The Secret Life – and Death – of Plants in my Care


When we lived in London (Byron, specifically) we had a huge pear tree in the back yard. One year, we noticed a Kijiji ad asking for pears. A lovely older couple came and harvested them all. We weren’t pear people and in previous years we struggled with fallen fruit and wasps. So many wasps.

We felt they were doing us a favour but they saw it the other way around. As a thank-you, they gave us an Oleander plant. I researched it and found it was highly toxic to cats. We had our first guy, Spice, at the time. No one in my circle wanted the plant so I contacted the City of London’s Civic Garden Complex. They happily took it off my hands and added it to their collection. Besides, I probably would have killed it anyway. I had already given another plant to our pal, Jim, because of toxicity. He named it Robert Plant and I get periodic updates. Robert is thriving.

I was surprised that the common Boston Fern is included in lists of hard to grow plants. Now I don’t feel as badly about letting my Mom’s fern – whom we called Gary for some reason – die, despite my best efforts to keep it healthy. Air plants are on those lists as well. They’re sneaky little devils. All they need is air and an occasional misting! What could go wrong? The half-dozen or so that have died on my watch know exactly what can go wrong.

I never met an orchid I couldn’t kill. That is, until Tabitha and the kids gave me one a couple of years ago. I tended it carefully and it came back last year. Once again there are new bulbs that will soon bloom. Although my previously bushy Money Tree is currently spindly and fragile, it’s sending up new shoots like mad. I think it’s going to be okay. The bonsai trees my brother gave me for Christmas? The jury is out on one of them. But I’m doing my best.

Pricklier Plant Life

A lovely woman who has a cottage here in Port Stanley gave me some cacti a while back and they’re doing fine. The beautiful thing about a cactus is it demands almost nothing of you. In fact, it practically begs to be ignored.

I recently added to my cactus collection but this time it’s different. Spike – Derek named it – is at least 20 years old and the product of a divorce. We got Spike and our next door neighbours got his buddy. Spike was biding his time in a corner of the basement where he collected animal fur and a bit of an attitude. He had outgrown his pot and wasn’t a happy succulent. Actually, he’s two succulents.

Two cacti in a terra cotta pot that's too small for them. The one on the left is more than a metre tall and leans left. The one on the right is about 2 feet tall and leans right.

The pot was too small and in danger of tipping. He (they) needed repotting but I had no idea how to go about it. So, I took this photo down Sunset Drive to Canadale Garden Centre in St. Thomas. I got everything I needed to make Spike and Spike Jr. happy.

A visit from an ailing raccoon thwarted my repotting plans for a few hours. I had been moving my supplies outside before the critter appeared.

Raccoon sniffing around the back step with a bag of soil, gardening gloves, fertilizer and a new plant pot a couple of feet behind it.
You can see my attempt to scare him off with cold water didn’t work.

After that situation was resolved, my neighbour Bill helped me move the cactus to the patio and we figured it out. There are no photos because we were busy with dirty hands and Spike’s health was our main concern. We gently removed him from the terra cotta pot, laid him down on the grass, broke up the pot with a hammer and arranged those pieces in the bottom of the new pot for draining. Spike emitted a bit of milk when we were finished just to let us know he wasn’t pleased. But I think he will eventually be grateful.

I learned some things from Canadale. Cacti don’t like too much room in the pot. They need light so I’ll have to turn him every day or two. And he wants a half-cup of water about once a month. No fussing! No affection! Absolutely no love! He’s prickly for a reason.

We are only guessing at his age. Just as we guessed at the ages of the 30+ feet tall ones we saw near Sedona, Arizona a few years back.

Derek looks like a toy soldier between two cacti that are more than 35 feet tall
Yes! That’s Derek in there!

They’re amazing plants, really. Holding onto water for dear life, never knowing when the next drink will arrive. And developing an outer layer of pricklies that clearly say, “Back off, I don’t like to be hugged.”

1 thought on “The Secret Life – and Death – of Plants in my Care”

  1. You have found the perfect plant for your personality!

    I have the black thumb of death, too. I just can’t keep plants alive!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *