Archive for the 'Plants' Category



Allergic to asking for help

I really hate asking for help, although you probably couldn’t tell it from this blog.

Or maybe you could tell it, because I’m forever running into trouble with my plants and only then, after I have a bunch o’commenters tell me what’s up, do I do the right thing. So why, then, do I have the conversation with myself about how I should most certainly ask my blog readers a plant question, particularly if I’m too lazy to look it up myself, and then decide to just forge on, helpless and, um, pretty darn inept?

I realize that if any of you could answer this question, you would probably also save me a lot of money in therapy bills. So there’s that.

Aloe, minus rootsRegardless, you have been heard on the aloe plant. No more water! In fact, no more soil, at least for the time being. On Tuesday night, in response to the immediate outpouring of comments on behalf of the beleaguered aloe plant, I removed it from the soil, discovered it had lost whatever roots it had left after I dumped it out in my frigid car, and then removed the mushy tentacles. (I know many of you call them leaves, but I’m still standing by my tentacle thing. I cannot help it, people. I cannot help it.)

When I announced the imminent death of my aloe, Heather recommended the whole 50 percent bleach solution, but I have not yet tried that. But at least I got the thing out of the moldy potting soil it was resting in. (Or, as grammarians would say, in which it was resting.)

And I will go pick up some cactus mix, per Trey’s suggestion, tomorrow night and repot the thing in something resembling a friendly medium. Because that’s how I roll. I am all about providing the friendly medium.

I am coming to grips with the fact that I may have killed the thing, but those of you who have posted stories of hope about aloe plants you have tried—and failed—to kill through the years are wonderful, charitable, kind people. Because you are helping me avoid writing off the plant entirely.

Aloe, I must be dying

When I brought home my little aloe plant and stopped trying to kill it by exposing its roots to the elements, I had a vision of a long relationship. I saw me and the aloe plant riding out the winter together, huddling around candles in my living room, telling each other stories on the long, cold nights. And then, come summer, I envisioned how the aloe plant would provide soothing care when I inevitably underestimate the strength of the sun.

It’s been dry and cold here, and I don’t care if we had one day where the temperatures were near 50 degrees F, that barely counts when the next day brings whiteout blizzard conditions on the highway. I mean, I’m starting to think all those strings Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family tied to themselves so they could find their way to the barn and back in the Illinois winter are starting to make an awful lot of sense. I’m not talking plot devices, people. I’m talking snow that swirls up and blinds you.

To compensate for the dry and cold, I’ve been watering the aloe plant daily. It seemed the thing to do, and it gave me and the plant a moment each morning to hang out and get to know each other better.

I will admit that it crossed my mind just before the weekend that it might behoove me to check and find out how much water an aloe plant actually needs. That, perhaps, I could look up this information up on the Interwebs, or even just get wicked lazy and ask my lovely and helpful blog readers.

But I was busy, and besides, it was just water. How bad could it be?

Dying aloeVery bad, it turns out. Of my aloe plant’s five tentacles (I’m sure there’s an official name for them, a name that has nothing to do with octopi, but I like the word tentacles and don’t usually get to use it in a sentence that has nothing to do with evil people and/or warlords.), three are now mushy and brown at the base of the plant.

So now I don’t know what to do. I’ve stopped watering, but I don’t know whether to trim off the dying tentacles and hope the rest of the plant lives, or if I should just let it be and see what happens.

Trey, I think you spoke to soon when you commented that the plant would be fine. I think I’ve over-attended to it, and now it may not be long for this world.

Roots or no roots

When the receptionist at Prairiewoods reached for a plastic bag, I tried to wave her off. “No, I really don’t need a bag for just these two books,” I said. “I can just pack them in my suitcase.”

She peered across the counter at me. “I’m not getting it to protect the books,” she said. “I’m getting it to protect your plant.”

Oh. Right. Seeing as aloe is not native to Iowa, I suppose the aloe plant would be in need of some protection between the retreat house and my vehicle, especially since Iowa went Arctic in the past week, and the wind chills were in the –20 to –30 degree F range. That, dear readers, is not aloe-friendly.

