Both my grandmothers were born and raised in Texas. And both of them grew amazingly beautiful flowers. There wasn’t anywhere they couldn’t grow something. They grew herbs in pots, rusted cans, broken coffee cups and old shoes. They planted abundant beds of lupines, bells of Ireland, coleus, daisies, roses, irises, asters, purple cone flowers, and dozens of other things I don’t know the names of. They cultivated under shade trees, in bright sun, against the house, next to the road, in and around rocks. They coaxed lovely, voluptuously full, green growth up trellises and wire fences, down narrow breezeways, out of the hard – packed dirt or sandy soil – name a spot, it probably had something blooming in it.
Either one of them could take a limp, unidentifiable, half-dead twig, break it into three pieces, and in a month’s time have a rose, a lily, and a fig tree reaching for the sky.
You would think one of them would have shared that particular magic with me before kicking the proverbial flower pot.
My pattern is to ask four different people working in a nursery really important questions, like: what will grow in this part of Texas? Sun or shade? How often do I need to water? How long will this plant last before I kill it?
And it’s not like the weather cooperates. If I water, it will rain for three days. I’m the one to blame for spring flooding this year. If I hold off watering because the forecast predicts major downpours, the day will turn blazing hot, glaringly bright, and by late afternoon my plants will be crawling out of the ground in an attempt to reach any available shade. And yet, I dare not water in the evening or they may get a fungus or leaf spot, or some kind of flesh eating bacteria.
Having said this, I must confess that my perennial torture chamber continues outside my back door. I have lambs ear that wilts in the sun and drowns in the rain. There is a Lantana with big blooms and no leaves on spindly stalks, spider plants that alternately bloom one day and turn brown the next, a two foot tall aloe that left a two inch baby behind before sinking into itself and forming something that looks like a 2,000 year old mummy, and a gardenia that’s racing all of them to the compost bin. Some last longer than others, but I swear I can hear all of them gasping.
I should quit killing things; I know! But my head is full of pictures of Texas desert oases created by these amazingly gifted, tight-lipped, old women who are separated from me by only two generations and a few dozen years. Where are my green genes? What incantations did they whisper before retiring at 7:30 each night? And what concoction might they have been putting on their plants at 4:30 in the morning before everybody woke up?
Maybe if I dig up my grandmothers, fly to New Orleans and bring back a Voodoo priestess, she can do something to get the truth out of them. Okay, I know it sounds crazy. It’s a long shot, but I have to do something! Even the weeds are starting to lean away from me as I walk through the back yard.
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