The Grandpa plant: remembering someone I loved

If you thought that story was odd, here’s another even less explicable.

Confession: Once upon a time, I noticed a beautiful plant in a loosely monitored location. It may or may not have been the windowsill of my grandpa’s nursing home. Okay, it was. I made sure the plant was hearty enough to withstand a little pinch. I felt around in the dirt at the edge of the pot until I could extract a single root. I wrapped it in a damp napkin. Then I brought it home and planted it. (I told you before I have occasional problems with plant snitching.)

I named it the Grandpa plant until I could find out what it was really called. I love having plants that remind me of special people. I have Yvonne’s lily and Marlene’s philodendron and my mom-in-law’s Bethlehem sage and Cynthia’s spider plant and April’s creeping jenny and Aunt Rose’s oregano and the kids’ columbine and Sherry’s cilantro… and so many more. Even after I knew this one was technically “purple shamrock,” I called it “the Grandpa plant” for short. Kind of like how Robert goes by Bob.

I enjoyed it for several years, and watched it grow.

That was the story of the Grandpa plant until this spring, when I brought all my houseplants into the laundry room for their great annual shake-up – pruning, transplanting, and regrouping. I had noticed the Grandpa plant was not doing as well as I would have liked in its deep crock; it had grown better when it was cramped. I dug out all the roots (there were a surprising number of them, like mini bulbs), and placed them carefully into a smaller, shallower pot. Then I put the collection by a window – a different window, which was my big mistake.

They all died.

Every stem keeled over and bit the dust, and only one of the bulbs produced a new shoot, a baby thing of hopeful promise until it, too, collapsed.

I was horrified. I’d killed the Grandpa plant, and now it was gone.

Several weeks later, as I filled a jug of water at my laundry room sink, I saw something odd coming up in my African violet pot. You won’t believe this, but it was purple shamrock – the Grandpa plant – just two little curls of leaf, sturdy and determined.

I had not planted it there. I’d never grown purple shamrock in that pot. In the great annual shake-up strange things can happen, but this one felt like a resurrection. How did it get there? How did it survive when my careful tending did nothing for its brothers? (Don’t even think that snarky thought – you are suggesting I babied the others into an early grave?)

I watched it grow, delightedly.

Soon it had five stems or more, and one day as I looked at how the leaves of the shamrock intertwined with the leaves of the African violet, my eyes opened wide.

That violet came from my grandma.

I’d not thought of it before,
but of all my two dozen houseplants (and countless outdoor varieties)
it’s the only plant I have from

I like to think of him in heaven, and her in Ohio, and their plant starts twining together beside my sink.

A garden party

Thanks so much for having a virtual cuppa with me yesterday, and listening. Your words meant an awful lot.

spiky 2

Confession: I can never resist having a garden party every year about this time. 


Shari and Kelly

I bring into the laundry room all of my houseplants that need tending—trimming, repotting, dividing, and miscellaneous TLC—and then I start digging. A delightful small comrade joins me, and begs to do it herself. But I say We will do it together.

Kelly's hands

This is the purest of therapy for me, a little green oasis that will last me till spring.

african violet

I plant freshly-rooted stems into rich soil.

small pots

I upscale the spider plants that have outgrown their old lodgings.

Shari planting

(My husband comes in and starts shooting photos. I know; I’m not really dressed for potting plants, but I have a coffee break with a friend to slip in there. And I figure it all washes.)

I start garden seeds.


(Did I tell you we have a new camera? It’s amazing. Now we have to learn how to use it.)

(And no, this will not become a photo blog. Except for this post and maybe a few others I don’t know about yet.)

I pull off dead leaves and work up packed soil.

I mix and match colors—a central spike with purple Wandering Jew.

