AMONG THE MANY questions I have never been asked is why there is a small crystal ball suspended from a rather grimy pink string hanging from the broken lamp that occupies a sizable section of my desk.
It is possibly the most useless piece of gardening equipage in my arsenal of gardening implements.
Equipage, by the way, and since I just double-checked with Encarta, means: “The equipment and supplies needed for an undertaking, especially a military expedition.”
Which about sums up gardening tools, yes?
The crystal is supposed to sense the plant’s desires, the which way it wants to nestle into the pot or the earth. The “do I need water or not.” The hunger for an 8-0-24 or 10-10-10 fertilizer.
All you need to do is hold the string (allowing enough string for it to dangle freely) with a weight suspended (I use a crystal since I happen to have such things handy, but anything with just enough heft to keep the string taut will do) between thumb and forefinger above whichever plant is troubling you.
SOMETIMES, AND BY THISI mean almost daily, the design pages of the New York Times provoke me to scream,Are you out of your minds!?
And I say this fondly, being an ex-New Yorker, born and raised and schooled and—to demonstrate my street cred—once able to tell at a glance a real Gucci bit on a shoe from a knock-off, and consider this essential information.
I am looking at a planter by designer Huy Bui, who wears what might impolitely be called a shit-eating grin in the photo that accompanies the interview, as well he should. It’s really a terrarium and it’s constructed of oak strips that you mount yourself, “like Lego blocks,” he says, on a charred wood base, whatever that is. Part of his“Homemade Collection,”it can sit on your tabletop for $850.
I think, I’m in fact sure, the parts for something like this are lurking in our garage, or possibly the basement. Maybe the attic.
For your outdoor space, Mr. Bui suggestsvarious planters, including one with “deep asymmetrical ripples,” called the Babylon. Designed by Harry and Camila for Dedon, “it comes in four sizes, the largest more than three feet tall—ideal for a tree.” It costs $1,385 and is made of polyethylene.
I JUST FLIPPED through 42 Googlets on the care, feeding and propagation of spiderwort—or, as my Jewish grandmother called it, wandering jew. This is the plant least likely to require any instructions whatsoever.
I have been growing tradescantia pallida (as it’s more haughtily called) since 1972, or thereabouts, when Stan and Betty Gottlieb gave me a sprig snipped on a trip to Jamaica or Trinidad or Aruba. I stuck it in one of the many potted avocado plants that lined the windowsill of the New York apartment I shared with my husband once removed (the Pre-Prince), and it grew.
Avocado plants raised from pits (stick a couple of toothpicks into the sides and balance on a glass of water until roots emerge) do not usually fruit, at least in northern climes. They are useful as screens, however, in this case softening an unglamorous view of Columbus Avenue (except when Robert Redford, in all his Butch Cassidy glory, was playing tennis across the street). They are also fine starter plants for budding gardeners since the process is so stupidly simple.
I HAVE NOT EATEN an apricot in more than 30 years. The very thought of those sickly-sweet little fruits, the mushy texture of the ripe pulp, raises bile in my throat, a gag that begins just below the sag of me jowls.
Though the apricot tree died years ago, the painful memories remain keen.
See, a stick that was off-centered in the garden of our brand new (to us) house and was said to be an apricot tree eventually became one. Lo it developed a habit of prettily flowering and then, after several years of pleasurable scent and blossom, began spurting forth fruit, bushels of fruit, which you might think was very exciting and pleasant and tasty but was instead utterly disgusting and grew increasingly vile with each passing year.
But in the beginning, how we thrilled that the skinny little sapling would eventually yield our very own apricot crop.
THIS IS NOT a tutorial for gardeners, at least those sorts of gardeners who are organized and careful about watering and pH levels and plants that prefer acidic or alkaline soil, or who consider pruning, for god’s sake.
Fundamentally, I am very lazy, and would much prefer to direct gardeners to do this and that, not do it myself. But thirty-odd years ago my husband, The Prince, and I happened to buy a house, spitting distance from the Capitol, and the house happened to have an area behind it that could only be called potential.
Here is what was there: dirt. Not particularly good dirt either, just dirty dirt, not soft and turned and rich and lovely and squirming with fat liver-colored worms. It was gritty and dry and heavy with clods of clay.
There was also a stick that the guy who owned the house before us said was an apricot tree. When he left we found a naked GI Joe doll in the attic, with hair glued on in a strategic place, and a hand gun. There was a rare lack of dispute between My Prince and me about the disposition of the doll. The gun was more contentious, though it eventually went. I believe there was some manly Clint Eastwood make-my-day vision involved as the neighborhood was—well, let us just say, to put it calmly, 30-some years ago there were no fancy prams, nannies and $35-a-pound cheeses on Capitol Hill.