Walking through the grocery market on a Friday afternoon in a February of some past year, I happened upon a little green plant, set atop a short tower of soda cases, it’s container fashionably wrapped in pink tinfoil, looking dutifully dressed for the valentine occasion. I wanted to pass over it. I stopped. Did it seem lonely? I felt that it was staring at me, with big puppy dog eyes. Won’t you take me home? I will grow and bloom and make your home smell SO sweet. Please, partake of me? It was a geranium, and appearing healthy and lush, and also completely out of season and sitting in grocery. Though I had always loved my mother earth and all her leafy children, I had never actually owned a plant, because I had spent all my adult life living in apartment complexes and being completely broke. I hovered, I bit my lip, I debated with my roommate, I scooped up the little plant and brought it home, telling myself, It’s ONE plant, and I love plants. How hard can it be?
Immediately upon returning home I shed its pretty valentine paper and set it into a cheap pie tin and watered it, as its dirt was dry as schoolyard chalk. Placing it on my kitchen counter my friend and I quickly put away all our purchases, and once the clutter had been cleared I turned back to my lone plant, dutifully waiting for me to pick it up and nestle it upon a windowsill to soak up the sun. I did a sweep of the living room, then the bedroom, all in a total of a minute. I looked to the plant, still waiting with such patience. I had nowhere to put this plant. I had no little table, my bookcases and shelves were overflowing, the sills were too thin for this round, poufy piece of nature. I looked at it. It was staring at me again. I threw my arms up, “What? I took you home didn’t I?!”
I decided I would just have to put the plant on the floor in front of my sliding glass door (leading out onto the deck) every morning before I went to bed, so it would get it’s due worth of sunshine, and then when waking around the afternoon I would get up and open the door, so it would get a respectable amount of fresh air, and then place it back on the kitchen counter in the late afternoon, so it wouldn’t be in mine or anybody’s way throughout the night when both me and my roommate worked. It was a simple, foolproof routine I thought. I mean, it was just a plant; sunshine, fresh air and water and it should pretty much take care of itself, right? This went on for a couple weeks, and my little plant was doing fine. I named it Gerry (because I like to name things) but I started just calling it Plaunt (because I’m inventive like that). Plaunt seemed to do great through the rest of February.
Then one afternoony morning I woke up and went to see how Plaunt was doing. I picked him up from his spot on the carpet by the glass door and held him up. Strange. Plaunt wasn’t looking as green and perky as usual. In fact, my little guy looked dull, droopy. Though the soil was damp, I quickly watered it, feeling weirdly worried for the potted foliage. I set it down on the counter, running my thumb affectionately over one of Plaunt’s leaves. Was he dying? I sat down on a stool at the counter, gazing at my plant who I had grown so attached, analyzing. Yet, I decided to put it out of my mind. It was a plant after all. If Gerry bit the dust who cares, right? It’s just a plant. I mean really, Plaunt was more of an experiment, a beginners simulation, so that when I really decided to have indoor plants in a better, bigger place, I would already have experience. If this plant died, who cares? IT’S A PLANT.
The next afternoony morning I woke up, entered the living room, grabbed myself some juice and went over to the sliding door and shrieked, nearly dropping my glass and spilling sticky liquid all over myself.
“PLAUNT OH NO!”
I dropped to my knees and cradled it. HE LOOKED AWFUL. Wilting. Graying. DYING. Oh my god he was dying. I touched his soil, and was frustrated to find it was just as damp as the day before. He didn’t need to be watered, he was getting plenty of sun, and with the door open he was receiving plenty of fresh air for an indoor plant and it was plenty warm. Looking down at him, I felt panged. What was wrong with him? My “who gives a crap” attitude of yesterday swiftly rocketed to “HOLY CRAP I HAVE TO SAVE THIS PLANT”. Was it because I bought him out of season? But it was nice here! I was giving him everything he could possibly need! It shouldn’t matter if I bought him out of season, he’s not outside he’s indoors and it had barely been a month! I sat flummoxed and vexed on the floor for quite sometime, my geranium on my lap, wondering what I could be doing wrong, and starting to feel being a homo sapien didn’t really mean squat, as with all my higher brain power I couldn’t even keep a simple plant alive.