I savor the contrasts—daintiest shamrock flowers,

shamrock flowers

spikey cactus things whose name escapes me.

spiky 1

Most of these plants were gifts from people I love, for a birthday or a death or an exchange or a friendship. I remember their names in my heart as I work, and I say them to myself.

peace lily

My sister gave me the handsomest peace lily I’ve ever seen. The card says “He is safe. And someday you will hold him…” My heart broke a couple of weeks ago, and though I cannot bring myself to speak of it much just yet, I cannot help bumping into its edges: I have joined the women who have unborn babies with Jesus.

I put the peace lily into an enormous crock from my grandma. It is perfect.

metal planter

I replace all of my metal planters, or line them with plastic. I love the look of metal pots, especially antique pails salvaged from here and there, but I have had terrible success with growing plants in them. One plant got all spotted and died off, though it grew back in perfect health from its own roots when moved to another pot. Another developed leaf irritation where it touched the edges of the planter. Can this be this so?

leaf damage

I tell my son, Gardening is like art. It may not turn out exactly like you had in mind, but it’s going to be beautiful.

Yes, this is my hope.

plant 2

If you are local, I’d love to swap starts with you… Do you see something you like?

Herb gardens

Confession: I am obsessed with herbs.



Gripped. Infatuated. Besotted with herbs.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm

Last year we dug up a patch along the south side of my house and I started an herb garden, with flat slabs of limestone for edging and paths, and a handful of starts from my aunt and a few friends. Thyme. Sage. Rosemary. Chives.



This year I am somehow, miraculously, close to thirty varieties. Many are gifts from friends, some are pilfered from random parks and things, some are greenhouse finds… one a last-minute gift from a very sweet greenhouse owner at Pampas Creek in exchange for the promise to come back again.

What is it about herbs? They’re so full-bodied–good to smell, good to taste, good to touch. Low and fragrant, vibrant green.

I love the classics—peppermint, parsley, basil, oregano, Echinacea, bee balm.

Second year parsley

Second year parsley

Bee balm

Bee balm

And I love branching out into a few crazies—barbecue oregano, wooly thyme, purple basil, Russian sage and—my newest newbie—stevia.



Golden oregano

Golden oregano

Everything is small, still, and learning to find its place in the world. Some varieties don’t do well. My dill looks like it thought “yellow and straggly” was hip this year, my rosemary didn’t survive the winter, and my cilantro went to seed too quickly… Oh, and I can’t grow herbs from seeds to save my life. “Starts only!” is my banner from here on out.

Dill. No really. I'm serious. This is my dill. I left the label in the ground beside it so I wouldn't forget.

Dill. No really. I’m serious. This is my dill. I left the label in the ground beside it so I wouldn’t forget.

Basil--somebody tell me how to keep it from getting eaten!

Basil–somebody tell me how to keep it from getting eaten!

Rosemary. This year's version is in a pot so I can bring it inside before winter.

Rosemary. This year’s version is in a pot so I can bring it inside before winter.

I want to learn more about using herbs, in cooking and teas and home remedies. Right now, I fiddle around with them, snipping cilantro into refried beans and using fresh parsley and thyme in my tomato sauces. Mostly I walk through the garden and touch and smell, and taste heaven.

I just gave my oregano a haircut and dried it in my dehydrator. That was fun.



...and After

…and After

In a jar, all ready to crumble and use.

In a jar, all ready to crumble and use.


What do you love about herbs? How do you use them around the house?

Green beans and good deeds

Did you know that I can hear what plants are saying?

This is one reason why I hate weeding (besides the fact that it is hard work): it feels cruel and unfair. I hate the sight of all those babies gasping and shriveling in the sun. When I prune I have to steel myself against the protest. Once when Ryan chopped off a big wild grapevine, the sight of that gaping, dripping stump was dreadful to me, like someone bleeding.

The other day I was out in my garden picking green beans. As I pulled the long straight pods, I was sure (quite sure) I heard the plants sighing with relief.

green beans 2013

Left alone, the beans would turn fat and woody, aging idly, sapping strength, corking the usefulness and life span of the plant. Removed, they cleared the way for fresh energy to surge into the blossoms and new beans coming on. The plant found it was still young. Productivity endured.

