Peterson: Can plants sense someone who lacks green thumb?

Published: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

My office at work is not so new now. I’ve occupied it long enough to kill off the wisp of a plant that I inherited.

I don’t know what kind of plant it was. It had a stem that was almost like a trunk, and it had several green leaves at the top and midway to the top, and it was in quite a large pot, much larger than a plant its size would need. It was sitting in a corner, out of the sunlight.

So I moved it to a spot where it might catch some morning sun, and I watered it. And over the months, its leaves dropped off one by one, dying a slow death and depressing me when I saw the two stubs of stems coming out of the soil, with withered, pale green foliage ready to drop.

It was dead. So I took it home, pulled the plant out of the pot and gave the two stems a decent throw into the pile of sticks in the far corner of our lot. I left the pot on the side door stoop to remind me to replace it with something new.

A few weeks ago, I remembered the plantless pot when I was at the nearest Superdooper Center, and I wandered into the garden department looking for a replacement. And it wasn’t going to be the same kind of plant because it seemed to require something more than I could offer. It was temperamental. I didn’t need attitude.

Instead of one plant, I chose two, both of them lush with foliage, both of them appearing to be of the philodendron family. And philodendron, from what I remember of them, are nearly indestructible, the cockroaches of potted plants. They thrive in the low light of an office. And I even had a window that catches the east sun.

The plants were lush, but I just knew their roots were packed tight in their pots. Just a guess on my part, figuring the store was doing what it could to keep overhead down. So I bought plastic pots the next size up, and I bought enriched potting soil and some fertilizer sticks.

Sure enough, the roots of the plants were packed tight inside, and they needed some room to stretch out, so I repotted them. And now they have taken over the end of my extra-long desk nearest the window. I was going to give these plants everything I could think of.

I’ve had them for two or three weeks now – I should have marked the date on my calendar so I could celebrate their anniversaries, but I wasn’t thinking about parties, just plants – and they are doing fine.

Oh, but they are more than plants. They are as close to office pets as is reasonable to expect.

They don’t bark or meow or make any noise. They don’t listen to commands. They don’t want to be petted. They haven’t started shedding, but it’s only been a few weeks.

I do not proclaim to be a gardener. I planted grass seed this spring along the south side of our garage, and I watered it twice a day, according to the directions. And some grass grew, but it was not thick. In fact, it is thin, and plenty of brown is mixed in with the green.

If you can’t grow grass, well, there’s not much hope for the higher life-forms. I mean, grass is the lowest plant life-form next to the weed. Look at all the lawns that cover our landscape and all the mowing that is done to keep the grass at bay. Grass should be easy to grow. Too easy, even for the novice.

So, I don’t have a lot of hope for these plants.

They are on the end of my desk, and the fit between the window and the desk is kind of tight, and I try not to brush up against them, but try as I might, I usually can’t help but touch them. And I am sure they don’t like to be touched. I’m waiting for the first leaf to fall.

It’s been two or three weeks, and so far, so good. I am pleased to have life – greenery – on top of my desk, and the plants bring me joy, even though they are kind of standoffish.

I try and let them be, like the Beatles song. But maybe I should whisper words of wisdom to them. I’ve heard for years that plants like to be talked to, but they make me feel a little awkward. Let it be, let it be.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be reached at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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