Saying that I have a green thumb might be over exaggerating a bit, but I will say that I do take a modicum of pride in planting things and watching them grow. The first thing I ever planted was something called a “Rose of Sharon”. We were doing some landscaping around the deck at my parents’ house soon after we had moved in, when I was around 16. I had never planted anything before, or really even been remotely interested. But for whatever reason, when I was given this task, I took it very seriously. I wanted to make sure that plant grew and grew well. I watered it all of the time and checked on it frequently.
The above picture is not of my actual plant, but it is a pretty good representation of it. The plant grew tall and strong for a few years. I had moved out and started studying at Purdue. At some point I remember coming home and seeing that there was a rather conspicuous empty spot where my plant used to be at the corner of the deck. Sadly, something happened to the plant and it died. I wouldn’t say that I felt like I lost a family member or anything like that, but I do remember feeling very disappointed in myself that the plant died. No one really knows what happened to it, so it probably wasn’t my fault (it was multiple years later after all), but I couldn’t help thinking I had done something wrong.
The oddest part of the story is that I ever developed any kind of desire or aptitude for growing things. My initial introduction to the world of plant life and landscaping was pulling weeds at my childhood home. I hated pulling weeds with a passion and our house had a lot of area to cover. We had a few rock beds, including a large area between our house and the next house where weeds would grow. My biggest issue with pulling weeds was that I was very fatalistic about the entire process. I didn’t mind getting outside or getting my hands dirty. What I did mind was the nagging feeling that I would never EVER be able to get rid of all the weeds. Just when I would feel good about having apparently cleared out an area, I would look a little closer and see multiple weeds that were left behind. I just couldn’t take it. In fact, my hatred of pulling weeds is why I am a dedicated bathroom cleaner to this very day.
When we were kids, every year or two we would have a “chore draft”, where various assignments were up for selection between my brothers and I. I was so committed to NOT pulling weeds, that I would purposely and methodically select the upstairs bathroom followed by the downstairs bathroom. I got to be pretty good at cleaning bathrooms with all of that experience and luckily my hatred for pulling weeds has somewhat subsided.
In college and beyond, I did not have much occasion to do much landscaping. It wasn’t until I became a homeowner that my green thumb started to flourish. One of the things about Susie and my first house that drew me to it the moment we saw it was that it was on a corner lot and it had a big deck (at least compared to the size of the house and other decks in the neighborhood.) What the deck did not have was any landscaping around it. What we did not have was a lot of money to be spending on landscaping. We did have some extremely large day-lillies in front of our house that my wife and I somehow figured out that could be divided. It seemed like an easy enough task in the beginning. Dig up the plants, cut them in quarters and replant them. Only problem was, we had a lot of plants which we then multiplied by four. The simple project became a gigantic project, including the digging up of large chunks of sod surrounding the deck. In the end the project looked rather nice. I was particularly proud of it and I think it overall was an upgrade to the house.
Our old house also had a three-tiered area in the back corner. This was one area that never really did what it was supposed to do. I remember one grey and rainy fall day, digging one very long trench and filling it with tulip bulbs. Tulips are my wife’s favorite flowers and I was excited to plant them for us. Unfortunately, I think rabbits also like tulips. The first year, the tulips came up and were immediately eaten. I think they also ate half of the bulbs before they could even grow. The lovely row of tulips was decimated and never looked a thing like it was supposed to. Luckily, that has so far not been the same story at the new house, where we have a significant number of tulips popping up and getting ready to bloom.
We also have a handful of other cool bulbs that are coming up. Such as daffodils…
As well as freesia…
My new found excitement for all things green also carries over to the lawn, for better or worse. Mostly worse. Much, much worse. I kept thinking that if I dedicated myself to it, I could make a nice green healthy lawn on my own. It was kind of like a challenge. And I knew I was up for it. This despite that in the long running series between me and the lawn (covering two different venues), the score was: Me 0 Lawn 9. I had hoped and thought that things would be better here in Zionsville, especially given that I had a much better lawn to start with. Susie, in her infinite wisdom, kept trying to convince me that we should get a company to come and treat the lawn. Because of pride and stubbornness, I did not give in. Even my father, from whom I get my frugalness and some of my stubbornness, even tried to sell me on the virtues of having someone else treat the lawn. I wouldn’t listen. Clearly, I was smart and had a green thumb. I could make this happen. However after the scorching heat of last summer, I threw in the towel. I needed help. So I have high hopes that The Green Team can someday get the lawn as wonderful as it was the day we moved in. (pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease!)
