I didn’t know I would grow up to be a plant person.
While other kids bought video games and Pop Rocks, I saved my birthday and chore money to buy plants. Weird, I know! When my mom took my three brothers and me to the supermarket each week, I’d stalk the floral department in awe of what I’d find. I remember my first love: a zebra plant with deep green leaves, white stripes, and a bright yellow flower in the center. I think it lasted two weeks.
In high school, my parents assigned me the vegetable and flower beds around our house to weed. It was meant as a chore, but it turned out to be an escape. I also had the gift of living near my grandparents, who grew beans, tomatoes, morning glories, peonies, and sedum, not to mention hens and chicks. I loved spending an afternoon with them, learning when it was time to pick the tomatoes (when they were mostly red, not too soft) and how to deadhead the marigolds and harvest the seeds to save for next year.
When I got my first apartment, a thousand miles away from home, I filled the tiny screened-in balcony with hardy houseplants of every sort: philodendrons, pothos, and peace lilies. I used milk crates to stack my plants artistically in the corner. I couldn’t garden because I had no yard, but my mini-jungle somehow connected me to my family.
After a few years, I had a small patio at my first house. I created an oasis, lined with huge palms and climbing plants. I tended my first garden of tomatoes and peppers. It was not hugely successful (too hot! terrible clay soil!), but I kept trying. I had better luck with herbs. Rosemary, oregano, thyme and parsley thrived in pots on my deck.
When we moved to a house with a large yard, I was ecstatic. I kept digging in the dirt and learning and reading about plants. I sectioned off a piece of my grandmother’s peonies and carried them across three states so I could plant them in my own garden. When I lost my mom, I dug up the hydrangea we had bought together at her house during one of her breaks from chemo, and I planted it by my back door. Crying as I weeded, I let my plants heal my heart.
Indoors, my houseplants have followed me from home to home, making the trip in cardboard boxes, huddled together in the back seat until the next destination. There’s one I received when I lost my first beloved dog, gone so many years ago. There’s another that friends sent when my Gram died. They’re living reminders of those I still love.
Nowadays, I wake early and head out into my garden before work. Nothing makes me feel more at peace than putting my hands in the dirt. Wandering with a cup of coffee in hand, I spend a few minutes with the birch leaves rustling and the bees buzzing in the catmint and the butterflies flitting about the hydrangeas. My dogs loll on the back steps, eyes closed in appreciation of the morning, sniffing the breeze. I see an ugly weed and pull it. Instant gratification!
There’s a peace and spirituality among plants that you won’t find elsewhere. In the dead of winter, when my outdoor garden is asleep, my houseplants remind me that life goes on. My moth orchid flowers without fail in the darkest days of February, and keeps me focused on the fact that every season—no matter how harsh— will pass. My plants give me hope. I know that somewhere out there, my spring-blooming bulbs are beneath the ground, waiting for warmer days. No matter how difficult the winter, spring always comes.
Plants aren’t only for people who have a knack with green things. They’re for every one of us. Like life, you’re going to be challenged sometimes. No matter how much experience you have, Mother Nature has other ideas. Your tomatoes get blossom end rot. A foolproof houseplant suddenly withers and dies. But there's so much room for delight when funny-faced violas pop up between the patio cracks, or you discover a teeny green tree frog the size of your little fingernail swimming in the birdbath.
When you take the time to look around, the earth has the power to amaze us and bring us peace. Now, more than ever, we need that kind of healing—literally and spiritually. We need hope that life persists and endures. Nature promises us that again and again.
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