Confessions of A Plant Killer

March 27, 2018


Do you remember when you were a kid and you'd have to grow a seedling on a piece of cotton wool for some grade school experiment?


I don’t know what happened to that little seedling, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t end at home, blossoming into a beautiful plant. How many of those seedlings ended up in the rubbish bin, their dreams of growing big and strong dashed by the ignorance or disinterest of school children and their teachers.


Like a lot of suburban kids, we were lucky to have a back yard growing up, I must have played in every inch of that garden, from the bamboo at the back serving as our cubby house, the Liquid Amber tree with its endless cicada casings and the fragrant hydrangea just outside my bedroom window-not an inch had gone unexplored-except that is for the veggie patch. Surrounded by bricks near the side fence, it just always felt like a no-go zone.


Now my mum can literally throw something in the ground and it won’t just limp along and grow into some mediocre cabbage or carrot. Somehow everything she plants becomes the brightest, proudest and ultimately tastiest herb or vegetable ever known to humans, she can even keep tomato plants growing outdoors, right up until the first snow fall.


My sister’s the same-she’ll throw down some pumpkin seeds in any old place and suddenly she’ll end up with the perfect,  award-winning gourd ready to take out the jack-o-lantern prize. She can even grow my beloved peonies is seasons when it’s just not possible for their perfect bloom to manifest.


And me? Well, I have many official nicknames, but one is whispered quietly, behind closed doors-they call me the cactus killer. To be fair, I did watch an awful lot of scary movies growing up-Amityville Horror, Invasion of The Body Snatchers and who could forget-Kolchak-the Night Stalker-they all left their mark, but it was The Day of The Triffids that really cemented my phobia of plants.


I really don’t mean to kill things.  Over the years I’ve worked hard to get over my unhealthy fear of plants and embrace albeit- more a fantasy than reality-the idea of becoming a true green thumb.


I’ll go out to the backyard like Jack in Jack and the Bean stalk, whisper sweet nothings to what I hope will be magical seeds that will them to turn into seedlings, then into plants, then flowers, fruits or legumes that will color my dinner plate and perhaps fill the living room with the sweetest of fragrances.  How can I not feel such overwhelmingly immense gratitude to Mother Earth for all of her beauty, and yet, heredity has not been kind to me, and I kill things that are just simply not possible to kill.


The mortification, sadness and most especially sense of guilt I feel can only be waylaid by my puppy-like belief that next time I’ll get it right, that I’ll make it up to all those who have gone before and nurture the most brilliant verdant beings into life.


Yet, each year I always seem to start the tomato seedlings too late, forget to water the basil plants on a hot day or water the zucchini plants with so much love that they drown.


Years ago, living in NY, despite my protestations, my best friend Jill left me in charge of her favorite house plant while she went away for a few weeks. She knew of my whispered name as the cactus killer but was convinced that even I could not extinguish the bright light of her beloved grand green companion, a plant she’d had since her 16th birthday.


I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say that amazingly, she forgave me, and we are still friends to this day.


But you see, despite my gardening disasters, one of my greatest antidotes to Solastaliga lies in that simple act of planting a seed, watching it grow-watering it, nurturing it, singing and cooing to it, and willing it with all my heart to thrive.


So, if you haven’t tried it yet, give it a go. It can be any sort of plant- edible, floral, spikey- living inside or outside, on a windowsill or in an orchard, it doesn’t matter. You see what I’ve learned is that all these magnificent floras hear, love and forgive even my good intentions.


Now winter is coming to Australia, my mint is just holding on, the basil is starting to seed, and I am making grand plans for next year’s tomato crop-maybe this time I’ll actually produce some tomatoes.

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