By Jesse Eastman
One of the many pleasures of my job is hearing customers’ stories about their personal connections to plants. For some, a plant is hope – a young fruit tree that will feed their family in years to come, a get-well gift for an ailing loved one, a fresh face for a worn-out landscape. For others, plants can be memories – a tree planted by a parent or grandparent, a houseplant that was a gift from an old friend, a flower from a seed collected on a memorable vacation. In all of these cases, there is a common thread – the power of living things to fuel our connection to the world around us.
I experienced this connection when my grandmother passed away two years ago. She was a woman who I have always associated with plants. When I close my eyes and think of her, she is standing in her yard, surrounded by flowers, and smiling with such radiance that every bloom seems to be leaning in to be nearer to her. She was an incredible artist, incorporating pressed wildflowers into her delicate watercolor paintings, capturing the beauty of her western Colorado surroundings in ways only plants could allow.
After her passing, the slow and sometimes painful process of spreading her belongings, the physical trappings of her long life, amongst family commenced. I ended up with some various pieces of art, some trinkets, a dresser, but the things that truly captured my nostalgia were plants. I was told that nobody would be taking any of the plants from her sunroom. Christmas cactus, a variegated jade, geraniums, all staples of my childhood memories, would be lost. The massive wisteria growing on the front porch might be lost without a caretaker once the house sold. I felt nearly as great a sense of loss at hearing this as I did when I heard my grandmother had died. My memories of her were so closely intertwined with these plants that I could barely separate them.
I quickly set to work to preserve these memories. I was unable to transport the plants home with me, but I could still carry on their legacy by collecting seeds and cuttings and growing new plants at home. I carefully clipped and wrapped stems from various plants and rooted and planted them when I got home. I asked my uncle, who lives next door to my grandmother’s home, to collect seeds from the wisteria once they could be harvested, and he sent me a care package filled with crispy pods packed with seeds not long after.
The Christmas cactus, jade, and other cuttings I took rooted quickly and grew well. It took nearly two years, however, for the Christmas cactus to bloom. When the first flower appeared, my excitement was overwhelming. I firmly believe these plants bring my grandmother’s presence into my home, creating a place where plants know they are loved and can thrive, and this bloom was a sign that she was there, silently watching over my botanical menagerie.
Out of 38 wisteria seeds I planted, only four sprouted. I am not even sure if this wisteria is hardy enough to survive here on the Front Range – Hotchkiss, where my grandparents lived in western Colorado, has a much milder climate than here, and I cannot tell what variety of wisteria this may be. Nonetheless, I will find the most well-protected spot possible where I can cultivate and raise this plant. Even if it doesn’t survive, I know my grandmother will be looking down and smiling, proud of my effort.
I believe people connect to plants because they are living things. A photo is a frozen moment in time, a keepsake never changes, but plants experience life with us. If we plant a tree with hope for what its future may bring, we have to actively cultivate that hope, stay focused on it, and only then will it fulfill its potential. My wisteria serves as a reminder of the wonderful woman my grandmother was, but only so long as I nurture that memory to keep it strong and vibrant. These mutually shared experiences between people and plants make life rich, give us a future that excites us, and keep us firmly rooted in the stories and lives that make us who we are.
Originally published on March 31st, 2014. Updated on December 5th, 2014.