I have a thing with plants, in that they die when I’m responsible for them.
As a general rule, therefore, I tend to avoid them, but when I moved into my own little apartment in Japan, I thought it might be nice to have another living thing around.
I decided to embrace Japanese culture and I bought myself a small but gorgeous bonsai tree from the famous Japanese gardens near my house. My logic was that it had survived the previous five or ten years; it must be tough enough to withstand me.
I was SO pleased with my little tree; I named it, I watered it, I took it outside sometimes to get some sun…
A few months later, in January, as part of a conference I attended, I ended up with another little bonsai in my apartment. This one was also named, watered and sunned, and I was cautiously confident that the bonsais would be my first botanical success story.
Until they died.
For a long time I thought it was just a seasonal thing, that all bonsais lost their needles and snapped easily at certain points in the year, but after a few months I had to concede that they were, in fact, dead.
Too much water, not enough water, too much sun, not enough sun, too much tea, not enough tea… I don’t know what went wrong, but all of a sudden they stopped being bonsai and started being small dead sticks in pots.
Not long after that, a friend who was leaving Japan gave me a potted plant bursting with joyful, purple flowers. It was spring, and I was delighted to have such a beautiful plant on my balcony as the weather turned nice.
And then for some reason the purple flowers weren’t purple any more; they were kind of brown and fall-aparty.
I kept watering it for a while in the hopes that it was just faking, but eventually I gave up.
As spring turned to summer, some students at school were selling tomato plant seedlings, and in the spirit of supporting my students (and with images of an endless supply of tomatoes in my mind), I bought one.
I did everything right; I bought a big pot, fertilised soil and twist ties for supporting it. I lovingly potted it and watered it daily. It grew surprisingly quickly and in no time at all it was actually producing little tiny tomatoes!
I was over the moon! Me! With a plant! Growing actual delicious vegetables!
But all good plants come to an end.
I guess I’ll never really know what happened; maybe it was the climate, maybe the soil wasn’t rich enough, maybe it was the fact that I went away for six days in the peak of summer and didn’t have anyone water it…
Either way, there was a dead tomato plant on my balcony for a few months following that.
After the tomato plant incident I swore off plants; I just couldn’t handle the heartbreak anymore.
Then, at the beginning of winter, during a visit to a garden café, I was admiring a luscious aloe plant, and my friend suggested I buy it.
I explained my history with plants and that I didn’t want to cause any more botanical deaths but my friend just laughed.
“Hannah chan,” she said. “No one can kill an aloe. Really, I think it’ll be fine.”
Well, I hate to say ‘I told you so’, but there is an aloe plant sitting on my windowsill that does NOT look healthy.
It’s lasted really well, maybe five or six months now, but I think it objected to its recent holiday on the balcony for some reason.
Either way, the leaves, which are normally thick and green, are now kind of purplish and droopy.
I’m not really sure what to do with it now; I’m watering it (hopefully not too much) and it’s getting sun (hopefully enough) and I guess it could go either way at this point.
It’s very stressful.
I’ll be moving out of this apartment in four months and at that point I’m going to have to confront the little plant graveyard on my balcony.
But if nothing else, I have learnt a valuable lesson (several times) about not assuming responsibility for living things.