Eventually I no longer had space for the big guy, so gave him to my friend Megan, where, newly christened Big Al, he has continued to grow. I helped her repot him a couple of years ago, since that is now definitely a two-person job. He dominates Megan’s living room, sitting by the TV, still grows bigger, and frankly seems to have developed an attitude. Look for Big Al on Myspace.
But back to the Emro aloes. These are not the only plants that are descendents of plants from my maternal grandmother; the boston ferns that hang in the kitchen and bathroom are too. One showers me with negative ions (the good, mood-lifting ones) when I’m at the dining table, the other does the same when I shower. At one point Tommy hid his Frodo action figure (you heard me) in the one in the shower; I was lathering up one day to realize I had a tiny little peeping Tom. "Where's Frodo?" has become a new sport.
Then there is the angel-wing begonia; it too comes from an Emro plant, and has relatives living with several of mine. Actually, since they’re all cuttings, that means they’re technically all part of the same plant, which is even cooler, don't you think? This is the plant that seemed to be at death’s door back in September. I’m cautiously optimistic these days; it’s putting out more leaves and they look healthy. I doubt it will ever regain its former glory (it was five feet tall at one point), but at least it no longer looks like a sad skeleton.
Then there are the plants who were here in the apartment when I moved in, left by the previous tenant. There was a spider plant hanging in the kitchen where the boston fern is now. Ginger told me she’d had it since college, and had brought it with her everywhere she’d lived since (no, I don't know why she left it here). Hanging in the kitchen window, it felt like it was at the center of the apartment. I began thinking of it almost as the spirit of the place. It's funny to realize it had lived here longer than me. I started calling her Grandmother Spider, in recognition of her age and prolific outgrowth. It seemed to fit. She was even more prolific than the Emro aloes; runners and plantlets spilled over the pot, cascading down the window -which faces north, by the way, on a narrow courtyard, and is not someplace I would have expected a spider plant to thrive. For a while I had two of her sons (don’t ask me why I thought they were male, but I did) hanging in the two windows of the living room (facing east, also on the courtyard). They were both smaller, springing up with a youthful vigor and a deeper green. Brian, when he lived here, found these two plants disconcerting. When they began putting out runners and baby plants, he could never quite shake the feeling that if he sat in front of the TV too long, they would end up sinking roots into his flesh.
It wasn’t long, with all three hanging plants merrily reproducing, before we were neck-deep in plantlets. Brian was sure they were going to smother us in our sleep one night, and even I began feeling a tad overwhelmed. I was able to give several away, but many more were left wanting homes; scores of them sat in water, growing roots that became increasingly entangled with one another. Eventually through a combination of give away and culling (Grandma was allowed to continue reproducing, but both the boys lost that privilege), I was able to whittle things back, finally ending up only with Grandmother Spider. She was starting to look a bit peaked by this point though, and I realized she was potbound. The repotting didn’t seem to go well, perhaps because I had to break up the ball into separate plants. She never really regained her old vigor, and just faded away. I wonder if plants can die of old age? She had to have been at least twenty, possibly thirty years old. I was sad, but frankly also a bit relieved. With her gone, I felt like yet one more significant influence of the previous tenant had been allowed to fade naturally, and I was now, almost eight years after taking over the lease, able to invite a new spirit plant into the center of my home. So that is where the second Boston fern went. At present there are no spider plants living in this apartment at all, and I’m feeling like that’s okay. If I ever feel the need for one though, I know Grandma has offspring throughout the city, in the homes of many friends. I can even say hi to one of the sons anytime I want, since he sits in a first floor window not far from my building. He is allowed to reproduce again, and seems to like the southern exposure.
The other plant I inherited with the apartment is a golden pothos. When I first moved in, two or three short cuttings of this plant were sitting in a big, heavy blue vase. I have no idea how long they had been there. They were in the office, which at the time was mostly Kurt’s domain, so I assumed they were his. (Like the plants, I inherited Kurt as a roommate, and it also worked out splendidly.) After a few years though, I began to feel badly for the cuttings, so I appropriated, potted, and moved them to the living room (which, at the time, was exclusively my domain). I don’t remember when exactly I stopped pruning it back, and tying it to a string along the wall, but I think it happened no more than five, maybe six years ago. I’d keep wrapping it around the room, if there weren’t a heating pipe in the way now that would singe it. I’m doubling it back, and giving cuttings to anyone who asks for one, as long as he or she is standing right in front of me, hand out ready to take it that instant. I can't handle the guilt of homeless plants any longer.
This scattering of green throughout my space has helped save my sanity, I have no doubt. Their calming green and reminders of older, more important rhythms is often a good wake-up call for me. I also like the feeling of connection they give me: to my grandmother, the family farm, my mom, aunts, siblings and friends across the country, even former residents -known and not- of apartment #20. I imagine a greensong linking the plants with their counterparts regardless of distance, shrinking the space between me and my loved ones, and strengthening our bonds.