Spring is upon us, which means more than usual you’ll find me in one of my favorite places in the universe: Rose Garden Center in Marrero, right past the Harvey Tunnel. As we can all feel around us, we’re in a sweet spot of South Louisiana weather right now, which means my plants are looking healthy. The parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme, and rosemary I’ve been cultivating since earlier this year are all busting and ready to snip. Indoors, the houseplants are all at attention and seem like they’re in a pretty good mood.
But it wasn’t always this way! I was one of those self-described black-thumb type people who couldn’t keep a plant alive for anything. I’m here to tell you now, dear reader, that I don’t believe in such a designation anymore, and no one is “cursed” to kill plant life. So for what it’s worth, here are a few observations and suggestions that have helped me along the way.
Start with one. The more seasoned among us might yawn at the golden pothos, that most “basic” of all houseplants, but they are quite hardy and adaptable to a lot of light variations (there’s one doing just fine in our kid’s mostly dark nursery), and they only need a healthy watering once every couple of weeks, sometimes less often. If you’re looking to get into something a little more “useful” like an herb, I’ve had luck with oregano over the years, with one particular plant having survived all kinds of freezes, heat waves, and droughts—and still it thrives.
And if there’s a place to start mentally with your single plant, you simply have to acknowledge its existence. Sounds kind of dumb, but how many of you may find in your workplace or even your own home a plant that withers and dies simply because it becomes invisible to its cohabitants? Once you truly see your plant, like a quiet but ever-present roommate, you’re well on the way. And you don’t have to be some kind of wizard to read a plant’s body language. Does it look like it’s slouching, giving off low-energy vibes, a sadboi in need of a drink? Or do its proverbial shoulders look pushed out, its limbs and leaves reaching triumphantly towards you and the sun? When you push your thumb into the soil, is it moist and cake-like, even a little? When you pick the whole thing up, does it feel heavy? Good! It’s full of water and is all set. Does it feel light and airy, the dirt dry and parched? Give it a full soak (making sure it drains). If nothing seems to be working, take it outside and let it fend for itself. If it’s watered, most likely it’ll flourish. As long as you don’t straight up ignore your plant, you’ll do fine.
And when all else fails, try again. Keep learning. Every horticulturalist I’ve ever known is happy to share information, and I’ve never met a cocky gardener or one who thinks they know all there is to know. If anything, the deeper you go, the humbler it makes you. Facebook groups like “How NOLA Grows Dat!” and TikTok (#gardentok etc.) are great resources—as is, of course, our own Dirt Nerd, whose musings on both the practical and ethereal nature of plant care have guided me through the years.
So I hope you find your own little paradise; it most likely won’t be your nearest big box behemoth, but a smaller, slightly stinky, chaotic oasis like Rose Garden or Harold’s, where the first of many new friends await. Happy searching. —Dan Fox
illustration by Laura Frizzell
March 2023 cover by Sadie Wiese
March 2023 back cover by Ben Claassen III