Green Thumb-less

By Holly Bowne

Green Thumb-less

My mother always has beautiful gardens. Growing up, my family was treated to a profusion of obscenely healthy house plants clustered en masse in front of our windows. Outside, there was a bountiful vegetable garden, endless raspberry bushes laden with ripe fruit and…flowers. Those gorgeous splashes of color whose fragrant blossoms decorated our landscape from spring ‘till late into fall.

My mother has the greenest thumb of anybody I know. Seriously, all she has to do is look at a plant, and it immediately grows several inches and begins blooming. And although my mother has shared many of her fine qualities with me; a talent for art, a love of books, even a few freckles, alas, her green thumb is not among them.

I love flowers. Unfortunately, they don’t love me.

When my hubby and I bought our first home, unaware of this serious deficit in my biological makeup, I excitedly purchased an array of blossoms to line the front of our new little home. I happily troweled the dirt, planting my colorful impatiens beside feathery wands of astilbe. After hours of labor, I stood back and brushing soil from my hands, admired the effect I had created. Stunning.

It took only two weeks for me to kill them all.

I was so depressed. Apparently that little tag the nursery placed on them which read: Thrive In Sun and Partial Shade was just a big, fat lie. Impatiens and astilbes truly only thrive in shade and as I’d planted them in the full sun of our southern-facing domicile, they shriveled up and died a slow painful death of dehydration. Before I could kill anything else however, my husband’s job required a move to the other side of our state.

There we purchased a brand new home. So new, we had to put in our own lawn. We were unable to afford sod, so it became my part-time job to tiptoe around our yard with the sprinkler every day, urging the little grass seeds we’d planted to grow. I was thrilled when after many days I was rewarded with little patches of green for my efforts. Unfortunately, that was precisely how the lawn remained the entire time we lived there. Patchy. Loads of crabgrass, clover and some dead white spots filled in the empty spaces. Resigning myself to this excuse for a lawn, I decided once again to turn my focus to flowers.

This time I did research.

I interviewed neighbors whose yards I admired and learned the names of different plants. I drew endless potential designs on paper, taking into account when different flowers bloomed, what colors they were and how tall they would be. I finally satisfied myself I would have carefully coordinated blooms occurring throughout the growing season.

That fall, my mother coached me long-distance in planting my bulbs and bushes. I imagined how my dwarf magnolia tree would hang heavy with large white blooms when spring arrived. How my Red Riding Hood Tulips would push through the earth with their cool striped leaves, followed by brilliant purple irises. And in front of them all an array of hardy petunias would dance in myriad colors. Then, just as my magnolia tree began to bud, my husband announced we were moving again. I was devastated. All that work! All that effort! I’d finally succeeded in growing something (at least I was pretty sure I had), and it was all for somebody else to enjoy.

I was listless as we moved into our third home. This was an older home and apparently the previous owner was a gardening zealot because there were raised boxes of plants everywhere. (Including poison ivy!) With two young children to keep track of, I could barely keep up with the weeding, let alone attempting another flower garden. But after a couple of years, we had the plant boxes removed so the kids actually had a place to play, and I was at it once again.

So far, I’ve planted and successfully killed three azaleas, two Rose of Sharon bushes, multiple petunias, pansies and too many hanging baskets of flowers to count. I did manage to grow a few herbs in pots on my back deck. But I went outside one afternoon to find them suddenly shriveled up and gasping for…Air? Water? What had I done? (My husband later confessed he’d helpfully sprayed them with weed & bug killer.)

Arrrgghhh! I give up!

I think it’s important to acknowledge one’s own strengths and weaknesses. And gardening is simply not one of mine. I mean, we can’t all be like my mother, right? Acknowledging this fact has been liberating in a way, and after accepting that I will never have a green thumb, I discovered the ideal solution for my lack of gardening skills.

“You’re geraniums are amazing!” a friend gushed as she came up our front walkway to greet me one afternoon. “And your hanging baskets are so lush! I can’t believe how healthy your flowers are when it’s been so dry lately.”

I smiled and threw my arm across her shoulders, guiding her inside the house and praying she wouldn’t look too closely at my vibrant blooms. See, I finally figured out that there actually is a plant I can’t kill.

A silk one.

About this writer

  • Holly Bowne Holly Bowne’s work has appeared in regional, national and online publications. Visit her at where she explores the more humorous aspects of balancing the writing life with parenting her teenage children.

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3 Responses to “Green Thumb-less”

  1. Dad says:

    You are one amazing daughter, daughter. Mother reminds me, I had you and your brothers and sister hand watering our several hundred pine saplings which are now large enough to build a sizeable log cabin. Remember?

  2. Dad says:

    Sparkle enjoyed it too.

  3. Thanks, Dad (and Sparkle). XO

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