For many people, Earth Day is a day to reflect on our planet’s health by taking small steps to protect our environment locally—whether it’s renewing a commitment to recycle our waste, or starting a new habit such as composting or planting a seedling. For me, Earth Day—or rather the weeks that follow the observance—has been marked by joy over a small seedling plant that my children have brought home followed by crushing disappointment when the seedling fails to grow and dies, despite my best efforts.
When my son Keller was younger, year after year, he would bring home some miscellaneous plant, typically in a Dixie® cup, just beginning to sprout and ready to be replanted. The first few years, I would gleefully replant the little seedling, optimistic that “this one” would be the one to flourish and survive, and every year, that little seedling would die having barely sprouted buds. I would seek advice from my gardening friends and was met with an onslaught of questions.
“Did you repot it?”
“Have you watered it?”
“Maybe you watered it too much.”
“Did it get enough sunlight?”
“Did it get too much sunlight?”
. . . and so on and so forth.
Over the years, my famously black thumb led me to joke that while I could clearly never enter the marijuana trade, my cooking prowess would make me well suited for the meth trade.
While the urge to support a child’s interest kept me motivated to nurture his Earth Day plant year after year, there was a part of me that wanted to be successful so someday I could maintain an herb garden and work my way up to vegetables and fruits. I’ve always loved the idea of cooking what I grow, but my inability to get beyond the seedling stage with some of these basic plants, left me discouraged from even trying to grow so much as basil. What makes my gardening ineptitude so sad is that my parents were pretty good gardeners. When they purchased the house I grew up in they planted about a dozen rose bushes. Later, they kept a garden of tomatoes. When the grandkids started arriving, each birth was marked with a new sapling that grew into a fruit tree.
This past Earth Day, I found myself with two plants to care for. The first, was a radish plant that my daughter, Ilsa, brought home. The second, a lemon balm (an herb that is part of the mint family and is characterized by its lemony scent), appeared on my desk at work. Despite my abysmal track record, I was optimistic that this year, in the year of our Lord 2018, I would be successful in growing these seedlings into full-grown plants. Why the sudden optimism after years of having seedling shrivel to their untimely death under my so-called “care”?
For the past year I have been volunteering at the University of Maryland Arboretum and Botanical Garden on alternate Saturdays when my daughter is with my ex. I started volunteering after taking part in a volunteer event during the anniversary celebration for the Epsilon Mu chapter of Alpha Phi Omega in April 2017, which coincided with Earth Day that year. I told myself that I would volunteer through the summer to get me over the transition into my new life. A year later, I am still volunteering because I enjoy it and I am learning so much. (For example, early spring plantings that are brown are not dead, but are in fact dormant.) In fact, there was one tip I learned on a recent Saturday that gave me hope that I might be able to grow a plant successfully: when removing a plant from its container, break up the soil around the compacted roots to free them before replanting.
With this simple little tidbit, I felt confident in repotting the lemon balm and the radish plant. It’s now been well over a month and both plants are still thriving. It will be a while before I am able to harvest the radishes, but I did trim about quarter cup of the lemon balm leaves for a roast chicken recipe I found online.
I was a homeowner for over 20 years. Aside from a few azalea bushes, I never felt motivated to actively garden. Yet here in my new life I am excited for the possibility of growing herbs and perhaps a few potted tomato plants to know the satisfaction of consuming what I grow. Just like I’ve accepted that a great meal can be a produced in a smaller kitchen, gardening can be done in the confines of an apartment deck in a few pots.