They were delighted to give; I was delighted to receive.

I thought to myself—this is how I should think of good deeds.

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love… not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. (Romans 12:10-13)

Sometimes I get exhausted with my works, as though I have to produce enough of them to stretch around to the needs of all. Instead, I should be producing them because that is what I do—fueled by internal design, not external pressure. I am a bean plant. I make beans. And when someone comes along and picks them to enjoy, I can release them with a sigh of relief.

Whew. Thanks for taking that. I needed to cook a good meal for someone.

Ahh. Lovely. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to babysit. I’ve been growing that one quite a while.

Mmmmm. It feels good to stop in and visit you. I hope you are feeling better soon…

Thank you for letting me throw you a party! Now I can start cooking up the next one.

If you’re feeling useless and stuffed up, clear out some of the overripe projects, the things you’ve been meaning to do for others for a long time—or you’ll soon find you have stopped concocting the fresh.

And a little nontraditional advice, if I may–

Don’t get too bogged down examining your motives: you usually have several. If you can get them about 80% pure, just go with it, trusting to Jesus to iron out the rest. “Am I just doing it to make myself look good?” is not the end of the road you may think. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. (I Timothy 2:10 NLT. Context here.)

For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.


What do you think?

On gardening and imperfection

Part A

Confession: Almost I would give up writing on any issue I care about, for the way in which I am tested in that area immediately afterwards.

I wrote about seeing work as play, and immediately began taking my own so seriously I could hardly stop to breathe.

I wrote about grace, and started coming down so hard on myself and others that I wondered if I knew the meaning of the word?

I wrote about marriage, and was handed a remarkably well-timed opportunity to come alongside The Boss in something I am terrified to do.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.

Part B

Confession: This is the time of year when I ask myself “Why do I garden?” and answer back “I have no idea, dear.” I adore planting. I drink it and eat it and sleep it. And I love harvesting—the satisfaction of fresh corn, new beans, rich tomatoes. But in between—!!

I was gardening yesterday, sloughing through weeds grown tall from neglect and too many days of rain. I hate weeding. Hate the endless, careful tending while doubting all the while that any fruit will come. It seems so ludicrous, after all, to believe that small wrinkled seeds and spindly stalks will yield anything tasty.

And I hate uprooting in one area what brings me joy in another—pulling violets and goldenrod and dandelions out by the roots when I actually like violets and goldenrod and dandelions. Just not here. Simultaneously I am babying volunteer potatoes and tomatoes that came up among my rows of corn, babying them though this is not quite their niche. Volunteering is a brave act and should be encouraged.

Then I walk out to my new-planted strawberries, and heartlessly nip every bud.

My dad says that many times, a dream God gives to a person must go through several deaths before coming to fruition. Jesus called the human heart a field, and I wonder about the stuff that comes up in mine. Does He smile a little when I offer to feed Him my first-year asparagus, bravely pushing out of the ground? Look, Lord—use this!

He smiles a little and waits. Not this year, dear.

Does He wince a little when he nips my earliest strawberry blooms? I won’t use them just yet. Send your roots deeper. Don’t get discouraged, girl.

He never uses the word immature with me, and only as I look back later do I see He could have.

Sometimes I send forth a profusion of verdure, half choking some in my effort to produce all. He lets it grow side by side, the useful and the misplaced, the pretty and the nondescript. In my best patches, ugly worms turn beneath the surface—jealousy, competition, reproach, self-gratification. If I allow them at the crops, they’ll chew the garden full of holes. But if I go on quietly growing the fruit, maybe they will turn out to be earthworms only, enriching the soil.

I don’t think He asks the fruit be perfect to be useable.

Maybe it’s okay that the upside and downside never quite match. Maybe some of life is potatoes, and the rather silly and nondescript plant dying halfway through the season is an essential part of the rich brown tubers beneath. Maybe some of life is corn, and the crazy shooting into height with almost no root at all bears a crop of gold.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.