When I think back over the more than fifteen years of trying to learn the skill of plant-tending, I must admit with shame that it has been rare for me to keep a plant alive. And last summer’s first attempt at vegetable growing was far from successful; my protégés did not receive enough water, weeding or de-slugging to thrive, and many produced nothing at all. So I’m ‘down-sizing’ this summer and hopeful that I can learn to be ‘faithful with little’, but just last week I killed a peppermint plant that was waiting (and waiting and waiting…) to be re-potted and given a little loving kindness. I was so sad and disappointed with myself. And it’s not because I loved the mint with all my heart (I didn’t). I think it’s mostly because I have such aspirations of being green-fingered and living ‘close to the earth’, and every time I kill a plant it also feels like another death blow to this treasured image of myself and my future.
Why oh why does this not come naturally to me?! I grew up in Southern England’s ‘New Forest’ region, always surrounded by the whispering of silver birches and the unfurling of tender bracken, by fruit and vegetables picked fresh from the garden and eaten outside as often as possible in the summer months. My Dad grew up on a South African farm and my Mum lived ‘the simple life’ in a cabin in the Rockies of Colorado for ten years, both of them now being enthusiastic and successful gardeners, so it sure seems as if the life I dream of should be in my genes! But almost two decades have definitely taught me one thing: whatever other factors come into play, the life I lead is by and large of my own choosing. This can be a very depressing thought. But not as depressing as the idea that I was born either with green fingers or a black thumb (Urban Dictionary definition: “A wannabe gardener who kills plants.”) and can do nothing about it. I entirely reject this kind of determinism, and so I am left face to face with the stark truth that, somehow and for some reason, I have chosen to be someone who does not keep plants alive. Why?
The next installment of ‘Confessions of a plant-killer’ will get a little more personal, as I reflect on this troubling question.