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.