I guess I could have called this “confessions of a caregiver,” but suffice it to say, it is a subject that is sad for me and a profession that is somewhat maudlin.
I run a plant hospice. Sad, but true. My apartment is the place where plants will spend their final days. And I think they feel this as I take them in and try to make them as comfortable as possible.
I have seen people driving by with plants in the back of their trucks who feel it. They take a look up towards that second story balcony and I see them shudder, hoping they’ll never have to go there.
I have evolved though. As I learned, I have seen where I could preserve their quality of life a little longer. I used to drown them. And when that wouldn’t work and I realized that the room was looking like autumn in the middle of July, I thought perhaps that I’d back off on the water.
I have since found that plants actually like hydration in moderation. When you prevent them from water, they are given to hallucinations and that’s never a pretty sight.
The goal is to keep them alive as long as I can, knowing the inevitable as I look down at my disgraceful black thumbs that have prophesied my talents as a grower.
Now, when I was growing up. On a hobby farm. With a large garden. My parents must have been “old school.” They grew up in a generation where you had to raise crops to exist. Without my mom’s cucumbers, we wouldn’t eat dill pickles all winter. Without the grapes, we wouldn’t have jellies and jams to spread on our toast.
I learned how to rototill the soil, plant the seeds, water the ground, weed the garden and harvest all that wonderful food. My dad had 10-foot sunflowers. My mom had beautiful flower gardens. The strawberries were as big as plums and the plums were… well, they were just perfect plums.
Mom made pies out of the apples. We ate peas and potatoes right out of the garden. We’d snap fresh green beans for our suppers. Deer would come from miles around to eat at our corn oasis.
And I hated everything but eating the yield. But my parents came from the stock of farmers and kept us diligent. I can remember the summers of all that labor and then one day going into a grocery store and seeing the same thing I was working to grow… for sale. For a few pennies. When I saw that, I fell to my knees in the celery aisle and wept.
How did it feel growing up with parents and ancestors so skilled in growing things? It was tough being the black thumb of the family. And it is finally facing my inadequacies that I have come to realize that my calling is to make these poor leafy creatures comfortable in their final days with all the care I can muster. Somehow it will appease my conscience.
Sweeping up the leaves that have died and fallen to the floor. Placing some out on the warm and sunny balcony to soak up the sun in hopes of a miracle, but all I have accomplished is having a balcony that looks like an episode of weeds gone bad. And when they die, I keep them there for a while, telling myself that they are just hibernating and will come back as a perennial.
I talk to them and encourage them to grow. I threaten them with a trip to the balcony unless they straighten up and fly right. But, generally I just let them die with dignity surrounded by all their friends who are dying.
I usually have a plant priest who is on standby who will come and offer last plant rites.
And when that moment comes, I go off to a peaceful place and bury their frail and dried carcasses, sending them back to the dust from whence they came and sing them dirges and offer a prayer of forgiveness. Lord forgive me for not being able to be a caregiver of life.
And of course, the wake is somber, but positive as we remember them as they were. And we (myself and all the plants who are still hanging on) all place a black ribbon where their pot used to be. Phoebe the philodendron took the last passing of a fern I called “Christmas” very badly and I fear that her constitution is not strong and I assure her, “it won’t be long now and you will be with Christmas.”
Oh, I’ve tried the alternative. Plastic plants. But they fade and whither too. And the maintenance is still there. Instead of watering, there is dusting.
This calling I’ve taken. It’s not easy, but there is always someone who has to do it. You don’t get rich or famous being a plant hospice physician. You find that without the passion, it simply cannot be done. It’s a thankless job, and yeah, I’m OK with that.