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The Doctor Is Out!
by Eleanor Tylbor
by Eleanor Tylbor


Eleanor Tylbor has been a freelance writer and columnist for more than twenty years. A resident of Laval, Quebec, Canada, she began her career as a columnist writing for weekly papers and continues to freelance a column covering local news for “The Chomedy News.”

She has also freelanced articles for Internet sites in addition to providing human-interest pieces for various dailies, and is a monthly contributor to the site, sharing her humorous observations and gardening-angst with gardening aficionados.

She is now into balcony gardening.

Blog The (Somewhat) Complete Gardener

March 13, 2005

There was another death in the “family” last week followed by the usual ‘should-have’-would-have-could-have’ angst. It was more distressing since the dearly departed was a visitor who lived among us for a mere week. Even more worrisome is my reputation as “HPR”or houseplant plant “resuscitator” has been tarnished.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to intervene in some ailing tropical plants that were slowly dying.

“You know all about growing things, right?” were the exact words uttered by the owner who handed me a box of half-alive-but-more-dead plants, in the hope of a miracle resurrection.

Do I know about growing things! Moi!

“KNOW: (vb) knew/knowing; to perceive directly; have understanding or direct cognition of; also to recognize the nature of: to be acquainted or familiar with…”

Many species from many sources have graced the corners and windows of our home, ranging from your store-bought tropical and floral types to humble beginnings in the veggie and fruit drawer of the refrigerator. Armed with a selection of how-to books and various sprays, fertilizers and home-made tonics, each ailing plant that passes through my hands is given individual attention and monitored as to its general condition. In retrospect it’s more like a death watch but this isn’t the type of information you want to divulge when asked to administer first aid to a sick plant.

The ailing box of plants, a gift from a valued business acquaintance, held the primo position in an office reception area. Once the decline process set in the plant was wisely removed from public view. It was for this reason it ended up on my doorstep, literally and figuratively.

Asking a self-professed ‘green-thumber’ the seemingly innocent question as to whether a plant can be saved is akin to issuing a personal challenge, and intimating that there is doubt it can be achieved by mere human intercession. Many of us consider ourselves divinely blessed with special healing abilities. Were it only true! Towering over the plants there was a brief sensation of being omnipotent with the power of life and death in my hands. It must be similar to that of a surgeon preparing for an operation but without the presence of a nurse to put on gardening gloves.

Let it be stated for the record that enlightening neophyte owners to the presence of spider mites is not a wise move, since it inevitably triggers a fit of scalp scratching followed by a quick departure. There wasn’t even enough time to explain that spider mites are vegetarians. Amateurs!

A preliminary pep talk was followed by a natural tonic consisting of dissolved gelatin powder in warm water. Most of my plants – all four that remain – have always responded favorably by producing a flourish of new leaves. To maximize growth potential the box of plants was placed in an area that received diffused light but not direct sun light, which could burn their leaves. In retrospect those plants received better care than members of my family. The experience can best be summed up in my plant diary (cue music and Barbra: “The Way We Were”):

Plant Growing Diary.

Patient(s): Adiantum, Calathea, Ficus, Ivy, Plectranthus, Tolmiea

Day 1. Assessment of problem: black tips on leaves indicating…something is wrong. Solution: give plants a healthy dose of dissolved gelatin in water

Day 2. One of the plants keeled over and died last night. Solution: remove evidence…dead plant

Day 3. Black tips have extended down to cover half the leaves of plants. Searched in a houseplant care book for possible cause. None seemed applicable although there was mention of an incurable virus… Solution: isolate plant to another area of the room. Bad move.

Day 4. Woke up to find yet another dead plant. The box is beginning to look sparse. Solution: spread out leaves of remaining plants to make it appear full. Gave the plants a pep talk i.e. “please-oh-please no more death!”

Day 5. Completely and utterly demoralized. Out of the original six plants, only three live and one is ivy. I mean, who can kill ivy? Perhaps not a good question in light of current events. According to another plant book they probably acquired an incurable virus at point of origin, even with divine intervention or my help. Go explain that to the owner!

Day 6. Turned over soil with plastic spoon. Figured if it works in the garden, it couldn’t do any harm in the box. Accidentally dug up an unseen root originally thought to be dead

Day 7: Seriously considering replacing the “dearly departed” with some new plants. Problem exists in that I can’t remember the types of plant and which went where

Day 8. Received a phone call from the owner as to an update and was advised that the box is being picked up. Panic!

Day 9. Owner will be here in an hour. Panic!

Day 10. Plant box has gone along with my credibility. I mean, it was only plants, after all! There was no reason for the name-calling! Gave owner one of my avocado plants in the way of an apology along with the assurance of free avocados within three months…

In case anybody wants to know, the doctor is out. Got that?

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