Do I Have a Black Thumb?

Am I really terrible with plants? Or, do I just have different priorities?

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

Every time I see a coffee shop or a co-op space or an apartment filled with various shades and textures of green, I swoon. A prickly sage-colored cactus seated next to a big emerald leafy peace lily makes me feel like I’m in a jungle. When I was a kid I used to make forts in my grandmother’s garden. I’d hide behind the raspberry bushes and play in the dirt beneath the shade of the Golden Euonymus Shrub (yes, I had to look that name up). When I was three I was walking past a vibrant tree and my dad said to me “look at the pretty blue flowers” to which I responded, “that’s a Jacaranda tree!”. He looked at me in shock because 1. I knew such a big word and 2. I was correct. My grandmother used to teach me the names of flowers and trees on our walks to and from Mitchell Park. To this day, one of my nicknames is “Poppy”, like the California state flower.

Point being, I haven’t always scared plants away. But once I reached adulthood, something changed. I tried to keep succulents because they were cool and “easy” (wrong — but they are easy to over water.). I even ended up killing an air plant. Yes, a plant that doesn’t even need soil to survive. It just sits in a little ceramic bowl and you’re supposed to mist it with water once a week OR soak it completely once every two weeks. Easy enough, no? Well, not for me; I think I drowned it somehow.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

What is it about plants and me that don’t get along? Of course, not every type of plant can survive in every household (climate, light sources, etc.) but that isn’t what this article is about. Is something in me that is off-putting to any type of domestic vegetation. Or, have I just not tried hard enough to incorporate plants into my life?

I have a father that works in landscape design. He can rattle off more plant names than I knew existed— the genus, the species, all the facts. He knows what to plant where in a home (or commercial) garden and what plants to put next to each other to ensure their roots don’t tangle and one doesn’t overpower the other. His backyard is marvelous. I visited a botanical garden with him and his girlfriend and thought I was going to be there forever. They could have spent another few hours there had it not been for me dragging them away to go eat dinner. It was beautiful, of course, but once I looked over stuff once or twice I was all set. And maybe that’s just it. Plants are not something I’m passionate about. I like plants, I really do. I’d even love to have them in my house. They liven up a space and give off a secret garden vibe that makes me feel like I’m someplace exotic. But I don’t know if I like them enough to make them part of my daily routine. To research how to keep them alive and make sure they have the right amounts of sun and water. This issue I have is not a green thumb issue, I don’t think, but one of priorities.

Keeping plants alive is a choice. Each day, plant parents are choosing to dole out water rations and position their green children closer to or further away from the windows that attract the sun’s brightest rays. Just like any other task (or hobby, however you’d like to frame it), this one takes time and effort. It isn’t a lack of ability or plant sense that is holding me back. I might not be a natural, but I am confident I could keep a plant alive if I had to. I would set an alarm that alerts me when it‘s thirsty. I could position it in a place that attracts just the right amount of sun. I could get a variety that needs minimal care (I really have thought about this option).

Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

We make choices every day that dictate our futures. If we pull out the pots and pans and cook, we get to eat home-cooked food. If the desire isn’t there, we get take out. These little decisions make up our day to day lives. They might seem trivial, but it’s these small things that make us who we are and help us to decipher our own values. If you say you love to run, but you never do it, are you really being honest with yourself? Maybe what you mean is, I love running sometimes, or I love the fact that running exists but I don’t want to do it myself. If I say I want plants, am I lying? Not necessarily, but then the question becomes: how badly do I want plants? The idea of them might pique my interest but that does not mean I want the responsibility of caring for them or the prospect of dirt knocking onto my carpet. Just because you like something does not mean it needs to become a part of your life.

My point here is not that I’m going to buy a bunch of plants to prove I can care for them. It’s that it’s okay to like things in theory but not in practice. You’re allowed to say you love dogs but not want a dog. It is normal to get a plant and then realize you’re not ready to care for it. It’s alright to change your mind, your priorities, and the things you desire throughout your life. To be human is to constantly evolve. We put ourselves into boxes that we expect will hold their shape. When, in reality, they sag and rip and change form altogether. We want to stack those rigid boxes on top of each other and create the person we think we should be, but that’s an impossible task.

Be inquisitive with yourself. Ask questions. Do I really want that or did I just think I wanted it 5 years ago? Stop the war between who you actually are and who you convinced yourself you should be. The cease-fire will make you realize that you don’t have to hold onto those promises and expectations society gave to you all those years ago. You can, in fact, be whoever it is that you already are. Sometimes the change needs to be made in your brain, not in your actions. Maybe adding greenery to your routine excites you or maybe the thought of filling a water glass and slowly walking from planter to planter pouring it out sounds dreadful. Either way, you don’t have to beat yourself up for being something or someone you’re not. Maybe it’s time I stop telling myself I’m a plant person and just admire them when I go to a hipster cafe.




Software engineer (looking for work!), fitness enthusiast, volleyball coach, novice piano player.

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Sara Warnock

Sara Warnock

Software engineer (looking for work!), fitness enthusiast, volleyball coach, novice piano player.

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