February 6, 2014 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Don’t trust me with plants, for Pete’s sake

By Correspondent

I called him Pete.

He was left in my care by an all-too-optimistic friend. She told me he wouldn’t be any trouble. She said she trusted me to watch over him.

“Just put him in the bathroom and he’ll be fine,” she said. “Even you can’t kill him.”

She was wrong. Pete the supposedly Cindy-proof houseplant isn’t looking very sprightly.

I blame the margaritas. Not that I gave him any margaritas – even I know that houseplants shouldn’t drink tequila. But I’d acquired Pete one balmy summer evening during a girl’s night in the Great Gazebo in our backyard. The fruity drinks flowed and apparently lulled my friend Beth into believing that I would be a trustworthy caretaker for her plant.

Beth was moving to Chicago and had brought a plethora of plants in need of forever homes to the party.

Two women wisely refused the proffered plants; going on record as saying they couldn’t be entrusted with greenery as it would soon turn to brownery if left in their charge.

Three friends graciously accepted the potted goods and assured Beth that they would lovingly care for their leafy new additions.

That left me. And Pete. Just because boys and cats flourish in my care does not mean all living things do. “I can’t accept this, Beth,” I said. “I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever owned.”

It’s true. I’ve had the same success rate with houseplants that I’ve had with goldfish and for the same reasons. Either I overfeed (and water) them or forget them for days/weeks at time. The end result is the same, and you can’t flush plants after death. Trust me on this.

But Beth believed in me with a persuasive sincerity (she’s an attorney) and assured me that Pete and I would live happily ever after (she’s also a novelist and screenplay writer). So off she went to Chicago, secure in the knowledge that her beloved plants had stable homes.

And some of them do – just not Pete.

I’d hoped to keep Pete the Plant’s failing health a secret. But on Jan. 18, Jill Barville wrote a column about Evelyn, the plant she’d adopted on that fateful girl’s night out. Evelyn, of course, is thriving. Evelyn sprouted new leaves after only three weeks in her new home. Apparently, Evelyn and Jill are living happily ever after.

As my teens would say, whatever!

It was bad enough to write a glowing greenery column, but then Jill posted it on Facebook and the other gals who’d adopted plants weighed in. They posted photos of their thriving beauties. They looked lush. They looked healthy. They were so green! (The plants, not my friends.) Beth was delighted!

My silence on the subject proved awkward. Clearly a response was expected, so I wrote “No comment,” and hoped we could all just move along.

Maybe your friends would let you get away with such reticence. Mine won’t.

So, here’s the rest of the story. Pete never made it to a safe bathroom perch. He stayed right where he was in the Great Gazebo. He seemed happy, surrounded by family and friends. When I watered my flowerboxes, I gave Pete a healthy drink and he looked fine.

Truthfully, there’s no place in our upstairs bathroom for a plant and I can’t imagine putting a living thing in my sons’ downstairs lavatory. Then again I’m sure bacteria are flourishing in there.

As the temps rose in July and August, Pete began to look a little worse for the wear. Some of his leaves began to get crispy around the edges. I told my husband, “We really need to bring Pete inside.”

He agreed and went back to grilling burgers. Poor Pete was forgotten.

As summer turned to fall, he remained in the Great Gazebo. The nights grew chilly and we spent less and less time outdoors. Pete wilted beneath the neglect.

When Derek prepared the backyard for winter, he brought the lonely plant up to the deck and gave him some water. I pruned away his sallow leaves and promised to find a place for him indoors.

During our first snowfall I remembered my vow and hastily rescued Pete from the deck. I plopped him in a corner of our dining room and pondered a permanent place for him.

I’m still pondering. Meanwhile, Pete looks like a waif, permanently banished to the time-out corner.

Perhaps he would do better in the boys’ bathroom. In fact, I think it’s time for them to learn how to care for living things. After all, someday they will have their own homes and yards to maintain – and with any luck some babies, too.

Yes. I’m shifting Pete and the responsibility of plant care to Zack and Sam. He’ll most likely thrive under their watch and if he doesn’t, well, the next time Zack talks about moving out I can say, “I don’t think you’re ready. Remember what happened to Pete.”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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