Green Thumb


My mother has a green thumb. The greenest thumb I’ve ever seen, in fact. Others bring her dying—no, dead—plants, parched, brown and hopeless, and a week later the plants are green and blooming and have overtaken whatever patch of dirt or pot they have been allotted. In her kitchen windowsill above the farmhouse sink, overlooking the back porch and the peach and apple trees, my mother fills tiny glasses with water and sprigs of this or that, until the white roots stretch down through the water and they are ready to be planted. I need so much to grow anything, it seems: good dirt and sunshine and rain and quality seeds, and even then I feel the need to fuss over my plants to make sure they are not on the verge of death. My mom only needs a glass of water and a half-dead cutting to bring forth life.

Growing things comes easy to her. She doesn’t even think about it. My mother’s garden and houseplants are always in flux. There is no growing season and non-growing season; everything is always growing all the time. Seeds are constantly being started, seedlings are transplanted, cuttings are clipped, plants are repotted. And even when my mother accidentally grows things, they thrive. My aunt gave her a black daisy and when it died my mom took the seeds and planted them. What grew was not a black daisy, as it had been a hybrid, but a Black Pearl hot pepper plant. My mom tended the pepper plants just as faithfully as she would daisies, and soon the black leaves and red globes of the pepper plant had crept throughout the front flowerbed.

Growing up, I didn’t intentionally absorb much of my mom’s gardening knowledge, though now I would give anything to have inherited her green thumb. It is sometimes hard for people who intuitively know things to relay that knowledge to novices. Even if I had asked my mom how much you water this, or how you know when to transplant that, she probably would have just shrugged. She just knows how.

The first year I decided I was going to grow things on my own, really grow things, I came home arms overflowing with seed starting trays, peat moss, potting soil, and dozens of seed packets. My mom surveyed my spoils with eyes wide and lips pressed into a thin line.

“What’s that face for?” I asked.

She hesitated, then slowly replied, “I just don’t want you to…get in over your head.”

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