Killer gardening skills: I has ’em

As in: I kill everything.

My mother calls it Black Thumb. I got it from her. When we were kids, we never had anything living and growing in the house with the exception of the actual humans and something that had been left in the fridge too long. This is also the case in my home, though I am outnumbered by the refrigerator samples.

Correction: I do have a pet. We didn’t really have those when I was a kid. I mean, sure, we had goldfish from time to time, but we usually killed them inside of a month by overfeeding them, not feeding them enough, never changing the water, etc. One sister used to like to take hers out of the water and pet them. That didn’t go well. Another had a pair of fish named Bill and Hillary, and while cleaning out the tank, she accidentally sent Bill down the drain. I found that to be a rather hilarious and coincidental happenstance, since this was circa 1998, but she was a smidge too young to understand why I laughed out loud. That Hillary, though, she was a survivor. She lived a little while. Who’s surprised?

My baby sister had a goldfish called Brownie that she managed to keep alive for more than a year, but I’ve always believed that was due to the advantage of having one of those mini-aquariums with the bubbles instead of just the flat water in the bowl. Pay no attention to the obvious issue of the name vs. the species, by the way; when she was tiny, she had an imaginary pink dog named Shamrock.

I did not make that up.

We had a bird once- a parakeet- but he was really dumb and flew into brick walls a lot. Then again, maybe he wasn’t so dumb. My father hated all creatures that weren’t human, and Speckles seemed to sense this; from his cage on the mantel, he’d turn his back to my dad, and kick birdseed in his hair while he sat on the end of the couch at night.

For this reason alone, I thought Speckles the Parakeet was pretty slick.

Then they changed the chemical composition of the tap water in the city, and Speckles went feet-up overnight. He’d lasted less than a year.

So you see, non-humans tend not to fare very well in my family. Bottom line: if you cannot make noise to indicate a need for nourishment, you would do well to find another home.

There was one gardener in the bunch, though: my grandfather. My mother’s father had a penchant for gardening, which is impressive when you barely have a yard. He grew tomatoes and tulips, radishes and roses, and my favorite of his plantings: heaping, heavily-scented bushes of hydrangeas. Now that it’s spring, every time I see a tulip or a hydrangea, I think of him. Roses, tulips and hydrangeas are my favorite flowers. I have no doubt that it’s because of him.

For Easter, my dear friend Dianne gave me a flowering hanging plant. She’s a gardener and gives me entirely too much credit. She remembered the hanging plants at my old place, having apparently only seen them within the first two weeks of my purchasing them.  I sat her gift on the balcony railing. It looked so lonely there, and it seemed to point up the bareness of the rest of the balcony. So, to give it some friends, and in the spirit of my grandfather’s ability to nurture life, and also because my balcony was looking sad, lifeless and bacheloresque (minus the presence of any bachelors whatsoever), I decided to go to the nursery today and get some flowering plants to pretty-up the joint. 

First of all, since when are things that grow out of the ground so flipping expensive?

The trick here is that, as Dianne remembers, I have had seasonal flowering plants before, but they’ve always been hanging baskets, and none of them have lived more than two months. Usually they’ve drowned in rainstorms because I forgot to take them down and tuck them away. Also someone once told me that when they get too much water, the nutrients in the soil leach out and they can’t survive. Which annoyed me, inexplicably. I feel as though these flowering plants should be more resourceful. (This is my father’s influence.)

Sometimes they’ve survived the rainstorms and I’ve let them draw on the reserves from those storms until they died of thirst. But now, in my new place, I can’t hang baskets; the balcony and soffits are composite decking and there’s nowhere to hang anything from. So, $10 potted petunias? Nope. Gotta go for the $30 arrangements in the terra-cotta planters. And I have a looooong balcony railing to cover; it’s about 15 feet. So one or two plants wasn’t gonna cut it.

Sure, I could transfer little pretty things from flats into planters myself and save some money. But I have no idea what I’m doing. And I don’t buy dirt. Seems… silly.

So I got a cart and puttered around the nursery, which is quite large and very popular in my town. Of course, I oohed and ahhed in my head over the hanging baskets that I couldn’t get, chock-a-block full of gorgeous colors. I debated getting them anyway and just cutting off the suspension systems, but since they tend to cascade their lovely blossoms, I figured they’d eventually not work out well sitting on a railing. I kept shopping, inhaling scents and eyeballing colors. I was a little overwhelmed and intimidated.

Who’s got two (black) thumbs and is intimidated by something called a pansy? This girl!

But I will say I am proud of myself for remembering to check out what kind of light various plants can take. My balcony faces west, so I needed stuff that could endure some serious sun. Hooray for Planters For Dummies.

Petunias, I learned, can’t take the sun that my balcony gets. Neither can gardenias, or azaleas. This exhausted my knowledge of names of flowering plants. Some of the helpful signs I saw said, “This plant can tolerate sun.” But the word “tolerate” got to me. It seemed like the plant would be sighing in resignation about it, rolling its eyes like, “If I have to… After that, I was left on my own to peer into the arrangements and find those SUN or SHADE labels and approximate the kinds of colors I wanted. Purply. And pink, but not super-pink. Some yellow, maybe.

Seventy-eight dollars later, I walked out with three pots of flowering plants.


One of them nearly took a header twice between the car and the balcony, but I managed to keep it alive at least that far. I did seem to have turned a couple of the blossoms on that one inside-out somehow. I gently fixed them.

I suppose I’ll have to remember to at least check the soil for moisture every morning (not at night, because I work late and won’t be able to see to water them). Also I’ll have to remember not to bump into them and knock them off the railing, which isn’t, you know, totally outside the realm of possibility.

I’m not convinced I got the right things. I’m fairly sure, in fact, that I saw a petunia in there somewhere, which, within two days, is going to look woeful. People who know what they’re doing with plants (the neighbors across the street, for example) will look up, sigh and say, “Those will never survive there.” But I’m hoping my $78 investment will help me remember to at least water the damned things.


2 thoughts on “Killer gardening skills: I has ’em

  1. Great post, very witty! Good luck with your plants, I have a black thumb too. I think girls like us just need practice, determination and a little luck 🙂

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