My cousin Merty died last February. A few months before she died, she asked me to take home one of her beloved Christmas cacti. I wanted to warn her that I wasn't trustworthy. I didn't have a green thumb. I couldn't guarantee that her plant would outlive her.
But instead, I thanked her and placed the green plant in my bathroom in the hopes that it would get good light and moisture, and that if I saw it every day, I might remember to water it.
Much to my delight, it bloomed last December and, as if on cue, has bloomed again this week. Every time I look at it, I think fondly of Merty.
This morning, I trimmed the spent blossoms off the sedum plant out by our birdbath. One by one, I cut the long pale stems topped with brown dried blossoms. And with each cut, I thought about my beloved Grandmommy. You see, my start for this plant came from Mary Rinehart's garden on Cannons Lane. It has followed me from Natchez Lane to Rainbow Drive, to Calumet, to Dover Road.
I remember sitting in Grandmommy's driveway a half century ago with my sisters carefully smashing the top layer of a leaf from this succulent. If I rubbed it just right with my thumb and index finger, the top cellophane-like layer would separate from the fleshy center. I could then blow it up like a little balloon. Great fun for an 8-year-old (or even a 58-year-old!). I taught Maggie, Jack and Mary how to do it as well.
But back to this morning...once I cut all the stems to near ground level, I discovered the most beautiful baby sedums. I got such a kick out of seeing them huddled into the very center of the plant, tightly packed, just waiting for spring.
Not all my plant gifts are attached to memories of those departed. I've got spice bushes in the backyard from Paul and Jackie, a magnolia tree from Sherry, irises from Lynn and Vivian, peonies from Gay, tulip trees from Sandy, ramps from Maggie, an orchard of fruit trees given to us by friends, lily of the valley and wood poppies from Holly, and a monster fern from Kathleen.
But perhaps my favorite is the houseplant that Mary left in my care when she moved to Brooklyn. It's a big floppy-leafed Fiddleleaf Fig tree. It seems to like its home in our study and is growing by leaps and bounds. It's a little bit like having a puppy around. Every time it sprouts a new set of leaves, I text Mary a picture. Every time I see it, or give it a drink of water, I think of Mary, off on her big adventure in NYC. I can't guarantee I won't kill it, but I'm trying very hard not to.