A Plant Named Vera

Last year, I thought only as far as our engagement (March). Then I thought only as far as our wedding (October). Then as far as Christmas (December). There was too much to do to think beyond those milestones. So, once 2018 was over and the dust had begun to settle, I looked around at my life, which looked so different than it had the year before, and made some intentional choices. 

I’d been crafting, wildly and compulsively, because I’d gone so long with the driving need to be constantly productive, to get everything done in time for the wedding, then in time for Christmas. So in January, I chose to set aside my crocheting and ornament making, to give myself room to do other things, and to slow down. In some ways I’ve merely exchanged wedding planning and crafting with reading (I’ve finished 54 books so far this year), but I also let myself just lay on the sofa or sit by the window. Doing so last year made my insides vibrate until I leapt out of my skin to DO something. 

In late January, I noticed that one of my succulents, which a coworker had given me last summer and I had repotted in a Bulbasaur planter, was growing a stem. I took such joy in checking on it daily, propping up the stem when it grew longer than its structure could support, checking its soil for moisture, touching its pink blossoms, nimbly removing the shriveled blooms before they fell onto the carpet. Then my orchid at work put forth 18 gorgeous blooms for the second time in a year. My other succulent, codename Hedgy, also hit a growth spurt. I felt so accomplished. After such a chaotic, survival-focused year, here was proof that I was doing something right. I was nurturing life. 

So I decided to nurture a little more. I bought a pretty watering can and a packet of zinnia seeds. Tyler bought me a hanging window box last fall, and once the last cold snap was over in March, I planted my seeds in a new bag of potting soil just so I could watch them grow. I read and read about zinnias, their planting and care and watering and deadheading. I spent one breezy Saturday morning doing the initial work and watering. I tend my zinnias twice a day, fretting over the leaves holed by bugs, and sitting with them until I almost believe they’re growing before my eyes. 

While acquainting myself with Lowe’s garden section this spring, I discovered their succulents and bought two. I would have bought more, but on that particular day I already had an 10 lb. bag of potting soil perched on one shoulder, steadied by one hand, and my other hand could only hold two little pots at a time. When I got home, I added them to my window with Bulba and Hedgy. 

Inspired, I ordered a llama mug with a drainage hole drilled into the bottom from Etsy and was gifted a small purple succulent from the Etsy seller. I planted the cabbage-shaped succulent and bought a large, flowering version of Hedgy for the llama mug, which I gave to my future sister-in-law as an engagement present.

In total, at work I tend 2 thriving vine plants and a blossoming orchid. At home, I tend 5 succulents and 6 zinnias. And I love it. I love everything about organizing their watering schedule (and researching to make sure I’m not overwatering them), wondering if this one isn’t a bit taller than it was a few days ago, and noting the dew on the zinnia’s leaves in the early mornings. I want to name my 3 newest succulents and get a couple more. I have a few more empty pots, after all. But I also don’t want to overdo it. I want to know I’m properly caring for the increased volume of plants before I take on more. In short, I want to be a responsible plant owner. 

All this dirt on my fingers reminds me of my late grandmother. I loved her porch because she had little pots of flowers everywhere. Tons of African violets, as well as many other kinds. I grew African violets with my mother as a child, and sometimes my grandmother would send a leaf she’d rooted home with me when I’d visit.

One summer not long before she died, I went to her house for a visit, and she enlisted my help in adding some annuals to a planter in the yard that she could no longer stoop to reach. She handed me her trowel to dig out each hole and supervised me step-by-step as she sat beside me on the shady patio. I love that memory. I love how we shared 10 minutes of something we both enjoyed, something I hadn’t done in a long time and that she was enjoying for one of the last times. 

I think of her as I pick up my watering can, touch the zinnia and vine leaves, hum in the sunlight, think about plant names, make a deal with my aunt to exchange plants next time we have lunch. I miss her, and I grieve that I’m unable to call her and tell her about them and send her photos. But it’s okay to miss her while enjoying something she would have enjoyed. It’s okay to wish I could have had one afternoon watching a Braves game with her and my husband, who loves the Braves. One inning, if I could have my grandfather there, too. A single at bat to have my baby cousin on the couch beside me.

Maybe one day I’ll name a plant after my grandmother. Something beautiful and stubborn and funny and full of secrets and occasionally prone to cursing. Vera is a good name for a person or plant like that.

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