I once was very mean to a marigold. It wasn’t anything personal. It was merely in the name of science.
Specifically, that name was the Fourth Grade Science Fair. The birthplace of so many childhood wrongs. Somehow I had convinced my teacher of the merit of the hypothetical question “Does Being Nice to Plants Help Them Grow?” A fantastic scientific query when you are both lazy but insecure about being lazy and want to make it kind of seem like you care while doing minimal work.
So I planted two marigold seeds. Once I day I would sing to one and read it books and was on my best behavior. The “grandma is over for a visit and it’s her birthday” behavior.
And to the other one I was verbally abusive in that unique, dark, unholy way that only a 10-year-old girl can be.
I don’t remember my official “results” or even my grade. The only conclusion I took away was the knowledge that the entirety of this one marigold’s life was having a freckled brat angrily try out new curse words on it when her mother wasn’t around.
This lingering guilt likely explains my current awkward relationship to plants. Why I have never gardened. Why house plants stress me out. Why I prefer to let plants run wild and free in nature. I do not, under any circumstance, want to be responsible for them. As soon as they are in my care, I feel the crushing burden of having to keep them not only alive, but happy. And I don’t necessarily trust myself with the weight of this commitment considering I have seen the immoral results of my former mad scientist self.
I killed a flower WITH WORDS.
I’m a monster.
Which brings me to last week. There are always consequences when one tries to play God with Nature. Mine came in the form of my friend Melissa, who very sweetly and generously surprised my kids with their very own starter vegetable garden kit. Complete with 15 different seed pods. It was one of those enrichment activities I’d heard so much about but have never, ever done with my children. I wasn’t worried though. At least at first. I assumed like most other things that were good for us, my family and I would talk excitedly about it for 15 minutes and then forget about it completely.
Oh, but then how their eyes lit up. For the first time in a long time. They were engaged. They were getting along. They were happy in a way I hadn’t seen since school shut down.
So we planted the tiny seeds in the tiny pods while the kids peppered me with one thousand questions. All of which I enthusiastically answered wrong because I know zero about gardening but still wanted to encourage their newfound passion.
“Momma! What are turnips!?”
“How did turnips get their name!?”
“They were discovered by Joe Turnip of Indiana!”
“What do leeks taste like?”
“Like celery that is wearing a bow tie!”
And from there things started to spin out of control. I casually asked my mom to help me find something to put all these seed pods in because she knows more about gardening than her marigold murdering daughter. Before I knew it, a large garden bed, a toolkit, adorable tiny gardening gloves and four giant bags of soil were making their way to my house. Because a Memaw who misses her grandchildren and who has an Amazon Prime account at her disposal is a dangerous creature.
Then my husband started talking about how we’ll need a trellis for the tomato plants and maybe a tiny fence to keep out the bunnies and maybe we could plant some sunflowers too.
And daisies, added my daughter.
And tulips, added my son.
And, lo and behold, I am now the reluctant owner of a garden. Responsible for the health and happiness of dozens of tiny lives. Which means I’m obsessively watching them and constantly questioning if I’m over or under watering and following my husband around the house telling him about all the awful things I learned on Google today.
“Did you know some ancient religions thought plants had souls?”
“Did you know trees make cries for help? Like when they’re in danger or thirsty?”
“Did you know plants know when they’re being eaten? They send out defense mechanisms to try to stop it.”
I guess the punishment fits the crime. As they say, the arc of history bends toward justice.
But as they also say, you can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her like it.