A master gardener I am not. I do like gardening, though, and have been known to form strong attachments to particular plants. The rose bush beside our front door, for example, has a long history, beginning, I believe, in the back yard of a pie-shaped lot in Grosvenor Park, Saskatoon, and then continuing in a small square of dirt in a seniors’ complex on Berini Drive, where my mother had reluctantly acquiesced to inevitable downsizing. A lifelong gardener, she tried to make this limited living bearable by claiming what little space there was for growing flowers. When even that meagre space was cut, she asked me to adopt the rose bush. Within a year my father had died, and she had moved to a nursing home. That was more than 25 years ago, and the rose bush lives on next to our front door, a bright red statement of the need for beauty, always.
But about the jade plants — that story begins about 10 years ago when my sister surprised me with a slip from the large, ungainly jade plant that had thrived in her condo for decades. The little green stem with its hard round leaves was already carefully packed to survive a five-hour winter drive. Once its roots had become an encouraging tangle at the bottom of a water glass, I gave it a dirt home in a clay pot and took it to my office where I hoped that abundant east sunlight would help it thrive. It did, too — in the manner of jade plants, which is everlastingly slow.
Never having grown one before, I hadn’t realized that jade is in the business of living for the long haul. Goodness, but they take their sweet time to put out new leaves. And it is sweet, because the green of those new leaves seems the very embodiment of hope, tender yet firm. It’s so unlike the wraithlike green of new willow leaves in spring, but then nothing about jade is insubstantial. Its leaves are almost one-quarter-inch thick, even at birth. Stems, too, are solid. Jade plants can grow to tree-size with veritable trunks, as I have seen elsewhere. So I’ll confess that I was disappointed to discover just how slowly jade grows.
Nevertheless, my little jade persisted, and when I eventually took it home, I gave it a larger pot and wished it well in our living room window. For a few years, it was happy. It branched as it should, adding new leaves, pair by pair. I was proud of it — and of myself. I liked my new plant friend. So when it began to drop leaves that had odd brown spots, I was dismayed. It was no longer as beautiful, with those gaps along the stems, and nothing I did seemed to make it feel better.
Doctor Google assured me that jade plants are easily propagated, advice I viewed with some skepticism, after finding no adequate help for my plant in the first place. On a day when my patience, never in abundant supply, collided with one of my impulsive raze-it-all-to-the-ground moods, the jade plant was declared not worthy of its space. It was time to make room for other plants.
Fortunately, I remembered some instructions about propagating jade. Instead of tossing it into the compost bin, I cut it up and put the pieces away in solitude to let their open wounds dry. Once the sliced ends had scabbed over, I dunked them in rooting compound and stuck them into some dirt. “Do what you will,” I told those remnants, “grow or not grow. Your choice. I can always find other plants. For the time being, I give you all a spot in the sun and an occasional drink of water.”
For weeks — I have no idea how many — the wounded jade plants sat there in the dirt, meditating for all I know. Occasionally I glanced at them, half afraid to hope. Then there was the morning I noticed the tiny beginning of new leaves at the top of one plant and then on another. Does it seem strange, maybe even ridiculous, that I felt an uprush of emotion quite out of proportion to the miniscule sign of life? I could have bought a nicely shaped healthy jade plant at some nearby store. I didn’t need these misbegotten, misshapen plant beginnings.
Yet I was absurdly happy for every one of them, even the two absolutely barren stems that after months have still shown nothing but a slight green swelling at the top. Several of the cuttings are now clearly growing; their new leaves are big enough that I’m anticipating the next pair. Daily I look for progress and plan which ones I’ll keep and which will become gifts or find their way to some charity sale. I’m reassured by the green upthrust of life that continues, no matter how sharp the knife or how rude the transplanting.
On good days, when the sun shines, I dare to consider that similar patience might yet see the healing of more human cuts and the emergence of new growth in relationships that have dropped too many leaves.
Froese taught English literature at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon for many years until her retirement. She currently works part time as academic editor while relishing the freedom to read and write for pleasure.