When Life Gives You Succulents


I’ve neglected this blog as badly as I’ve neglected this strawberry pot of succulents — the one that’s now crowded with ferns and weeds. You would think a quarantined person would have time to keep up with a weed-filled strawberry pot and, of course, a blog.

Apparently, not always.

Ginger.

At the start of this quarantine, back in March, I remember having plans. I envisioned all of this free time to write posts about gardening, to maybe even work on another book, to tackle long overdue tasks in the garden.

While I had energy and enthusiasm at the start of the quarantine, I feel as if I’ve drifted — although I’ve been busy! My days have been full — at least that’s what I tell myself. I’m just not sure why I’ve ignored the pot and the blog — but I’m going to figure it all out as I set about cleaning up this mess.

Step 1: Saving the good stuff

Fortunately, I’m dealing with succulents — and they are as tough as nails. Easy to cut, easy to propagate. Just easy.

Life in recent months hasn’t been easy. It’s safe to say the closest life has come to succulents is the first syllable of that word. For the most part, though, I’ve tried to remain positive and focused. I’ve cherished regular routines, like making the bed or mowing the lawn.

There were, on the other hand, those days — the days that dragged longer than others.

 

My first long day was a few months ago, when NY was the epicenter. I was sweeping the living room floor and my Pandora station moved to the next song, “Go West,” by the Village People. It’s a happy, bouncy song, full of hope and energy — but I started to cry. It was like my tear ducts were more closely in tune with my emotions than my mind was. I just felt incredibly sad, worried, and frightened.

The garden was a huge help, especially as I puttered around, weeding, dividing bromeliads, digging up plants and moving them around into new positions in beds, propagating cuttings and seeds, and watching Atala butterfly caterpillars, a native-species, make chrysalises.

Step 2: Tossing out the bad stuff

The roots of the ferns and weeds had completely filled the soil, making a sort of burlap close to the sides of the pot. My good ol’ thrift store sifter came in handy, as I salvaged what soil I could.

I wish there was a tool large enough for me to sift out the bad stuff happening in my home state of Florida. When the country first locked down in March, Broward (where I live) and Miami-Dade (south of me) counties had the highest number of cases and deaths in Florida.

After a few weeks, other regions in Florida began to rebel against the lockdown because they weren’t experiencing what South Florida was experiencing. Jacksonville, for example, opened its beaches. At the same time, Broward and Miami residents who craved beach time drove across the Everglades to the Gulf Coast to use those beaches. Social distancing was rare. Masks became a flashpoint, as they have in other areas of the country.

By May, Governor Ron DeSantis was taking steps to re-open the state although the state had not achieved any of the necessary CDC benchmarks. When beaches and hotels opened again, Joe and I took a drive to the restaurant-heavy neighborhoods to see what was happening. While many had taken steps to maintain distance between tables and to have servers wear masks, we were horrified at the number of people on the sidewalks who were not wearing masks and failing to keep any sort of social distance. In one instance, we saw a mask-less jogger run through the cloud of droplets of a group of mask-less friends as he left his own droplet residue among them.

Joe and I returned home, knowing that things were only going to get worse — and they have. About two weeks after this drive, as if on cue, the surge began. By June, each day brought record-breaking numbers of new COVID cases. Approximately two weeks after this happened, the number of deaths moved upward.

Needless to say, Joe and I have not eaten out or ordered take out. We did, though, have our house tented. I don’t know what happens in other parts of the country, but quarantine time coincided beautifully with termite-swarming season. We had several swarms of dry wood termites in the house. The treatment was to move out for several days while the house was wrapped in tarps and a poison gas was released into the interior.  The odorless poison permeates walls and travels into attic spaces.

 

Part of the joy of this was prepping the yard. We had to trim back bushes and remove plants to allow workers easier access to the house. Any plants under the tarp would most likely die. We then packed up our quarantine supplies and the cat and moved into a furnished Airbnb on our street. A few days later, once the house had been unwrapped and aired out, we moved back in, cleaned everything, and resumed staying in place. I turned my attention to the garden but not the strawberry pot — returning dug-up plants to their previous locations and looking for damage. The only plant that suffered was a purple firespike. Half of it had turned black. I cut it back and it’s rebounding in the heat and rain.

Purple firespike.

Step 3: Renew and replant

I mixed some fresh potting soil with the old potting soil, adding extra perlite for drainage, and filled the pot. I then chose some harvested succulent cuttings for planting in the pot, as well as a cluster that reminded me of a clump of miniature trees for its own pot.

