Grow Write Guild #1: In the beginning…

I’m taking up Gayla Trail‘s challenge to be part of the Grow Write Guild, a collection of writers or gardeners of one stripe or another who wish to practice telling their garden stories. Gayla’s first prompt, posted today, is to write about my first plant.

I know that when I was in kindergarten, I walked with my classmates on a field trip to a local garden center, where we each picked out an annual to plant in a small bed in front of the school. I picked out a marigold because I liked its spicy smell, and probably because it was the first thing I came to. At age 5, I hadn’t cultivated the skill of browsing. I became depressed when I returned to school and saw that another of my friends had found a cockscomb (Celosia cristata). My marigold didn’t seem so enticing anymore, not when compared with those velvety pink folds. They were so soft to touch! I remember not having much interest in or attachment to the little garden bed after that.

But the first plant I really grew, I think, must be a Rieger begonia that I bought at a farmer’s market up the road from my apartment in Arlington, Virginia, when I was about 23. I had spent the previous year in London and it was there that the seeds of this gardening obsession were sown. I began collecting gardening books and forming ideas in my mind for gardens I would one day plant, but the 800 square foot apartment I called home didn’t even have proper windowsills, let alone a balcony, on which to grow anything.

I did have a south facing window that looked out onto an expanse of grass and the north-facing windows of apartments across the way, and I had an end table. That, and my potted Rieger begonia, constituted my first garden.

The man who sold me the plant said it was an easy-to-care-for houseplant, and at the time he proved to be right (I have killed several since then from neglect, but I remain drawn to it.). The smooth, deep green leaves and cheerful yellow petals formed into snug roses enchanted me, but for some reason I was also taken with the begonia’s succulent stems. They felt crisp, like fresh celery. I took it home, put it on the end table where it got reflected light off the standard-issue-apartment-paint walls, and fed it used tea leaves. Even then, I was determined to compost. That is another story.

While I had no attachment to the plant before I bought it–in fact, I had never seen nor heard of it–I formed a very deep attachment to it over the course of the year. When in the fall I moved to Chicago, I put the plant in a box in the car with me and took it along. I grew it faithfully for six more years, until, with husband and infant son now in the mix, I moved to North Carolina. We had accumulated stuff over those six years, as one does, and now faced a more challenging move. It was the baby or the plants (I had no idea babies required so much equipment!), so I gave the plants away to a gardening friend from work. By then, the Rieger had a great deal of company; I grew plants on a jerry-built light stand in my apartment closet. It was a really big closet.

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18 thoughts on “Grow Write Guild #1: In the beginning…

  1. Did you ever eat your begonia flowers? I have hear they taste like lemons, but I have never grown a begonia, so I have never tried it.

    I have never been land-poor, but if I was I could imagine myself filling a closet with plants. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • I have never eaten begonia flowers; I didn’t know they were edible. I’m not sure I could bear to eat them, because they’re so dear to look at. Given the choice of having them or eating them, I’ll have them. 🙂

  2. This is a great post about working with what you’ve got. In this case the south facing window and an end table. My favorite line is, “it was the baby or the plants…”

    • Thank you! It was quite the setup, I assure you: I was leading a life of quiet gardening desperation. My husband used to speculate what the apartment’s maintenance man thought I was growing whenever he came to fix the shower…

  3. I love begonias! Great story!

    You reminded me that my mother used to cultivate lots of clippings of Angel Wing Begonias – she has a real knack for those. I should see if she still has one, and if I can get clippings of it. They don’t like direct sunlight, so it would be perfect for my place, which is a bit shady. She’s given them to me before, and sometimes they’ve thrived, but I’ve usually managed to kill them at some point…

    As for eating begonia flowers – wow, I’d never have tried that. My mom always told me our angel-wing begonias are poisonous. Was I missing out?

    I posted my own first plant story here: http://wanderingtoronto.com/?p=458

  4. Fab I remember having a houseplant on my office desk at my first job, I think I still have now or one similar but no idea what it is called.

  5. I love begonias! I had more success with houseplants when I lived in AZ as WA is much darker and none of our windows have light plus it gets so cold inside. Looks like you had a good start with gardening.

  6. I love that your teacher took you on a field trip to a garden center! The garden in a closet is pretty great, too.

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