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My indoor plant license should be revoked

When I gave up the opportunity to plant a garden (even the balcony variety) at my own apartment, I did not forego all outdoor space. My Oakland apartment building boasts a rooftop deck and an interior courtyard, and although I-880 hugs the building on its opposite side, it is possible to sit outside on one of the lovely wooden benches and get some fresh air and sunlight.

“Maybe you could get them to let you put a tomato in a corner of the upstairs deck,” one of my friends said when I moved in.

No such luck. Although I’m a renter, my landlord is a condo owner, and it’s a condo building, complete with everything that comes along with it: sterilely manicured open space, a list of approved movers to use when entering or leaving the premises with your worldly belongings, and, although I will admit I haven’t asked the question, an absolutely-not policy on putting tomato plants on the roof.

So instead, I’ve been trying to make do with a miniscule potted plant collection in my living room window. I have a low table and plenty of light (although not much direct sunlight, to be honest), coming in, and that has caused me, in moments of weakness, to buy plants that I am probably dooming to certain death.

My indoor plant track record has not ever been good.

The first arrival on the scene was a mini Gerbera, bought at Trader Joe’s. The movers had just arrived that morning, and I was exhausted and at the store expressly for the purpose of impulse-buying large quantities of cheese and wine and convenience foods, and the cheery red flowers (oh, how I do love Gerberas) sat there muttering at me as I went by, “Hey lady! Lady! How ‘bout just a little taste?”

Of course, the following weekend, I was leaving for Hawaii for a week’s vacation, with no plan for watering the Gerbera while I was gone. It still has barely-surviving foliage, to be sure, but since I returned from Kaua’i, has refused me additional blossoms.

Then, last week, after my first stint in the Victory Garden, I decided to buy a basil plant that was on sale at Whole Foods. (You may notice a trend here, a trend that involves shopping when hungry AND needy-of-plants.)

The basil plant was beautiful, indeed, but I purchased it and did what I do with every plant I ever take home, whether I’m on vacation or not: I forget to water it. Or, worse, I remember that I should water it and just think, Oh, I’ll do that later. And then later becomes dinner out with friends and then there’s that workout I really should be getting to and then I have laundry to do and the dishes to wash and then…and then…

This is why outside plants and I get along so much better. If I don’t plant them under a godforsaken Black Walnut, they have such a better shot at getting what they need from the sun and the rain and the earth-that’s-not-potting soil.

This leads me to the inevitable, which is Sunday, when I suddenly looked at the basil plant and noticed that it was utterly droopy. This set me atwirl, trying to remember if I’d watered it, or if I’d over-watered it, or if I’d maybe given it some wine just for fun one night?

I decided to go with under-watering, because that’s my usual M.O., and gave it a drink. The water ran right out the bottom as if it didn’t even want to stop to say hello to the dirt, so I gave it some more, operating in my usual, I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing manner.

I also watered the Gerbera, which is really just a pot of Gerbera greens, which is really a plant that I kind of want to just throw out, but which makes me guilty so I keep it and begrudgingly nurture it. I am like that guy in The DaVinci Code, the albino monk? That Gerbera plant is my cilice.

By the next day, the Gerbera was waving its little fronds of greens in the air like a happy camper. And the basil, while still clearly in need of more attention, looked at least a little less limp. That’s really all I can ask for.

Except that I’m going away for the weekend. I promise I’ll water the plants before I go, but seriously…if they gave out licenses to garden indoors, mine would have already been revoked.

A different kind of weeding

While Lauren and I were locked deep in conversation with a Victory Garden visitor (Well, let me be honest about this…said visitor was expounding on the lack of grocery stores in the Tenderloin and the state of Grocery Nation in San Francisco, and Lauren and I were more trapped than locked deep…), I noticed a man down at the far end of the garden. He seemed to be running up to the statue that sits between City Hall and the garden, smacking the statue and then running away. Then repeating this. Again and again.

I dismissed this behavior as a figment of my imagination, and turned my attention back to the lecture at hand.

A few minutes later, a man in a black leather jacket strode forcefully past the garden, heading toward UN Plaza.

“Want me to come plant some weed?” he yelled.

None of us were quite clear about what he said at first, so I yelled back, “What did you say?” I can hear the collective groan of anyone and everyone who has told me not to engage crazy people in the street. But I cannot help it. I simply have to be polite.

“Some weed!” he yelled back, never breaking stride. “I’ll come in there and plant some weed. It’s a community garden, right?”

“I guess that’s why they have 24-hour guards,” Lauren said.

“Oh my gosh,” I said. “I never thought of THAT kind of vandalism. That’s kind of subversive and brilliant.”

“I think that guy’s having his own kind of day,” said the man who we’d been talking to. Lauren and I turned, and I realized that the prospective weed planter was the same guy who had been slapping the statue down at the other end of the garden. There he was, his arms wrapped around the narrower sibling to the first statue, lifting his body up so his legs stuck out horizontal to the ground. Then he dismounted the second statue and strode toward the street.

“I think,” said the grocery store lecturer, “that’s what happens when you start your day with a breakfast of vodka.”

“Or weed,” I said.

Green Thumb Sunday: Victory Garden yellow

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Grape tomatoes redeem themselves

I just want to report, for the record, that I’m over the whole it’s-too-cold-to-eat-tomatoes thing. This week’s diet has included caprese salad (including for breakfast, and don’t you dare judge me, because you would have done it too if you’d thought of it first…), some amazing roasted gazpacho that I might have to write up at some point, my first BLTs of the season, and yellow Sungold and red grape tomatoes eaten like candy out of bowls on my kitchen counter.

Have I ever mentioned on this blog how much I hate grape tomatoes? I have, for years, hated them with a passion after eating, once too often, the Bad Grape Tomato. You know what I’m talking about: the one that looks OK as it’s going into your mouth, but that is rotten and bitter and grassy in a Very Bad Way? Yeah, so I started boycotting those at the store years ago.

And then I stumbled on them at the Civic Center Farmer’s Market on Sunday afternoon and bought some, purportedly to slow-roast them.

But instead, I can’t stop eating them. It turns out that even grape tomatoes, which I have long thought of as a grocery store-industrial standard to be avoided, are redeemed by eating them just after they’ve been picked.

You’d think I’d have all this figured out by now. Apparently not.

The tomato bed

Tomatoes in the Victory Garden

Tomatoes in the Victory Garden

Bed 10A. That’s the location, on the official Victory Garden Map, of the tomato plants. During my first morning as a volunteer, I kept wandering over there, checking out the tiny yellow blossoms, eyeing the green tomatoes weighing down the branches, and admiring the basil and Italian parsley companion-planted throughout the bed.

Then I noticed suckers growing from the stem junctures on some of the tomato plants, and reached down to pick one. Even in the chilly mist, there was no mistaking the smell that wafted up. That green, tomato-plant smell that I love so much? Turns out it’s just as good even when the garden isn’t really yours and you aren’t even going to get to eat any of the tomatoes.

I’m already looking forward to Saturday, when I might just stand by Bed 10A for as much of the day as the Garden Educator on duty will let me. I don’t think I’m quite ready to talk to the plants, but I’m definitely going to be looking for suckers to pluck.

Heck. If no one’s looking, I might just have to hug one of the plants. Trust me. In that neighborhood? That kind of behavior wouldn’t even come close to making me stand out in the crowd.


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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