There are cold-blooded stalkers among us, watching everything we do, knowing when we’re not around, taunting us with their teeth and tails. “They” are iguanas, and as many of you know, they and they’re insatiable appetites are a constant battle for my garden and me.
I always wanted to be a deejay. When I was younger, I had two turntables, a mixer, and crates and crates of vinyl records.
There was one small problem, though. I never wanted to get fingerprints or scratches on any of the records — which was why my vinyl collection remained in pristine condition, and the only deejaying was in my own mind.
Still, when it comes to thinking up headlines for posts, I often turn to music for inspiration — and this post about my aloe was no different. I began with “Aloe, I Love You,” courtesy of The Doors — because, I do love this plant.
Mine was a gift from Joe’s sister, Donna. She gave it to me years and years ago — and for those years and years, it was a typical northern houseplant, a solitary presence in a clay pot, brought outside in summer and over-wintered indoors.
I was thrilled to have an aloe — practical and beautiful, medicinal and magical. Each day seems to bring about new wondrous uses for the gel inside each of its pointy, succulent leaves.
The problem is that snapping off an aloe leaf to soothe a burn or an abrasion was never my first thought. No, I’d rather run for a bandage or even a store-bought “aloe” lotion than risk damaging the plant.
It was my deejaying debacle all over again — although this time I knew my being a gardener wasn’t an imaginary mind game. I just didn’t want to take advantage of a plant. I wanted it to be pristine.
But something exciting happened after bringing the aloe to Florida, where this houseplant could stay out all year long. Of course, there was the initial shock, but in time, the green became more vibrant and smaller aloes began to pop up all around the mother plant.
My clay pot for one had become my clay pot for many, and I wondered: Is this what aloe is supposed to do? It actually makes more plants on its own?
Then, Adele arrived with this lyric, “Hello, from the other side” — and I began to contemplate what was happening beneath the soil of said clay pot. In other words: Aloe, from the underside.
Just like removing a vinyl disc from its sleeve, I gently tapped the aloe from the only home it has ever known. And just like holding a record by its edges and turning it over to examine it for any imperfections, I observed and marveled at what was hidden by the clay pot.
The houseplant I had always counted on to be a solo artist was more like a member of a band. Once unpotted, the lead singer — for want of a better term — had developed a lengthy root system, each one traveling in a circle to match the shape of the clay pot.
It’s at this point that all record and deejaying analogies come to an end. While I may be a deejay in my mind, in reality, I’m a gardener —- and unlike my treatment of vinyl, I wanted to scratch at the soil, to separate the roots and smaller plants a bit, to clip and cut and leave my mark.
As I began, I first noticed that the thicker roots were actually runners, some of them ending with a small aloe plant — and each of these had its own set of roots and runners.
The larger of the small aloes were easily separated from the main plant, but the smaller ones needed some clipping.
I lined up pots of all sizes, as well as some hollowed out coconuts, for planting — so that each of the aloes could be a star in their own right — and, in time, fill out and make more plants.
The aloe that started it all was returned to its clay pot, now a bit roomier, so that it too could once again produce more plants.
At the end of the day, when it came time to reflect on what I had learned about aloe propagation and a headline, it seemed to make sense to name this post: “Aloe, ‘ow are you?” It’s really the question I asked myself — with a cockney accent, because a name like aloe kind of begs for that — whenever I looked at the clay pot filled with plants.
That being said, it’s time to bring my tale of aloe to a close — and in the sort-of words written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney: “You say goodbye, and I say aloe.”
“Oh, look,” whispered the sweetest of voices on the slightest of breezes each night when I stepped outside. “We have created enchantment here.”
I thought I was alone, but the powdery scent of perfume had me thinking otherwise. The voice was quite feminine, I imagined, and absolutely southern — dripping with refined charm and long, slow vowels.
I’d like to say that I sprang from my bed and that away to the window I flew like a flash. Springing from my bed hardly happens these days. There’s a lot of stretching and cracks and creaks that must happen before I can even think of springing.
My grandmother hated Florida — and she had no problem saying so. Just mention the Sunshine State and she’d routinely offer, without any coaxing, the following words.
“I hate Florida,” she’d say. “It rains on one side of the street, but not the other.”
My grandmother, by the way, never traveled to Florida. Never. Ever. All my she knew came courtesy of my grandfather, who did some basic training there before shipping off to Europe during World War II.
I went to the theater last night, a very small venue hosting a show of eight short vignettes. By the end of the fourth one, it was clear that something was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The air conditioner had stopped working — and in zone 10, that can be an issue.
At intermission, the small audience stepped outside into the 90-degree, steamy south Florida night air to cool off — and a sort of camaraderie blossomed among the theatergoers. We were all sweaty soldiers determined to see the end of the play, despite the sauna-like conditions inside.
That’s when I overheard one female audience member say to her friend, “It’s because it’s August. It’s like the worst month.”
The other day, as I was passing a local playground, I spotted a group of men who were able to throw together a random basketball, football, handball, any-kind-of-ball game without speaking any words to one another. There were some hand gestures and a few noises, and then the game began.
I’m not a fan of zombies. They’re creepy, unstoppable and incoherent. Yet, millions of people flock to their movies, read their novels, and watch their television shows. While some battle zombies in video games, others are preparing for an actual zombie apocalypse.
But they’re wasting their time. The real cause of our undoing is a creature far colder than zombies.
I know gardeners can be an excitable bunch when it comes to flowers and vegetables, soil and pests. Seed catalogs on a snowy day, bulbs poking up with the first warm breath of spring, an enormous sunflower, and fifty shades of green — all these things and more can get a gardener’s pulse racing.
Still, I thought my neighbor’s excitement over a small bloom was a bit overdone.
Petunias and I go back. Way back.
Long before I started my own plants in the potting shed in February, petunias were a staple in my parents’ garden. They were often planted in old tires that my father would cut, flip inside out, and paint white — instant, recycled planters.
Petunias were also in the lyric of a song my mother used to sing around the house: “I’m a lonely, little petunia in an onion patch.” I’m not sure if she ever sang the entire song, but the melody was way too chipper for a teary-eyed, solitary petunia in a planting of pungent bulbs.
Nevertheless, when it came time for a Florida garden, I had to decide if I wanted to continue with plants that I used in Zone 7a — or did I want to jump into the Zone 10b pool with both feet.