I need to confess something deeply shameful right now.
I killed a peace lily -- a plant generally considered one of the easiest to keep alive. A peace lily will tell you when it's thirsty -- its leaves will droop -- and will revive quickly once you water it. It doesn't need a lot of light to thrive and you don't need to feed it much. So my plant seemed happy where it stood, alert and proud, getting fuller each month, and occasionally displaying white flowers whenever it demanded to be noticed.
But then I got complacent -- and I don't mean benign neglect on my part. I got downright cocky. I decided that I'd let a pretty glass watering globe take care of my plant's watering needs so I wouldn't have to check on it as often. Then one day it wasn't looking as perky; soon its leaves turned yellow and I realized what I'd done, but it was too late. Riddled with guilt -- or more likely, blinded by pride -- I thought that a late dose of attention and care would reverse the damage done. But I had to call it: death by drowning.
I remembered my early attempts at gardening. Even my friend Stacy was stunned: "How'd you kill rosemary?" I'd killed lavender, too, and even mint. My father, in his sweet attempt to reassure and encourage me, told me there was no such thing as a brown (or black) thumb; all it took was practice. So I kept at it, in spite of each failure, until I turned my tiny backyard with the poorest soil, scorched by the blistering rays of Southern California sunlight and Santa Ana winds, into an oasis. In the spring, spending afternoons outdoors was like being in my own Disney movie; birds came to nest, butterflies flitted about, and even the neighborhood cats climbed in to nap (much to my own cat's consternation).
So now I live in the suburbs of Seattle in a tiny apartment with a balcony. I've spent the past two years creating a potted garden, where I can sit outside and pretend that I'm not only steps away from a busy freeway. Although tending to a garden is a work in perpetual progress, I've also turned my verdant eye indoors, where there is more square footage to fill with plants. The thing I quickly forgot, however, is that each one has its own sun and water requirements, which vary according to the seasons. I started paying more attention to my new family of succulents, which in the past I've had no success with, and gave my "easy care" plants no care at all.
My poor peace lily gave up its life for me to notice that when you care for living things, you must pay attention. Always.
I've said repeatedly in this little blog of mine that gardening has taught me life's most important lessons. How to be patient, how being in the right place can help us grow, and why perseverance brings the best chance of success. But here's one of the most basic lessons of all: never take anything or anyone for granted. We may think that there are those who will always be here, the most loyal and steadfast people in our lives. But if we forget that they also require a bit of care, that their needs can vary with their circumstances in life, we may one day discover that they are no longer around as the bright spots in our life. Or us, in theirs.
At least once a week, I stick my finger inside the soil of each pot to check if it needs watering. Once a month or so I feed those that require it. The rest of the time, I enjoy being surrounded by all this beauty. So little to give for so much in return. We all thrive with just a bit of constant time and care.