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  • Writer's pictureRachael Scarr

Developing a Green Thumb

Updated: May 19, 2021

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Much to my surprise, I have developed a bit of a green thumb. Or at least a desire to have a green thumb. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. For those that don’t know me…I’m not a huge fan of dirt…or bugs. I love nature, I love the outdoors, I love hiking, campfires, the like, but I hate bugs. Probably because they love me so much - I get eaten alive. But it’s not just the biting ones, it’s the crawling ones, the buzzing ones, the squirming ones - eek. So I always had the desire to garden, to plant, when I was younger; I loved the idea of having a garden, of planting beautiful flowers…but when it came to digging, that’s where the desire quickly dropped off. Ever since then I’ve just claimed it isn’t my thing. I’m not good at it. I don’t like it. All ideas that basically stemmed out of fear, yes, but also (in my adult years as I’ve slightly managed to get over my bug-phobia - slightly) mainly out of not knowing what to do and the intimidation factor behind it.

My parents have beautiful gardens. Every side of their house is covered in gorgeous, planned-out landscaping. Every leaf, every fold is deliberate. Whimsical trellises and stone pathways, curved flower beds and perfectly placed pots, colorful flower boxes and tediously trimmed hedges, a raised wooden vegetable/herb oasis and full on bird sanctuary. It’s magnificent to the eye - always something to behold - and MAN does it take a lot of time and effort to maintain.

Being home, watching them tend to it every weekend was exhausting. They love it and it’s precious that they do it together, and I appreciate the heck out of it…but it’s intimidating. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I don’t know the first step about any of it. It was never really an interest of mine, and I never let it be. But there was an impulse I had, just a few weeks ago, to plant. To - dare I say it - get dirty. Gasp! Call it The Artist’s Way doing its work in me, call it the desire to help, call it boredom, but it was a desire nonetheless.

It first came about when my mom and I went to pick out some flowers for the yard on Memorial Day Weekend. She wanted to get her annuals picked out and in the ground so they could start to root and grow. This year she got Petunias (good for full sun) and Impatiens (good for part/full shade) - look at me, knowing stuff. We also picked out a few things for her potted plants and all the flower boxes that hang in the upstairs windows. I enjoyed the color coordinating - picking a theme. That was right up my alley. I like beautiful things. Right in that moment I got excited about the prospect of helping plant those beautiful things. Of learning the rigamarole of landscaping and tending a garden. But I dare not say anything because I didn’t want to commit. What if that desire went away, and now I’m left obligated to hours slaving away in the yard with heat and bugs and grime? No no, I dare not say anything until I’m for certain that it is something I actually want to do - not just a passing fancy. But really, I was scared.

A few days later, my parents jokingly (?) ask for our assistance with mulching the yard once they get their mulch delivery the following day. Alex, my boyfriend, agrees to help, and I automatically tense up - eek, commitment! Oh no, what if I don’t like it? What if I don’t feel like it? Well…now we were committed. The next day goes on as normal with no pressure from my parents to help. They are already out in the yard proceeding with pruning, planting, mulching, etc. Alex and I look at each other and agree we should probably be out there helping. We did, after all, commit. And I did at one point express the desire (albeit internally) to do this, so maybe it won’t be so bad. And what about those pesky bugs? Well…I would do my best to avoid them I guess.

I scrounge up some old mesh shorts and a cut out tank top I had fashioned back in college, lather on sunscreen (because, pale), and head outside ready to help. We mulch for a bit - Alex shovels it into the bucket and pours it out, I carefully spread it out among the trees and already planted flowers. Then, while my mom and Alex continue to mulch, I offer to help plant the rest of the flowers - there are still quite a few areas that need some Petunia-loving. (Slash we bought wayyyy too many and now have to find places to place them!) I am in the dirt, I am in the sun, I am shoveling, I am mixing soil, I am planting, I am carefully selecting the flower color pattern, (I am cautiously avoiding worms, bees, and flies), I am listening to music, and I am happy. I feel productive - a very rare feeling during quarantine. I felt useful. And I was very satisfied with myself, stretching outside my comfort zone.

It made me want to do more!! Not everything…let’s not get ahead of ourselves…but I really wanted to help my mom plant the vegetable garden next. So a weekend or two later we searched far and wide for all the varieties of veggies and herbs we wanted to plant, and then, we planted them. No fear or intimidation in sight. And how beautiful they came out - well, at least the beginning stages. It’ll be quite a while before we see the fruits, er vegetables, of our labor there. But it felt good. It felt exciting. I felt proud. And now…I wanted a houseplant. Well, I would really love a garden of my own, but I live in a three bedroom apartment in Harlem with roommates and a lack of windows, outdoor space, and natural light. So…you do the best you can with what you have.

My mom and I were determined to find a houseplant for me - just the right size and care level to fit in my interior-facing windowsill and (normally) busy schedule. But I wanted some greenery! I wanted to carry this newfound passion with me back to the city. A symbol of new chapters, of new creative explorations. But it was hard. Most stuff was picked over, or full-sun requirement, or not really the vibe I was going for. I wanted something leafy, something green, something vibrant and with personality, and something easy. Was I asking too much? And then I found Bailey. She told me that was her name. She spoke to me. Yes, I know I sound crazy, but I’m a plant lady now, remember? Bailey’s an Exotic Angel Plant, a White Butterfly Arrowhead from South America, and she was waiting for me at Lowes. She will obtain medium growth and enjoys low light, and from my experience, lots of water. Lowes had her set up as a wick plant. The bottom of her plastic pot has two yarn wicks dangling below which are meant to sit in a reservoir of the ceramic pot and gather water whenever she so chooses. It’s virtually hard (so they say) to over or under water her, but we shall see. I’ve had her for almost a week now and she seems to be doing okay. She has a few sun-bleached leaves where I believe she got too much direct sunlight in her past. Leaves I will consider pruning, but want to let her adjust first and bloom how she feels is right in her new environment. I did notice last night that some of her stems were a little redish/purplish. I’m not sure if this means new growth, or if it means she was a bit too cold. I do have her sitting next to my window AC unit, which has been on full blast quite a lot recently, as NYC is already nearing 90 degrees every single day and it’s only June. At night, when I leave it running so I can sleep, I might try keeping her on top of my dresser instead so she’s not directly affected by the air. I read yesterday that she’s also more of a climber and can be used on trellises! That was exciting to read and also a bit intimidating. How big will she get? The pot is only so big! You can trim her newer leaves to encourage size maintenance OR you can let her grow up something. I do have room in my windowsill - it’s quite large and sunken in. Maybe I can find some type of trellis or pole or fishing line for her to climb up. That might be nice.

This is all a new journey for me. And while it’s not exactly a new desired career path or a passion project I’ve decided to take on, per say, it’s a new interest. A new hobby, dare I say. One I’d like to pursue as much as I can given my current parameters. I don’t have space for a garden right now. I don’t even really have space for a second houseplant, should I desire to get another one down the road. But I have a desire for this one. I have a desire to learn more and to help out my mom in her gardens when I can. I have a desire to try.

I have learned not to rule anything out. Not to keep yourself from any particular hobby or interest because it’s intimidating or there’s an aspect of it that scares you. We are all allowed to be beginners. We are all allowed to take chances. That’s my favorite lesson I’ve learned recently. It’s okay to desire new things, it’s okay to try new things, and it’s okay to enjoy new things. That’s kind of how I feel about this blog. I’m scared and intimidated as hell…but there’s this desire in me to write, to share, to learn, to grow, to push myself, to try.

I encourage you to try.

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