Random Thoughts

The Gift of The Cacti

... apologies to O. Henry

by Ann Robbins Talbot

Most people take great pride in growing plants inside their homes. I have friends with fantastic African violets in the kitchen or a Christmas cactus blooming on cue in the living room. I can usually keep a poinsettia growing until Ash Wednesday, but I did not inherit my mother’s green thumb.

I grew up in a home with a sun porch. On every window sill sat a begonia, always called a “tuberous begonia”. The lush foliage and shiny, bright blossoms were watered and fed like family pets. Entering a friend’s home in seventh grade, I was surprised to be confronted with geraniums on every window sill. I thought everyone owned tuberous begonias. It was my first inkling that everyone’s house was not exactly like mine.

Fast forward many years to a Caribbean cruise where we took a land trip in Costa Rica. The narrow streets were lively with flowers of all shades of pinks and reds and purples, bursting with the celebration of life. A lady sitting near us on the bus could hardly contain herself. “Look,” she shouted, “there are all my house plants growing wild!”

We had moved to a north-facing house. Absolutely nothing grew in our front window. We gave up trying after many varied disappointments. When my husband was given a plant window as a retirement gift, house plants went to the top of his to-do list. But as his health began to fail, so did his interest in house plants.  

One Christmas Eve he was particularly low. He said, “I have ordered a gift for you from Beth (a friend who worked in a nursery). You’ll have to pick it up tonight and pretend to be surprised in the morning.” I drove to her house and she gave me the most beautiful cactus garden, a house plant that needed little or no care. On Christmas morning, when the moment came for me to unwrap the large carton, I oohed and aahed over the gorgeous creation. It truly was a work of art. A few minutes later, imagine Dick’s surprise when he opened the carefully chosen gift from me, custom made from our local florist. A lovely cactus garden!

Eight years later they sit companionably, side by side in the plant window. Cacti are great survivors.

January 1, 2010


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