Some people have a green thumb; mine is more like jaundice yellow. Gardening has always confused me. Until second grade I thought birds came from birdseed.
Since then I've learned a little about horticulture, which, if I may, is one screwed-up way of saying "gardening." I've learned that there are outdoor plants, which like the sun, and there are indoor plants, which prefer daytime TV. Some plants thrive together, while others destroy adjacent roots (example: the Al-Qaeda hyacinthina).
Still, for all my lore, plants keep falling around me.
"You're going to be all right," I tell them. "The stalk is overrated anyway."
And they just give me that look: "What a buncha Bandini."
These plants have reason to be bitter. They've seen their friends disappear.
One day I bought a hibiscus for the balcony, only to find, next morning, its pot shattered on the concrete below. We have reason to believe that the other plants got to talking and the hibiscus, unable to bear the prospect of my care, leapt to its own death. So it goes.
Fortunately, I have found a solution to these problems: I buy new plants. Someday I'll walk into the nursery and find my mug shot on the register: Jaundice Jason, Wanted Drowned or Dehydrated.
Recently, after another Glad Bag funeral, I decided to turn over a new leaf, buh dum bum. My bedroom fern, "Droopy," had started to pale like E.T., which I knew to be a sure sign of something. I drove the fern down to Home Depot and found Nurse Patty.
Patty oversees more than 200 plants, which she is constantly misting with her Secret Blue Juice. Only two plants have ever died on Patty's watch, and in both cases we suspect bad karma.
Preening my fern, Patty said, "It looks like this little guy just needs some iron."
Until that moment, I didn't know that Droopy had a gender. It's a boy! Where does one find that information anyway -- where the bathing suit covers?
Turns out that yellowing fronds can mean cirrhosis from overwatering.
"Never overwater your plants," said Patty in a parental tone. "Most plants die from too much water."
The test is pretty simple: Dip your finger deep in the soil. If your finger comes out dry, water. Otherwise, don't. And if the plant makes a strange yelping noise, you may have discovered its gender region.
Patty also suggests lining the planter with gravel, which helps the irrigation. This would have been nifty information WHEN I WAS PREPPING THE SOIL. Unfortunately, you can't dig up your plants whenever you feel like it. It's a violation of their civil liberties, or to quote Patty, "like giving them unneeded surgery."
The containers in which they sell plants are, for the record, meant for temporary storage. Women know this intuitively by looking at the ugly container; men ... not so much.
"When water rushes through the soil," says Patty, "your plant may be root bound."
In this case, plants have to go under the knife. Patty says to replant at the same soil depth with a shot of B-12 to calm the roots. If you don't have vitamin B-12, you might try Budweiser, which always calms my roots.
Patty went on to describe the merits of moss, knowing your white fly, and the definition of weeds (if you water it and it dies, it's a plant; if you don't water it and it grows, it's a weed). As Patty grew impassioned, misting with her Secret Blue Juice, a whole new world opened up. It was almost like these plants were alive.
"You should also wipe the dust off their leaves," she said. "It helps the plant to breathe."
A lot of people talk to their plants; this woman listens. If only parents raised their children with half as much affection. But then, if they followed Patty's lead, parents would have 200 children and soon we'd have to colonize Mars or Nebraska.
Since meeting Patty the Plant Whisperer, I have come to invest ridiculous amounts of money on garden supplies, beginning with dirt, which last time I checked covers the entire surface of the planet. Before you know it, they'll start charging for water.
I left Home Depot with a bottle of iron, vitamin B-12, potting soil, care instructions, and just in case, a box of Glad bags.