Luckily, I have had more successes than failures. While it doesn’t look like much right now…
this is the trusty “butterfly bush”. We first planted one of these at the old house. It didn’t seem like much of a plant at first but did that thing grow. It would easily take up one corner of the deck at the old house. It was from the butterfly bush that I learned about the art of pruning. In my efforts to make sure that it came back healthy and strong, I started to read up on care of the plant. It appeared that the best thing to do was to cut it back either in the fall or in the spring. At the time, this seemed counterintuitive. Why should I cut back such a large plant, when I want it to be big. But after that second summer, when I realized that the butterfly bush came back even bigger, I learned that pruning is a good thing. The butterfly bush above is here at our current house and it is ready to be gigantic. The main trunk is huge. It is going to take up a very large and prominent part of my wife’s “Field of Dreams”.
Speaking of growing and pruning, last year I decided to get into the fruit-growing world. Ever since I was a kid, I loved raspberries. At the first house my family lived in, our next door neighbor had what in my mind is an endlessly large hedge of raspberry plants. I remember walking by the house frequently and always grabbing a handful of berries for my personal enjoyment, right off the plant. They were by far the best raspberries I have ever tasted. Superior to any I have ever tasted from the store. It is one of the indelible memories of my early childhood.
Armed with those memories, I tried to recreate my childhood by growing some raspberries. The tags on the plants at the garden center made it seem easy enough. I purchased two plants, because the one thing I know about fruit bearing plants is that just one usually won’t grow fruit. You need multiple plants that can fertilize and pollinate each other. I also roped Hannah into this project and she quickly was just as dedicated as I was. She wanted to water the plants all of the time and was constantly checking for berries with me.
At first, there were high hopes as one of the plants quickly produced flowers. Unfortunately, just as the flowers had turned into berries that were slowly ripening, they disappeared almost just as quickly. I think it was birds, but I am not sure. All I know is that I came home one evening to check on the berries, and they were all gone. I’m not sure who was more heart-broken, me or Hannah. (Maybe a young neighbor boy got into them and enjoyed them so much it made a life-long memory. I would prefer that over birds.) Luckily, this initial plant had a second blooming period and produced a decent amount of mighty tasty berries.
The second plant grew great, but it didn’t produce a single flower. I tried to prune it, but I think it was too late. I think it had dedicated too much energy in growing and not enough in making flowers (which is why pruning is so important.) (Listen to me getting all ‘planty’ and ‘sciencey’!) But I cut both of them back and hoped for a larger crop this year. When I was scouting around the house looking for all the evidence of my green thumb, I happened up the location of my raspberry patch (it’s not big enough to be a hedge. It probably doesn’t qualify as a ‘patch’. Maybe a ‘patch-let’.)
That is a good amount of stalks coming up! Hopefully it will lead to a great many flowers and just as many berries. It has definitely led to a lot of memories and attempts at bigger and bigger projects. I am starting to fancy myself a fledgling Arborist, having not only planted a tree, but also improving the predicament of a poorly growing tree. (If you must know, the tree had a split leader and stopped growing up. It only grew out, blah blah blah blah blah blah. I know you’ve probably stopped reading now. I’ll just wrap it up.) The other benefit is that I can now feel more purposeful every year on Arbor Day, the best of all the second tier American holidays (it’s way better than Flag Day! Although if America ever starts celebrating Boxing Day, then Arbor Day will just have to back the heck up.) Hopefully, you can celebrate with me by admiring our flowers and thinking about making some memories with a tasty raspberry or two.