Killing Thyme

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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There are just some things in life that don’t make any sense and probably never will. The curious creatures that we are, those little things stay in the back of our minds and crop up from time to time. One of those oddities that I have never been able to figure out is how can someone (like me) be a reasonably successful gardener and yet do so badly with my house plants?

Having healthy house plants has always been a challenge for me but it was brought front and center recently. My friend Steph was over and, among her other talents, she is a florist.

I have always wanted to raise my own fresh herbs so I got in on the end of the season this year with some thyme and rosemary. Her eye caught them in their pots on the windowsill as she passed by and she exclaimed, “You’re killing thyme, no one can kill thyme!”

Now, seriously, just the day before when I watered it, my thyme looked good but, I have to admit, that today it didn’t look so healthy. As a matter of fact, it did look like it had seen its better days and was on the way out.

How does this happen so fast? Then she added, “Well, no one kills thyme, well maybe…”

OK, OK, house plants aren’t my niche. I do everything I am supposed to do. I give my plants ample water, not too much and not too little. I give them either direct or indirect sunlight, whichever the variety prefers.

I fertilize them regularly. I do all this for my garden and it rewards me with glorious plants and ample bounty. Not my houseplants. Do they not like me?

Now, before you laugh, there is scientific evidence that plants have feelings. Maybe feelings in the flora world aren’t quite as intense as those in the fauna, but they are still present.

The book, “The Secret Life of Plants,” goes into great detail how plants respond to stimuli just like animals do. A lie detector was even wired onto leaves of some plants and then they were exposed to both positive and negative actions. As expected, the plants actually perked up when they were exposed to positive feelings.

In a different study, the same results were achieved with a little more “human” interaction. Two identical plants were placed in a classroom and each received the same water and nutrients.

Each day students talked rudely to one of the plants while the other one received positive compliments. At the end of the test period, the one that had received positive reinforcement was thriving while the one that did not was stunted in growth and was not as healthy.

So, what is the deal? I do talk to my plants… nicely! I always have music on when I am in the house. They should be able to feel that warm and fuzzy feeling.

I do feel a little better after hearing the story from a flower delivery person. It seems that a few years ago a florist in the area needed to leave her shop for a few weeks and left it in very capable hands.

A peace lily, which can survive almost anywhere in any conditions, was sitting by the back door of the shop. The delivery person noticed that it was continuously looking poorer.

He tried to be positive and instill in the shop keepers that no one can kill a peace lily. One day he couldn’t conceal it any longer and told them that they probably should dispose of it before the owner returned!

So, it is not just me and there is another positive note. My Norfolk pine was looking pretty sad. It was dropping its bottom branches and was pretty sickly.

This little fella has a special place in my heart and I really did not want to lose it. Even though the bottom is mostly bare, the top half of the tree is thriving. Half a tree is better than none.

Perhaps my luck is changing. Or maybe I should concentrate on the garden and the flowers outside. After all, it is two different worlds and not everyone has to be good at everything.

So, why do I put so much effort into these houseplants when it is obviously not my strong point? Well, first of all, I really don’t like to admit that I have failed, but there is a little more to it.

House plants are natural air purifiers, which is especially important during winter months when houses are closed up and air flow is limited. Plants are able to remove toxins from the air by absorbing them through their leaves and roots. NASA did a study and concluded that it would take between 15-18 plants planted in six or eight-inch pots to purify the air in an average 1800 square foot home.

Plants also absorb carbon dioxide that people breathe out and convert it to oxygen, which is why they are beneficial to have throughout the home. Ironically, the mother-in-law’s tongue produces the most oxygen, which is why it is recommended to have one in your bedroom.

So, I am really going to try to give my plants my best. After all, they are doing their part by cleaning the air. But this is easier said than done.

Alas, my rosemary that smelled so good when I snipped a few sprigs for my spaghetti sauce isn’t looking so good now. In addition to killing thyme, I wonder, am I also killing time with these plants?

Kudos to all who have a green thumb inside as well as out. I am heading back to the garden.

Photo by Getty Images/Insanet.

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