If you give me something green…

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.

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Antique African Violets, the mother plant now more than four generations old.

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.

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African Violets, some as old as twenty years. 

Plants

Year of a Hundred Things – Thing #84 – “Green Stuff”

In 1998, I bought a little African Violet for my newly acquired apartment. The only bathroom was tucked away at the top of th stairs, functional and uncomplicated, as they were designed in 1928. The hurricane-proofed, cinder block walls made for a deep window sill in the shower, and here is where I put the 4″ plastic starter pot, overflowing with deep green, velvety leaves and royal purple flowers. 

  African Violets love east/west light. In the right environment, they need little care and they will last years and years. Somehow, I happened upon a plant that is perfectly suited for my pale green thumb. Every time I need to undo some kind of stress, especially that particular type caused by narcissistic, careless humans, I go over to my violets and inspect them. I remove dying leaves. I check the soil to make sure that it is just moist enough. I nervously and reluctantly repot if it is “necked.” And then, when I see them bloom, I breathe deeply a satisfaction that surprises even me. I now have 7 flourishing plants, two of which are the result of my own propagating efforts.

There is a school of thought, a philosophy, even a science called sun gazing. It expresses that idea that we are physiologically connected to the sun and everything that grows from it. It’s a bit new-agey, but to me, it makes sense that we are connected to the planet in a very organic way. That, I surmise, is why tending to and breathing on my violets has such a zen effect on me. Everyone should find some plant with which they connect. It’s good for the soul.