May 2017 be the year that nobody insists to me that they have a “black thumb.” Except that I know it won’t happen. I was at a small New Year’s Eve party when one of my non-gardening friends asked for advice about an aspidistra (cast iron plant) she’d just received as a gift, adding the usual “I kill plants” confession. It was kind of cute, and totally sincere. She wants to keep her gift alive.
But if she doesn’t, it won’t be because she has a “black thumb.” It’s because houses are dangerous places for plants—in fact, the only time that someone tells me she’s killed a plant, it’s always a houseplant. Most of the houses where I live are centrally-heated in winter, fairly dry, and fairly dark—in other words, plant hell. I always have a hard time keeping my plants alive through the winter; right now, I have a lemon tree and a ficus that are just barely hanging in there—this is why I like forcing bulbs—and I’ve seen many others perish. But then, I’m used to plant demise, and I often welcome it as an opportunity for change. For interiors, it’s best to stick to plants that survive in offices and refrain from overwatering them.
It’s not just about the fragility of houseplants though. It’s the whole idea that there is some weird curse—beyond all control—having to do with plants. People accept that there are maintenance requirements and instructions to follow for all kinds of things—cars, appliances, buildings, small humans. Nobody blames a curse if a car runs out of gas or seizes up because nobody changed the oil.
Plants are subject to many different threats—infestations, diseases, not enough light or moisture, too much light or moisture. Many factors contribute to their health—just not the dreaded black thumb. There’s no such thing.