Pardon my getting maudlin, but how do you get rid of old plants that you’ve carefully nurtured for decades? Those that aren’t ready for the compost pile?
It’s not like a favorite concrete chicken or faded photograph or other physical possession, which can hold their own in any garden corner or on a shelf.
And it can’t be as bad, of course, as when a veterinarian friend helped end my seriously-ailing old spaniel’s misery; Rusty is now pushing up roses planted atop his garden grave.
It’s more like finding a new home for a deceased family member’s pet, where somebody new will lovingly continue to tend their needs.
This is what I dealt with last month, when for lack of space in my little cabin I decided to give up a couple of cherished plants that I have nurtured for well over 40 years. One is a tall, nearly 40-year-old weeping fig named Ben which had been brought as a “step plant” into and outlasted a marriage. Ben was entrusted to my care afterwards.
The other is Big Jim, a rubber tree I grew from a cutting in 1974 and kept alive through college and countless relocations.
But after decades of annual whackings so they’d still fit indoors, the old tropical trees are still kicking, and in need of roomier digs. After cleaning up and lightly pruning the former State Fair ribbon winners, I replanted them in hand-crafted, well-drained potting soil. And trucked them to their new quarters.
After all these decades together, these official pass-along heirlooms are separated across town from one another in the respective law offices of my son and daughter-in-law. Ira and Stevie both know how to grow plants, but they’re busy, and their spacious workspaces need bold plants that won’t require a lot of fuss or upkeep. And the old weeping fig and rubber tree fit the bill.
Unlike ferns, palms and African violets, these two, because of their slick leaves, don’t require as much humidity to survive, which is a major plus in the central air and heating of modern buildings. And they can easily go weeks without being watered.
In addition to Ben and Big Jim, my all-time favorites include Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), all sorts of “mother-in-law tongue” (sansevieria, in all its quirky forms), ribbon plant and other dracaenas, Pothos ivy, philodendrons, “dumb cane” (dieffenbachia), and dwarf schefflera (arboricola). I grow them all and can attest to their durability in neglectful conditions.
There are many more, of course, including a relative newcomer called “zee-zee plant” (don’t even try to get me to spell the Latin name), but these jungle natives can survive with just a little care in distinctly non-jungle offices and homes. Want proof? Look around any airport terminal, mall or hotel lobby.
Anyway, Ben and Big Jim are now in the care of a new generation of Rushing gardeners, who are somewhat nervously learning to tend these living, breathing phyto-pets. I’ve passed them along, with the caveat that I have first dibs on them if they don’t work out.
But I am reminded of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” — the last book published by beloved philosopher Dr. Seuss, in which he wrote “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! … And will you succeed? You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”
Who knows, maybe our grown kids will eventually try their hands at rooting cuttings, and then share plant progeny with friends and their own children.
We’ll see. It’s been fun, Jim and Ben, through thick and thin. Be fruitful and multiply.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to email@example.com.