A Living Thing

“What can I do to energize my lackluster space?” I ask Anissa, a relative with an eye for design. “Plants,” she says. “Put something alive in there.”

Oh no. That never crossed my mind. Plants and I have yet to develop an understanding.

When I moved to Cambria the first time, the local bank had a promotion with prizes for those opening a bank account…and I won! The prize included Linn’s restaurant fifty-dollar gift certificate. And a small potted orchid plant. It was pretty and all, but I couldn’t give it a good life. Due to my wandering lifestyle, I shun ownership of plants and animals – living things. I tried a goldfish once. And when I went on a trip, sweet Anissa agreed to (can’t remember its name, that tells you something) foster care. Weeks later, I return to discover that it had died under mysterious, unexplainable circumstances in what I’m calling, “The Unresolved Case of Something Fishy”.

Back to Cambria. My introduction to this new town was winning this prize – a good sign! I had to keep this plant alive. I read up on the care of orchids. Every Sunday, it got an ice cube. Encouragingly, the flowers lasted a few weeks. Discouragingly, gradually, the petals fell off…one by one. In painful increments. What remained was a single brown twig with a suggestion of chlorophyll on a potential root. Poor thing was like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, sad but not dead, and my heart wouldn’t give up on it. 

For four years, No Name orchid brown stick remained endearingly crooked and unchanging; I’d grown accustomed to its presence — my unbudding buddy. But with the decision to move from Montecito and travel abroad, I relinquished ownership to Anissa who kindly agreed to its tending (even after the suspicious fish fiasco).

No Name –
Twas no Before, only After

Upon my homecoming one year later, my eyes were drawn to her kitchen counter where thrived an array of happy, blossoming orchids. No Name was unrecognizable. Now more than a stick, Ms. Green Thumbelina gifted resuscitation…healthy green leaves and roots were outgrowing its original terra cotta pot.

I leaned in for a closer look and I swear it quivered in fright.

Evidence to the contrary, Anissa still encourages me to to liven up my space with plants. At the local nursery, I ask Nancy, “I’ve heard that succulents are low-maintenance. What is the heartiest and lowest of the low-maintenance succulent here?” She points to a Squid Agave and two Fire stick plants – they remind me of Staghorn coral…so coral and a squid– an underwater theme happenin’ here. “I’ll take ‘em.” She assures me it’s unnecessary, but I buy a Moisture Meter just in case.

The Moisture Meter Knows

And this time around, they’re getting names. Hmmm…three plants. What groups of three belong together? Larry, Curly, and Mo – The Three Stooges, too obvious. The Three Musketeers – I don’t know their names. BLT, yes. “Welcome to your new home, Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato.”

BLT Behind the Glass

BLT In the Elements

I transplant Bacon and Lettuce into larger pots but they require more soil which I don’t have so I add what I have on hand, which I thought was sand. Desert plants – isn’t sand in their evolutionary DNA? Nevertheless, something tells me to keep the agave, Tomato, in its original potting soil. I place its plastic container inside a decorative ceramic pot.


At first, they live near a window on a low table. But it’s inside. If I were a plant, I’d want to live in fresh air. No confines. Freedom. So I move them to a wooden bench on the balcony. After a week or so, Tomato is doing great but some of Bacon’s sticks are black; I think he’s getting sun-burned. Lettuce is wilting as well. Oh no. Bad mama. Before I give them up for adoption, I go back to Nancy Nursery. “Black sticks? I’ve never heard of that in Euphorbia.” Oh man. She wonders if there was something in the sand. When I got home, I reread the sandbag in my garage. It says “QuickCrete”.  Think play concrete for a sandbox to mold in rather than a plant to grow in. Oh for Pete’s sake. I’m suffucating them. A concrete burial. Try try again. I just transplanted both fire sticks from their sandy grave into soil made specifically for, their kind. We just might develop an understanding…


A good day for Bacon

As I write the last sentence of this post, you will not believe what just happened. A shake-of-the-head ironic twist, that’s what.

As of yet, Unnamed

There’s a knockin’ on my door. The warm-hearted neighbors are bearing gifts of appreciation for my (anxious) watering of their garden during their vacation. In their outstretched hands is a bottle of fine French wine.

And, a bloomin’ orchid…





“It’s a livin’ thing, it’s a terrible thing to lose” – Electric Light Orchestra

“oh mary mary how does your garden grow, calling all your blossoms to come up from down below comin’ up up up from down below”  – Zach Gill





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