Description: Your grandmother owns a plate set, white Corelle, with purple irises at each center. There are matching cups made of a thick, clear plastic. Fill them with tap water; watch the iris float. In the sun room, where she keeps framed drawings from you and your sister—of Elvis, of Barney Fife, a girl with blue, blue eyes—find an inked iris you drew her nearly a decade ago.

Back in the dining room, suctioned to the window, note the stained-glass iris the size of a small salad plate, throwing orange and green light. When it’s spring, you can gaze beyond this glass iris and see real ones—purple and white, peach—their tall heads poking up above the other flowers, hovering.

Home: Plant in a tight circle around the septic tank behind your childhood house. But only the dusky maroon, the deep purple. In the big garden, the one behind the honeysuckle, plant them in a row of yellow and white. Plant your favorite, a ruffled peach, apricot bearded, around your grandparent’s gazebo. They bob in time to your grandfather’s transistor radio.

When your grandmother gifts you your own bulbs, that first spring in your first house, pick up your trowel, brush back chunks of rubber mulch, and bury them by the sidewalk. Next to the plastic pot, the rotting wooden plant stand, the white stone dove—detritus of the previous owners. This gnarled tuber is something of your own.

CareWake up early the day your iris blooms. Your husband will tell you it’s happened. Your eyes will feel thick and glassy, but resist the urge to go back to sleep. You’ve been watching for weeks now—from leaves to stalk to bud.

It is more beautiful than you could have imagined. A light blue; periwinkle. The ruffled bloom makes you think of Victorian ladies—all delicacy and satin gowns. Or maybe Cinderella: brief moment of splendor, and then, by 8 am, the spell broken. Bloom descending towards the earth, showy head too heavy for the stalk to bear.

TypePerennial. Wrap their cut stalks in damp paper towels to take as gifts for your grade school teachers, your mother, your grandmothers. Pick them off the ground after heavy rains, spring storms, when the thin petals rip and spot like pantyhose.

When the blooms have all expired, heads curling like fat slugs, your mother runs the mower over them, leaving behind a trail of oozing leaves. This, perhaps more than anything else, signaling the change of seasons.



Description: The first summer in your new house, your neighbor Nancy, a woman in her 70s, brings you a grey planter filled with petunias. They are bright pink, velvety. Grown from her own seeds. You imagine she has seen you scratching at the dirt, planting small sticks of Rose of Sharon along your shared fence line. They are miniature versions of the mature shrubs that push through the chain link in her yard, reach into yours. You imagine she knows these starts ultimately end up in the wet mouths of your dogs, scattered across the lawn.

Home: In partial sun, in the middle of your picnic table, positioned so you can see them from your kitchen window. When you drink your morning coffee, you’ll watch their soft heads bow.

Care: Water them faithfully for the first two weeks. When heavy rains tip over the container, scoop back in the wet soil. Set right. Soon, you’ll forget to water them. Or rather, it will get hot, and you’ll stop watering them. You know your neighbor can see them from her back patio. That she’ll watch them bending and curling, leaves dropping, stems bent like yellow slivers of moon. Her petunias spill over the sides of her hanging baskets, sway in containers exactly like the one she gave you. You try to coax yours back to life—spurts of enthusiasm that fail to rouse them. By the end of summer, the soil will be compacted nearly to brick. The plants brittle silhouettes.

TypeAnnual. Next summer, you’ll yank the petunias out by their roots, and replace them with bright orange marigolds. Your neighbor never says anything about the plants. She brings you and your husband tomatoes from her garden. Muffins and cakes. Extras, she says, she didn’t know what to do with. She gives your dogs a red rubber pig they send squealing across your patio. She’s determined to make friends with your border collie—ghost of her own dog, recently passed. Your dog growls through the fence, but takes her treats.

You water your marigolds. You watch next door. It’s quiet. You haven’t seen her working in her garden or sitting on the porch, blowing rings of smoke over her flowers. It’s fall before you learn your neighbor has cancer. It’s less than a month before you learn she’s died.



Bleeding Heart

Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Description: Your grandfather has a green thumb and a grower’s heart. His yard is a patchwork of gardens, every year expanding, sprawling. Everything green: hollyhocks and snowball bushes. Poppies and lamb’s ear. He always claims he’s cutting back.

Though he grows many plants and he grows them well, bleeding hearts are the one thing he can’t quite grow.

Each year, your mother [his daughter] watches her bleeding heart unfold into an impressive mound, while your grandfather’s remains a small, rounded bundle. You try to cheer him up. Assure him, in all your youthful tact, that his is “cute.”

The bleeding heart blooms in early summer, from May to June. It’s early June, 2012, when you lose your grandfather. This is a loss that reverberates through your family—unexpected and unprepared for.

Home: In the garden next to your grandfather’s driveway, in your mother’s front flower bed beside the balsam pods she taught you to squeeze, pop open to reveal black seeds.

One day your mom pulls in your driveway with a heart resting in her floorboard. You plant this like you’ve planted her other gifts. You plunge your hands into the earth, and sink it in. Hope it roots down, deep and sure. You like this plant’s sagging stems, its weighted look. You like how the blooms jangle and bop one another in the breeze. How tenuously they’re attached.

Care: Water and watch. It seems you’ve inherited your mother’s luck with this plant. By the second year, your plant is safely “medium.” You find yourself a little proud, a little disappointed.

Type: Perennial. A reminder.


Epipremnum aureum

Description: You’re helping your boss pack for California. She’s given you clothes and cookware. Part of her DVD collection. An assortment of mugs that still sits in your cabinets to this day. In the two years you’ve worked for her, she’s become a mentor, a pseudo sister. She’s cracked a little part of your shell and started unwinding you from the inside out. Before she leaves, she gives you one final gift. A start from her pothos. A plant that was given to her by her mother and given to her mother by her great-grandmother. She tells you her mother received the plant when she was 18—a gift she took with her to college. You imagine it sitting on a windowsill in her mother’s dorm room, leaves canted towards the sun.

HomeA squat white pot on a stand in your office, next to your desk, where you will feel this bit of life, this bit of green, throbbing beside you.

Care: Remember to keep the windows open. To rub dust off its leaves. You’ll neglect it a little. Forget to water it until brown stems snap onto the floor and your cat paws and mouths them. But eventually, you’ll get it right. You’ll watch it grow. Its vines spilling over, green tongues tasting the hardwoods, pushing down and away. Reaching for the hallway. You hope it makes it past the door frame. That it just keeps growing and growing.

TypeWhen conditions are right, potted pothos can grow up to 10 feet in length. In the wild, they can grow up to forty. You think about that mother plant, so many miles away, leaving little parts of itself behind. 

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