I am deeply enmeshed in a group called Plantcare.com which has a
website and a CD dealing
with houseplants. More particularly, now that one round of editing
for them is done, I find myself responding to queries posted on
the bulletin board, mostly dealing with houseplants, but we hate
to turn anyone away. The bulletin board of PlantCare (like forum
on my site) is meant to be a sharing spot, rather than an ask Uncle,
and there is a pleasing amount of help offered by some skilled gardeners.
There are lots of generalities
and commentaries to draw from the experience of the past several
months. The overriding one is that for all the teaching and books
and now websites that have happened, we have failed to reach people
with the simple basics of what plants do, what they can tolerate,
and how to make a plant ecstatically happy!
I am glad that people
are willing to ask questions (you will have heard the often-quoted
saying that the only dumb question is one that is not asked, and
I heartily concur). I ask myself only "how have we managed
to fail to reach so many people?"
Now, I would not put this
on the same level as "why can't Johnny read?", but after
more than 40 years, for me, of gardening and teaching (and talking
- boy, do I talk), I am starting to feel glad that I am not the
other sort of doctor - my patients would have been dying like flies
with all the good advice that I had failed to communicate adequately.
Come to think of it, there have been brown patches in the gardens
that I have visited to offer help. . .
More interesting than
this cause for breast-beating, however, is to have experienced how
much people care. And how much they blame themselves for their failures.
"What am I doing wrong?" "What do I need to do to
save my plant?" "Please help me to save my plant, it is
important to me and I feel so bad."
There are times when it
is quite depressing, when I want to ask in turn "Why did you
repot?, Why did you fertilise?, Who managed to reach you with these
devastatingly wrong ideas? Where did I fail in spreading
the good stuff?"
I wish that I could teach
confidence, but confidence based on a pretty good idea of how a
healthy plant should look, and how to keep it that way. Perhaps
the thing to do is to encourage everyone to start with one of the
easy plants and work up from there. Not an original idea, but I
have one new twist, and here is my plan. If you want to become confident,
buy an orchid!
Dendrobiums are becoming
available everywhere: they are exotic, and look challenging, but
in fact, given a nice light place, they are almost foolproof. Foolproof,
yes, but still exotic and quite beautiful, so that the satisfaction
from growing one is pretty high. So then you go on to a bromeliad.
Still exotic but even easier than orchids.
Now, you should be ready
for a challenge. Don't take on a ficus - that will destroy all the
progress towards confidence made so far, but look at aglaonemas
or a cactus or crown of thorns for a bright windowsill. All right
so far? Well, what you have been doing is all there is to it.
It all seems so easy to
me, but then I think a little more, remembering the mechanics who
could diagnose problems in my car's engine just from hearing me
drive up - and I only went in for wiper blades.
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