As our quarantine lingered into July, I admit that more and more of those days have happened. I want so badly to go to a nursery, but I don’t dare do that now. I really don’t know if I can trust myself to be quiet if I see a shopper without a mask, or to stop myself from intervening if a mask-less shopper is giving an employee a hard time. Instead, I’m making mental notes of projects that will need to be done when I feel it’s safe enough to venture out, while making use of what’s available in my yard.

I think one of the reasons I neglected the pot is that, other than the weed invasion, it was doing fine without me. The blog, though. Maybe it’s quarantine fatigue or an anxiety in which its easier to separate or just too many distractions in the world. It’s probably a little bit of all of the above.

In the midst of all this, I try to hold onto the good things:

Gloriosa Lily.

Our neighbors have been wonderful. Knowing that I have an underlying health condition, they always ask if we need anything as they venture out on their own shopping. We also rely on Instacart, and I’ve met some really amazing shoppers who take the time to find substitutions and to ask questions via texts and photos.

Joe and I are doing a lot of reading — or rather I am, while Joe listens. Because the library has been closed, we’re sharing my Kindle. We download books from Amazon or from the local library and I read them aloud. Here are some highlights: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Tin Man by Sarah Winman, The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith, The Rocks by Peter Nichols, and The Ferrara Family Mystery Series by J.D. Griffo (kind of like “Murder She Wrote,” if Jessica Fletcher was an Italian grandmother).

Like you, I take regular walks around the garden and I’m always amazed at what it manages to offer. It’s a welcome relief to the news of the day.

Then, there is the biggest distraction: my roots.

Many, many decades ago, a distant and far-removed relative compiled a tremendous amount of research for an ancestry project. It was published and several years ago, I purchased my own copy. When it arrived, I immediately traced my own lineage — but during quarantine, I’ve wondered what other secrets could be hidden in the 800+ pages.

The quarantine and the arrival of a hotter than usual summer were the perfect excuses to translate the information from the book into a family tree on Ancestry. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’ve realized there is nothing new about the present day. It’s easy to lose sight that there have always been tough and scary times — from the upheaval of the American Revolution to the uncertainty of a nation ripped apart by slavery to World Wars to the Spanish Flu to Vietnam to personal stories of loss and triumph.

The first ancestor with my surname arrived in the New World in 1675. My family, through, all of its branches, have been a part of the American story from before the beginning of the story — and through it all, they’ve worked, fought, and sacrificed to make this grand experiment a successful reality for all people.

I’ve tried very hard over the years of this blog to not mix politics with gardening, but I have to put that policy aside now. This is, I think, the biggest thing that’s weighing on my mind. Public health issues should never be politicized. I’m old enough to have lived through the early days of AIDS, and how the politicization of that pandemic resulted in an explosion of infections and deaths across all communities.

As a member of a high-risk group, I do not want to become ill. I do not want to be hospitalized, isolated from Joe, and likely have to be put on a ventilator. I also don’t want that for any of you or for any of your loved ones. It doesn’t matter to me if COVID has a death rate of 90% or .005%. If my simple action of wearing a mask — far more comfortable than being intubated — can help someone, I’ll do it. If my wearing a mask can alleviate the crowding in an ICU, I’ll do it. If my wearing a mask can ease the stress on medical professionals and other essential workers, I’ll do it.

We are not being asked to ration gas or bread or to practice shelter drills. We are being asked to wear a mask, to be mindful of our distance, and to be considerate of others. In my mind, wearing a mask is the most patriotic — and globally wise — thing we can do.

I know this is a long post, and thank you for making it to the end — it’s just that there’s been a long time between posts and there were a lot of words in my head. I hope COVID has not touched you in any way, and that you and yours are healthy and safe.

As always, Happy Gardening!

13 thoughts on “When Life Gives You Succulents

    • Hi Amber. Thanks for your well wishes. I’m hoping for those same things, as well. I think it’s going to be a long and trying time, but as Monet said, “I must have flowers, always and always.”

  1. Even in the tough times, Kevin, you still write beautifully. Regarding your blog, I can relate. I don’t even know the last time I posted on mine.

    When COVID first invaded, I was the poster person for how to deal with everything, on a daily basis. Proud of myself! There were no “Ill do it tomorrow’s.” Then, it happened. I came to a screeching halt. What have I been doing? Nothing! Ugh. I’ve left everything fall by the side of the road. Just a couple of days ago, I smacked myself, chastising my irresponsible behavior. I convinced myself that tomorrow would be different. I’d make a list (again), create a schedule (again) — get my act together. 😂😂

    As always, Kevin, you’ve inspired me! TOMORROW is the day I’ll turn it all around! Period!

