plants – and actually stepping down into that space – makes me happy every time. Imagine how delighted I’ll be if I can actually keep them alive. Wish all of us luck!

Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.