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The Great Outdoors

The Flower That Resurrected Itself

A scruffy looking little impatiens plant
Photo by the author

I can grow tomatoes and peppers and various herbs with reasonable confidence. Or anyway I’ve done so, mostly successfully, for most of the past dozen years, and by now have learned some useful stuff about the process. In the five-and-a-half years my family and I have lived in our weird log cabin in the forest, we’ve planted dozens of trees and bushes around the place and cared for them, with encouraging results, though the sweetbay magnolias from 2017 all died, and aggressive honeysuckles bullied a poor little loblolly pine seedling to death. Still, I feel OK growing that stuff.

The frontier is flowers. I love flowers, and I want to be able to grow them, but so far I have not been able to get further into all of that than buying a few pots of pretty annuals—I am partial to petunias—from the garden store up the road every spring, hanging them from the eaves over my front porch, wondering why they immediately start looking miserable, and frantically googling what might be wrong with them. My theory—or maybe just what I want to believe—is that flowers are temperamental and delicate, and this is why they are the province of retired people whose kids have grown up and moved out. They have all the time in the world to fuss over their flowers. The trick there is that I almost certainly will never be able to retire from working, and that by the time I’m of retirement age, the Earth might not even be hospitable for flowers and/or humans anymore. (My alternate theory is that the flower varieties I’ve picked do not like the arrangement of sun and shade at my house, which is surrounded on all sides by very tall trees. But this implies that I cannot grow them here, and so I reject it.)

This brings me to this past spring. Discouraged by the bad flower results in previous years and wary of another round of the labor and care that go into raising truly successful tomatoes—and planning on going to New York to hang with my Defector pals for a week in May—I decided to scale back my gardening for the season. Instead of tomatoes and peppers and herbs, I stuck to herbs; instead of six pots of doomed flowers, I got just one, of pinkish impatiens. Impatiens are funky little guys, with soft and pretty lobed flowers, dark and spiky leaves, and harsh, weird, succulent stems, like brown-green drinking straws. Impatiens are very lovely when healthy, a nice little spray of color against a deep dark background, and I’d heard they were hardier than petunias, which frankly suits any flower that hopes to survive being cared for by me. I couldn’t convince myself to have no flowers at all, but I figured maybe if I had one pot it’d be easier for me, an ADHD-brained wreck of a person, to stay on top of its care and watering for just this one dang spring and summer, and come out of the whole thing not feeling as though I’d failed.

What happened was—honestly, I am not sure, because I was not paying attention. That was the whole problem. I went weeks without remembering that I even had the sad little pot of impatiens. Did the plant get too little water? Did spring rains drown it? Did violent winds blow it off the deck railing where I’d left it one day for an extra meal of afternoon sunlight? Did it get too much or too little sun? No idea. What I know is that by the end of May—the end of May!—it was dead, dead dead dead, extremely freaking dead, and I felt like even more of a flower-gardening failure than usual.

Sand is hardly any deader than this plant was: some crispy-dry stalks laid out in a sad fan pattern on a tightly condensed ball of bone-dry soil. It had zero living leaves, zero flowers. It was dead. The impatiens plant had ceased to be. It was an ex-plant.

I had no particular reason not to just throw the impatiens away when I discovered it 100-percent deader than hell in the sad corner of the porch. So I left it there, for the same reason I’d been leaving it there: I am a derelict caretaker of my things. Killing that poor impatiens, discovering that I’d killed it, did not change this essential fact about me. Another thing that did not change was anything about my treatment of it: I did not water it or prune it or whatever, because that would have been pointless, because it had died and was DEAD FOR ALL TIME. The conditions that killed it—sitting forgotten, neglected, in that exact spot—were the conditions under which it remained in that corner of the porch for the ensuing two months, a sad memorial of itself and my mistreatment of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to glance to my left while walking out of the house and saw that the sad forgotten pot with the utterly and irrevocably fucking dead impatiens in it now had some slender green-brown stalks sticking out of the dirt, with dark and spiky leaves and soft, pretty flowers on them. The impatiens is alive! Whatever pattern of rain and sun it has passed through—in exactly the same spot where a previous pattern of rain and sun killed it—has restored it to life. Take a look at that photo up there at the top of this blog. That is not from April! That is from earlier today. That sad little plant is not going to win a place on the cover of some gardening magazine, but it is alive and has flowers on it. It is a survivor, and that is something.

I have not welcomed the impatiens back to life with a diligent regimen of watering and fertilizing and care. I think it and I both know better than to expect that. In any event it now cannot be denied that this plant’s life and destiny are wholly its own, having nothing to do with however good or rotten I am as a flower gardener. This story has no moral, but the flowers are nice to look at.