Monday, May 31, 2010

Soil and the City

It’s the end of May and already it’s too hot. Too hot to do much except gulp frozen spoonfuls of Texas peach ice cream in the air conditioning. It’s about choosing brain freeze over brain melt.

Nonetheless, as the thermometer whipped past 95 degrees, I spent half my day outside on the porch repotting plants, digging and mounding and squinting as rivulets of perspiration and bug repellent tracked into my eyes.

With the last dip of the sprinkling can, I was head-to-foot in Miracle Grow, having repotted some two dozen plants, and grinning from dirty nose to dirty toes. Every plant looked so cheerful: so grateful to exhale and settle into their new diameters, so thrilled with the extra wiggle room for their roots.

My mission was to spruce up some bushy new plants to decorate my office, so every weekend this month I set out with different friends also courting new fronds. Who wants to meet for cocktails when you can plant shop?

Walking into a nursery is like strolling into a magnificent chocolates shop. I ooh and ah over all the plants and apologize that I can only take a few of them home. By the end of repotting, stacks of empty containers mound like discarded bonbon wrappers. I get giddy thinking of trays of annuals and perennials lined up just for me. Think Flat Week instead of Fleet Week.

If I’d penned it, I’d have the “Sex and the City” ladies star in “Soil and the City,” hunched over damp, earthy nursery tables instead of racks of vintage designer clothes. They’d be drooling over 8” glazed pots instead of 4” Manolo stilettos. Instead of being dressed in haute coutre sipping pinkish cosmos in thin-stemmed crystal, they’d be in cushy gardening clogs clinking Ball jars of brown compost tea.

Like all intimate relationships, some plants require lots of attention and face time. It takes a little prodding with my husband to get past the “just fines” and get him to open up about his day. Full eye contact and a smile works every time. I also know that when he says he’s watered the potted plants, he’s been waving about a garden hose like an elephant bathing in a stream. Some get a little, some get a lot. I have to poke a finger in each one and ask them if they’re thirsty.

My husband does not talk to our plants. I always do; and I can tell they are listening: they answer me with blooms and buds and magical overnight growth. He thinks I'm one pickled pepper shy of a jar.

At one of my favorite Austin eateries, Casa de Luz, you pass through a lush green canopy of bamboo and stroll up a bricked path until you reach the vegan restaurant. The food is delicious, but I most relish the transformative wandering under the cooling branches. You’re relaxed, forgetful of the traffic snarls, and perfectly at peace by the time you’ve reached the restaurant steps.

What’s your favorite place to connect with nature? Where do you go to transform yourself? If you talk to your plants, what do you say to them?

Tomorrow I'll flash the lingering dirt under my fingernails like fabulous jewels, kind of a Miracle Grow manicure. Sitting amid a jungle full of plants is like being surrounded by diamonds at Tiffany's. So many cuttings, so little time.