I duly wrapped my plant in the bag and carried it to the car, which I had to let run for 30 minutes before I even felt safe to drive it. The noises when I started up the engine? They were akin to a garbage disposal. A garbage disposal with chicken bones. I’m probably lucky the car didn’t just put up a flag that said, “Not moving ‘til Spring.”

I set the plant-in-bag carefully on the front floor mat, hoping the heat coming from the low vents would keep it from giving up all its healing powers, and then drove away. At the first stoplight, I realized the plant had tipped over, so, without peeking in the bag, I set it aright.

I did it again after the next turn. And the next. And when I got to my destination, I opened the bag and realized that the aloe plant itself had fallen completely out along the way, and all I was doing was tipping the pot up each time.

Luckily, the spot I stopped was mere blocks from the retreat center, a darling little coffee shop called Roasters that served as our post-yogic breakfast location. In the parking lot, I tried to dump the missing dirt out of the bottom of the bag and back into the pot, then tried to replace the plant, which seemed to be ominously missing most of its roots.

“I have already killed it,” I said to my yoga instructor. “I’m not even going to get it home.”

“You don’t have far to go,” she said with a smile. “It’ll be fine. You’ll just replant it when you get there.”

And so I did. And so far, the plant still looks as green as it did when I bought it.

I’m guessing the thing is so scared I might leave it outside that it has decided it will stay alive, roots or no roots.

Aloe, I must be going

I think one of the thing that inadvertently helps me in the garden is this: I’m very good at taking care of people. Give me your troubled, your hungry, your in-need-of-comfort, and I will listen to them, feed them well-plated food, and come up with the best-ever plans for making them feel generally like rock stars.

I’m not alone in this: I come from a long line of family members on both sides who have this skill and adore putting it to use. It ends up applying to animals, plants and, when I check the mileage against the little Iowa City Tire sticker on the windshield, even my car.

But where I fall down on the job, on a regular basis, is taking care of myself. It’s not that I don’t like to, or that I don’t think it’s a good idea. The problem is simply one of logistics. There are way too many things I want to get out of this life, and not nearly enough time to get them done. That goes for work, for gardening, for cooking, for blogging, for traveling…you name it, I do not have enough time to do whatever it is to the level I would like to achieve.

And so, my personal quest for 2008 is to find ways to take better care of myself. As much as I’d like to pretend that my aging stopped at 22, it didn’t, and I recognize that I cannot operate like a sprinter all the time. At least, I can’t do it without steroids, and we all know how I feel about that.

To that end, I spent this past weekend at a yoga retreat organized by one of my two very favorite teachers in Iowa City. After what has essentially been four weeks of travel, it was shock therapy of the best kind, forcing me to slow down and spend 36 hours attempting to achieve something akin to a quiet mind.

The group of women at the retreat descended on Prairiewoods, a Franciscan facility located in Hi!awatha (and oh, do I wish their city signs did not actually spell it like that…), which is just north of Cedar Rapids. The location is just at the edge of what passes for urban in Eastern Iowa, but once on the property, it’s hard to tell that you’re about 500 yards from a gas station and probably 1000 yards from the nearest strip mall. In other words, it was a cold, windswept, respite-y heaven.

Aloe plantIn the main building, on the wall surrounding a koi pond, sat a whole set of plants for sale. Most of them baffled me—they were ferny or leafy green things that I didn’t recognize and didn’t want to get to know—but there were a few aloe plants scattered amidst the others, and the smallest one caught my eye. It sat in a cheery yellow and pink pot, and it was of a non-threatening size.

So I bought it. It was $2, after all, and I was also buying a couple of books from Prairiewoods’ fabulous gift shop, so why not throw in the plant?

My thought was this: what better reminder that I need to take care of myself than a tangible thing that I need to take care of? The aloe plant, after all, will offer healing back to me if I nurture it, and all along, even if it gets big enough to need repotting, it will remind me that everyone needs, on occasion, 36 hours to reconnect with themselves and to disconnect with everything that’s wearing them thin.


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