The Dirt

My Secret Shame

Photo/Illustration: Steve Aitken
Photo/Illustration: Steve Aitken

I kill houseplants. My modus operandi is not to water them. Sometimes, just for a change, I will put them outside–to catch some rain or something–and then leave them there. I’m not evil. I’m just forgetful.

Outdoor plants have a fighting chance because the rain usually comes to their rescue. Or they die before I get attached to them, and I only dimly remember their existence (“Didn’t I plant some astrantias somewhere? I wonder what happened to them”).

Houseplants do not go quietly, however. They spend a lot of time showing me their sagging leaves, and I walk by them thinking, “I should water that.” But I get distracted by more important tasks like doing whatever it was my wife told me to do or looking after our 18-month-old son. I’d like to water the plants, but I know that I will end up explaining how I let cute, little Evan tumble down the stairs or eat a Magic Marker by saying, “Well, the philodendron looked a little wilty.” So a few weeks of looking at a thirsty plant is followed by a month or so of looking at a dead one. They get removed only because “throw away dead plants” soon arrives at the top of my “things my wife wants me to do” list.

The first step on the road to recovery isn’t incessant complaining (I tried that); it is admitting you have a problem. After being inspired by reading Julia Hofley’s article on creative houseplant combinations (“Break the houseplant rules” Fine Gardening, Jan/Feb 2010), I confessed my crimes to the rest of the FG staff. To my surprise, I was greeted not with the scornful disdain I expected but with admissions that they, too, had killed a few houseplants. One (I won’t name names) even admitted to having killed lucky bamboo–twice.

I haven’t watched enough daytime talk shows to know what the second step to recovery is (I hope it’s eating ice cream), but I now feel confident enough that maybe, if I put together some houseplant combinations that are as wonderful as the ones in the article, then it won’t be possible to forget about them. But maybe I will wait until Evan grows out of his Magic-Marker-eating phase.

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  1. Kate_Frank 12/02/2009

    The only houseplant I current have is a Peperomia argyreia and that's only because it is so forgiving. It gives me ample (and I mean AMPLE) notice that it needs watering. I don't even bother buying them anymore.

  2. StopwatchGardener 12/05/2009

    I had to laugh when reading this because I too kill houseplants -- I just can't respect them...something to do with their pitiful captivity. Alnwick Garden in the UK was giving away houseplant leaf wipes (babybio) this autumn and I did give some love to my ficus at that stage, but it lives on despite me and not because of me.

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