The following days Plaunt continued to look worse and worse. I thought about reaching out to the almighty Google, but for some reason pride got the best of me, and I became absolutely determined to solve the mystery of my unraveling plant on my own or else! I hovered, I fretted, I began to even have dreams about it, all of them ending the same with Plaunt teetering upon death and me rushing him to the sink and dumping water all over him, for whatever strange dream reason. One afternoon I leaned over him, my face right next to his struggling leaves, “Tell me what’s wrong.” I groaned. I felt terrible, like I had murdered him or something. Suddenly I noticed an icky, sticky phlegm all over him, accumulating around his buds. At that moment I lost it and burst into tears. WHAT HAD I DONE TO HIM?! My dear dutiful plant, so attentive and good. And what had I done? I KILLED HIM.
That morningy night I had another dream, the same basic theme unfailing: Growing plant, happy plant, unhappy plant, dying plant, me panicking and racing to the sink and dousing him in water. Later that day I sat with him in his usual spot to soak up the afternoon rays, and with a book in hand (that I wasn’t reading) I started to think about my repetitive dream, and if maybe it meant something. Maybe my plant WAS trying to tell me what was wrong, on some kind of wonky plant, subatomic brainwave level. I slapped my book into my face. It was official. I had gone insane. I bent over and looked at Plaunt, a sort of despair sinking in, doubting my ability to save him. I blinked. Wait, what was that all over him? I leaned in closer, my eyes widening in alarm as I saw tiny reddish bugs swarming all over him.
“You are killing my PLANT!”
I swooped Plaunt off the floor and glared at the vile things. They were everywhere! How could I not have noticed! Once again I felt terrible, feeling more doomed than ever before and feeling as though I had neglected him in some horrible way, that it was somehow my fault. I cried like a blubbering idiot, even going into the bedroom to wake my friend, as he rubbed his puffy eyes and squinted sleepily.
“Whast’a – whasst going on?”
“There are bugs, BUGS! All over my plant!” I cried, “I can’t believe it, BUGS!”
He stretched his brow, gathering his bearings, “So,” he said casually, and entirely out of it, “Go online and see how to get rid of ‘em.”
Yes, yes of course! It was time to put my pride aside, and go to the almighty Google and have it tell me how to accomplish this task and save my plant. I rushed for my weapon, my iPhone, and swiped across it’s face and speedily typed into Google “terrible awful insects on indoor plants” and pressed the search button.
Aphids. APHIDS. My plant had APHIDS. The enemy was APHIDS.
Reading on I looked to the convenient list of cures for my sickly geranium. 1.) Give it a bath.
I was stunned. Oh my god, had my plant been trying to tell me how to help it through my dreams? I quickly picked up my dearest Plaunt and plopped him into the sink, taking the spray nozzle and giving him a good drenching, and then taking an old dishrag I began to gingerly wipe his leaves, buds and stocks, telling him it was all gonna be alright. I repeated this for a couple days, and Plaunt had already begun to look better.
The ritualistic bathing proved not to be a cure all, and I avoided chemicals or sprays as long as I could, even resorting to regular tweezing before I finally gave in and looked for a natural remedy on Google. I settled on vinegar and water (mostly because that’s what I had lying around the apartment), but it backfired when I asked my friend to help out, and he ended up spraying the ever-living-daylights out of him. So then poor Gerry struggled with that for awhile, and then when that trauma had past he began to develop mold in his soil from over watering, so then he needed to recover from that. Eventually, in the beginning of May when the warm weather rolled around, I stuck him outside in the big wooden barrel, looked up to the sky and said, “Mother Nature, just do your thing.” and within just a short few days Plaunt was already sprouting new leaves and looking greener, brighter and happier than he had ever been. That was the moment when I really realized not how impressive, but how smart nature was. That little plant figured out how to live and thrive on this big bad planet centuries ago. And here I was, killing it with love and an absurd amount of over thinking. I couldn’t hold a candle to that stout, remarkable flower.
My apartment now full of ferns and orchids, Gerry Plaunt resides cozily in the giant bin on my deck, flanked by alyssum and soon to be again towering snapdragons, awaiting the spring thaw. I’ve realized that when I ever move out of this place and, hopefully, be able to have a yard with an actual garden, my first plant will have to remain here, as the ability to take him with seems abundantly doubtful. Yet, I think I’ve come to peace with that. He’s a resilient little guy after all, and I don’t think he needs me much anymore.
But, I’ll always remember my first plant.