I consider myself to be a compassionate person and, while no Martha, able enough as a homemaker and kind to children and animals. Unfortunately, I have the uncanny ability to kill even a plastic fern. As I’m certain my breath is minty fresh, it must be my capricious nature which leads my plants’ untimely demise. They have my utmost attention for a week or two, but after that I get distracted by shiny new gadgets. However, there are a few green things left that will thrive through my spotty care and continue to amuse me.
This group, which sounds delicious, actually includes cacti, agaves, and aloes. All are easy to grow and maintain, preferring plenty of bright indirect light. They require little water, just mist or pour only enough water to wet the soil around the roots. When in doubt, don’t water. Create your own soil with sharp sand or coarse grit. Use a little liquid fertilizer a couple of times a season. Cacti span unique forms and spines. The dynamic blooms vary in bright color and shape, but never look too girly. Most small specimens are available from $2 to $8. While the cactus is for show, the aloe is practical. If you prick yourself on a succulent spine, break off the tip of an aloe leaf and use the cool gel to balm your wound.
A kitchen window garden is both aromatic and delectable. Fresh herbs are pretty pricey at the organic grocery, but pre-potted plants are only $2 to $3. Good herbs for beginners include rosemary, sage, sweet basil, mint, sweet marjoram, tarragon, thyme, chives, and parsley (for garnish). All grown indoors will require access to sunlight and good soil.
Add an inch of gravel to the bottom of each pot before adding soil for proper drainage. Use mismatched coffee mugs or fancy teacups instead of terracotta pots, but drimmel a small hole in the bottom of each to keep plants well-drained. Don’t drench them, but do keep them moist. To quick dry culinary herbs, place leaves on a cookie sheet for a couple of hours at 180°. Add a little zing to basic dishes: enhance pork with rosemary, chicken with tarragon, potatoes with chives or dill, tomato sauces with basil or oregano, and iced tea or cocktails with fresh mint.
If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and work, you can create a mini landscape inside with a terrarium. Using a clear container as large as an aquarium or as small as a brandy snifter, put together a collection of plants which will create their own humid climate. The condensation under glass allows the plants to go for a long time without watering. Using a long-handled spoon, first spread gravel over the bottom of your chosen container. Add a thin layer of activated charcoal. Then lay a thin layer of sphagnum moss. Finally, spread a layer of terrarium soil, or potting soil with building sand mixed in.
Choose compatible small plants which vary in silhouette and texture for variety. Remember that your container can be viewed from all angles, so arrange your landscape for balanced aesthetics. Cover the completed project with a piece of clear glass or plastic. Even if left slightly open, moisture should still form on the lid. Okay, this is a little more labor intensive than buying a cactus, but definitely more impressive. Add a live lizard or frog, and you’ve got a vivarium. Just don’t forget to place a water supply inside for your little critters.
For something on the wilder side, pick up a Venus Fly-Trap. Inarguably cool. Thai Pepper Plants are also hearty and produce masses of mini bright red and yellow waxy peppers. Beware the bite! They are very spicy and will burn your eyes out if you forget to wash your hands after touching. (Maybe this is a better plant for your enemies.) Whatever you choose, lavish a little creativity and affection. Just don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.