I started my first grown-up garden this year, out on the balcony of this top-floor apartment Dav and I play house in. I'd always thought I had a brown thumb, but then I thought, hey, what would life be like if I stopped inventing reasons for why I can't do the things I most want to do? I mean, damn, it's only plants after all. I love plants. And all a plant wants is a few simple things: water, food, and light. I thought, if I can just give a plant what it needs and get out of its way, why shouldn't it grow?
So that's what I set out to do. I grew everything from roots and seeds, not seedlings like I'd always seen people do. I wanted to see with my own eyes that it was true, that plants want to live, you just have to make room for them to do it.
Almost everything came up. Except the parsley. I don't know what I did wrong on the parsley. But everything else was fine. Nasturtiums--those floppy orange flowers that people put on salads to be fancy--because they remind me of Santa Cruz, strawberries, raspberries, cilantro (if we still live in Montreal, you know it as coriandre), a lilac, two tomato plants, basil, and a wild columbine... Plus any number of little weeds and mosses that I ended up letting grow, at least for a while. When they first started popping up, I'll be honest, I was just so damn honored that some little seed would want to live in my dirt, like the place so much it'd move in without even asking, I didn't have the heart to tell it that it wasn't invited.
Right from the first, I fell in love with every inch of my little potted garden. I'd rush out three, four, five times a day to check on the seeds, hoping I might catch them in the instant of growth. I talked to them, pet their little leaves, and fed them faithfully. The instructions on the tomatoes said to trim off their dead leaves, so I did that too, with all the little plants, trying to help them be as perfect as they could possibly be.
But something sad happened. The tomatoes, well, tomatoes are fools for abuse. They loved the pruning. But as the days went by I began to see something was very not right with the nasturtiums, the ones I'd been looking forward to so much. I'd trim off a dead leaf, and then a new leaf would sicken. So I'd trim it off, and the nasturtiums just shrunk and shrunk and shrunk, until, with a heavy heart, I had to leave them alone while Dav and I went on vacation.
Which, of course, is how I learned the lesson I want to remember for you. It turned out, when I left the little nasturtiums' dead leaves alone, they flourished. God knows why, but they apparently just need to be allowed to die off a little bit at a time so they can make new leaves. When I let them do exactly what I'd told myself a plant could do, all on its own--that is, grow... given food and sunlight and water--when I stopped treating them like I knew what they needed better than they did, they were fine.
When I was in high school, my parents tried like crazy to trim off all my sick leaves, and I lived in a state of near constant anguish. I nearly killed myself then, just like my little nasturtiums almost did. I know my parents only wanted me to be the most perfect me I could be, only wanted me to stand there and let them cut away all my unsightly parts and become exactly what they imagined I could be. But it just made things so much worse. And when I finally got away, went to college where they couldn't force me to be or do anything, I began to flourish. I didn't self-destruct, I just shed what I didn't need. It took six years or so, but I got healthy again.
Whoever you turn out to be, I hope I can see you for what you are. I hope I can see what you really need, and not just treat you like some tomato. I hope I can at least have the sense to see when you're not thriving, you precious person, designed from birth to flourish with just a little food and care, and take my fool hands off so we can see what you really are.
I love you.