    • Hi Kathy — I’m so happy to know I’m in great company when it comes to procrastinating during quarantine… maybe it’s some psychological way of staying alive… “I can’t get sick because there’s so much more to do.” I have no idea — but I’m enjoying my family tree distraction. Stay well! Stay healthy!

  2. Hi Kevin and Joe!!!
    It’s Jeannie from New York…..sending much love, hugs, and a smile to my Florida friends. What beautiful words, Kevin!
    This past March, my partner Mikey and I were on Costa Blanca during Spain’s sudden shutdown, after also having been in Rome and Malaga in January, and then bravely flying home during all the New York/JFK craziness. Yes, we like to live life on the cutting edge of Covid hotspots!!! Fortunately, we survived the stress filled hours of travel and uncertainty, ( and even had a great winter in Spain before the world went crazy!). Since being back home, we are living as permanent hermits, and in many ways, oddly embracing this new agoraphobic life style, Of course, my heart absolutely breaks for those who are impacted by this virus and am angry and disappointed in how this pandemic and economic crisis has been politically handled. Mostly, I count my blessings everyday….. to have a garden to enjoy, a pension check, good health, and like you, Instacart deliveries to my front door! I certainly can relate to your beautifully written words.
    In many ways, this unsettling time is a gentle reminder of earlier life as a child…..a time when finding joy in one’s backyard was all that we needed. And, also a bold reminder…. the activism of the 60’s , is still very much needed.
    You are both two special people, and I love that I still have a way of hearing and feeling your heart from afar.
    Stay healthy. Stay strong. Stay happy.
    Love …..Jeannie
    XOXO

    • Hello my dear friend. Thank you so much for contacting me. It was great talking with you the other night and re-connecting after so much time. Please, continue to stay safe — and we’ll all get through this.

  3. You have successfully continued to not mix politics and gardening 😉 compassion, sadly, is not compatible with politics and mask wearing is simply visible compassion. I am glad to hear you and Joe are well. I’ve left Texas for the summer.
    I hope you are not feeling guilty for the different pace, the difference between your plans and your reality. “Busy” is a dirty word to me now (and not the good kind) and any guilt you may feel for being “less productive” is created by this mixed up attempt at culture we all find ourselves murking through here in America.
    If y’all are up for a memoir written in sequential poetry, Brown Girl Dreaming is my favorite book so far this year.

    • Hi PD. Thank you for saying that. Like you, I totally think masks are “visible compassion.” Well said! I don’t feel guilty about the different pace — or not coming close to my earlier plans. Such is life, and I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with being in the moment through all of this, whatever that moment happens to be. Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll check it out. Stay safe!

  4. Kevin, Procrastinating during quarantine seems to be a very common experience. Some of it, I think, is the time warp and some way be a “why bother” uncertainty about the future. It took me until the end of June to finally motivate myself to get out and work on the big garden project I had planned for this summer. I am daily grateful that our Trumpian former governor came to the end of his term and was replaced by a sensible grown-up in 2018. We have had the same issues about wearing masks and some people wanting to just get back to normal business no matter what, but the governor has held firm.
    I am attaching a little gift for you. I think this will bring you hope: https://youtu.be/InULYfJHKI0.

    • Hi Jean. I’m glad your governor is holding firm. Clearly, we all would like to get back to normal — but normal can’t happen as long as the numbers keep climbing. I get a sense I’m preaching to the choir, but right now — a mask is the closest we can be to being normal at the moment. The longer people resist, the longer this nightmare continues. Thank you for the video link — I’m a fan of his work, and it’s mind-boggling how his projects have grown and the logistics needed to make it happen! Just beautiful. Please, stay safe and happy gardening — at your own pace. 🙂

  5. Kevin,
    HI! I love reading your blogs. I’m not much of a gardener but I do find your writings inspiring.
    And I love that your reading your books out loud to Joe. Love it!
    Stay safe and healthy, Nancy

    • Hi Nancy! Thank you! I’m glad we’re able to stay in touch, across distances and crises. I think we all need to do that these days… and if I could ever read to you with my melodious voice, give me a call. 🙂

  6. Hi Kevin,
    As always, an extremely well-written blog. While I could feel your angst, I took pleasure in how you and Joe are weathering this tornado together. The FL governor is a real nightmare, People in NY are now complaining about Cuomo because liberty is still restricted, but he saved us from what could have been much worse. Unfortunately, we know people who were sick at home, sick and hospitalized, one who was sick and died, and one currently fighting for her life in Georgia.
    Can’t wait for it to be over.

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