Fifteen years ago, a colleague gave me a rare African Violet. It wasn’t just ANY violet, either. It was an antique violet propagated from one of her plants. It had been handed down to her from her grandmother, who’d received a cutting from her mother. So, this particular plant is at least four generations old.
So what, you may ask. That’s hardly national news. You’d be right. It’s not. Yet, that one plant means so many deeper things.
My colleague, and friend, trusted me with a living thing that brought her joyful memories and the satisfaction that comes with helping something, or someone, thrive. That is her nature. I took that gift very seriously.
Since that day, fifteen years ago, I’ve not only taken great care with that plant, I’ve propagated many more from its leaves.
Others have shared their plants with me or given me plants as gifts. They too thrive in my garden. I research and apply their species’ needs, giving them the best chance at survival. I check them daily.
Why, you ask? Why is this so important? Because in an era where the world is focused on polarization, personal attacks, identity politics, and myriad other negative pursuits, I am choosing to focus on the loving act of sharing life between friends.
A cartwheel cactus I received as a cutting after a heavy pruning has now doubled in size; a philodendron cut from the same friend’s plant now cascades over the pot. Sunflowers grow wild: gifts from the birds. Ginger and orchids, given to me by a client who could not bear for them to be neglected after she moved from her home of twenty years, are now flourishing, constantly reminding me of her. I know each plant well, and I remember where it came from each time I tend to it. These are connections that I treasure.
Propagating a plant takes weeks, sometimes months of attention and care. When I give away a plant I’ve grown, it is not a frivolous thing. I am giving my time, my nurturing. I am telling you that you mean enough to me to entrust you with a thing that will bring you peace as you care for it; a peace I long for you to have. Many times, I take the time to prepare the vessel in which I give you this gift. I paint or decorate it in a way that I hope suits your tastes or communicates a message. On rare occasions, when I can afford it, I find an artist whose work is perfect for the plant and I invest in that vessel. To me, giving or receiving a plant is a very intimate thing indeed.
So, next time someone hands you a plant from their garden, understand that it’s not just a plant. It’s a living, breathing thing that may bring color to your life, or clean the air in your house, or give you food for your table. It is always more than just a plant.