Reflection, Relationships

Overwatering : A Metaphor

My plants have finally stopped dying.

This seems to run in my family; a group of gifted outdoor gardeners (my mother has been working toward a Master Gardener qualification), who can’t keep anything alive once it comes indoors. The notorious exception is a cactus that has been in the family for two decades.

I love plants and have a distinct lack of outdoor garden space, so I’m working on breaking the family curse, as it were, of the indoor black thumb. True to form, I’ve killed probably a dozen plants in the last two years.

Half of the reason my florist began recognising me was because of a particularly dark period where I killed four succulents in a very short amount of time. I went in to her to explain what was happening (I thought my succulents had root rot) and she nearly thew up her hands and explained that it wasn’t something nearly so dramatic. I was, according to her, just overwatering….

She turned out to be right.

A combination of mismatching plants with the correct lighting and over-enthusiasm with my spray bottle, and my plants were dropping (or drooping, ha!) like flies.

What did I learn along the way? Practically speaking, succulents like to be soaked with water (not just sprayed at the surface) and left to dry out for 6+ days. They don’t all love direct sunlight, but some of my other plants needed much more light than they were getting (the jasmine trellis genuinely did get root rot…)

If (or when) soil starts to get a little mouldy on top (as was the case for my jasmine and my English ivy), go outside to the trash, scrape all the mould off, and try sprinkling the dirt with cinnamon. Super strange, I know, but it revived the English ivy. The jasmine was probably too far gone once I cinnamon’d it, but a 50% success rate is better than nothing.

If powdery mildew forms (little white spots on stems and leaves), which seems to be happening on one of my larger succulents, daub them off and try moving it into a brighter (not necessarily sunnier) spot in the room. You may also want to leave it near an open window or a fan for some time.

Improved circulation and dryness can help prevent the occurrence or reoccurrence, but many people recommend a fungicide as well. I’m not there yet, but I’m determined to save this succulent. If it comes to that, I’ll take either the plant itself, or pictures of the mildew, down the street to my florist to ask for help.

After learning how to simply water less, and pay attention to specific lighting conditions, I now have 10 ‘thriving’ houseplants, aka plants that have lived for longer than three months.

I’m wondering how the idea of overwatering applies to my own life and to my relationships. There was a period that I blogged about earlier this month where I was so over-scheduled and over-stimulated that I felt on the verge of a breakdown. None of my commitments were negative, but too much of a good thing at once was set to drive me over the edge. I had, in effect, overwatered myself.

My relationships in Paris, as I’ve also written about, have flourished since I began paying specific attention to them. I’ve consciously moderated the way I relate to my out-of-town friendships, and I think that this has helped them to recover and to begin to flourish.

My impulse, both in caring for houseplants, my career, and my relationships, is to over-water. I want to give everything of myself, as if more will mean better. The sad part of this experience is that it isn’t true, and in the case of a few relationships, it may have caused irreparable damage.

I don’t hold myself exclusively accountable for the failure of those relationships, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had seen that I was ‘overwatering,’ I can’t help but wonder what would have been different. Maybe nothing, but it still give me pause.

There’s no going back, but there is growing forward. So, here’s to 10 happy houseplants, and the health of my relationships in 2017!



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