Back to Nature

SONY DSC No one in my family can claim to have a green thumb. As soon as fall is upon us and a plant’s leaves start to brown, my mother tosses it out on the back step. “It’s dead!” she declares, allowing no room for argument. The same thing occurred with the new shrubs she asked the handyman to place in front of the house. Two bloomed green and bushy, the rest not so much. “We’re going to make a rock garden,” was her new declaration and she promptly asked the lawn man to pluck the sad plants up by their roots. “Umm, they may still bloom,” I argued, but it fell on deaf ears. A few days later the handyman showed up and explained that when he purchased those bushes he had no idea it would take more than one season for them to bloom. Too late, they were already gone. “I told you so,” I offered.

“Buy something hardy,” is my mother’s one piece of gardening advice, which she claims works for all occasions whether it is purchasing seeds, houseplant or flowers for Valentine’s Day. There is very little of the romantic when it comes to receiving roses for this woman, and so coming from this family, it surprised me several years ago when my sister-and-law Becky and I bought miniature rose bushes and mine lived. Not only did mine survive, but it thrived. Some how, not apparently by nature nor by nurture, I had received a green thumb!


Ever since, I have been purchasing houseplants, diligently watering them and placing them in my window.  When the weather warms each year I take them out to the back stoop and re-pot them, putting on my gardening gloves and playing in the dirt for an hour or two. It is not a huge task like planting a backyard garden, but in this family, it’s almost farming!

Today, I got some help from a curious Waffles and Alfie. Waffles surveyed the scene and thought this might be the agility obstacle course I’ve been talking about, so she weaved in and out amidst the plants, stopping only to nibble on their leaves. “No, Waffles,” I yelled. I believe she has decided this is her name and has chosen to ignore it. Alfie once again had no admiration for Waffles’ finesse and simply knocked the plants over one after another in an effort to jump off the stoop and chase a passing truck. The plants seemed to survive – they come naturally hardy here, I guess.

I did, however, leave a bunch of dirt on the back step. I have learned that my Mom’s distaste for gardening extends all the way to the ground. If she comes home and sees dirt on her back step she begins a major clean up. As a result, I have learned to sweep the stoop. I had to agree with the perplexed looks on the pug’s faces. “I know it doesn’t make any sense.” Waffles concurred, walking over to the pile of dirt and settling down for a nap as if to say, “Now, this is the life!”


Unfortunately, just like a plant can’t grow fast or leafy enough to suit my mother, nothing can be clean enough as well. She is out re-sweeping the stoop now. I’m not sure what dirt could possibly be left out there, but I think she may have declared all out war on nature. Finishing her sweeping, she ran in to grab a can of Raid and is spraying a poor hornet that was unfortunate enough to build its nest in our dog’s igloo. She and Dad have also made their stand against the persistent weeds that dare to peek their heads amidst the patio’s bricks. At least Mom takes the dogs into consideration (I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to sweep Alfie off the porch), and uses white vinegar for weed removal as opposed to something more toxic. This year she discovered a new spraying device and she and Dad are practicing their tactical maneuvers in the backyard. I’m afraid I’m more of a pacifist – so while my parents suit up to storm the patio, I sit with Waffles and Alfie on the ever-so-clean back step, my newly potted plants tucked in for the night. I feel a sense of accomplishment and revel in Vermont’s short-lived warmth. For a time, we are at one with nature. Then as I inhale, I realize the fresh air has been replaced with the strong smell of vinegar. I may have a green thumb when my parents do not and I may have developed a penchant, like my pugs, for dirt and the outdoors, but in the end, I realize it is all for naught – we may be able to avoid becoming our parents, but we can seldom escape them!

Mom and her Vinegar Spray