Posted by: Kate | April 26, 2008

What’s the Opposite of Green?

…because whatever it is, that is the color of my thumbs.

I cannot keep plants alive.  Cat, yes.  Iguana, no problem.  Children, so far.  But plants?  Not so much.

People often nod knowingly when I announce this.  “Oh, me too,” they say.  “I have the worst time keeping my plants happy.”

No, no.  Not, I have the worst time.  Not, keeping them happy.  I cannot keep plants alive.  Any plants.  I have, over time, radically eliminated a spider plant, an aloe plant, and an African violet.  Among countless, myriad others.

Not intentionally, mind you.  I’m not a plant serial killer, racking up thrills by elaborate torture schemes and reliving the crime later (speaking of which, though, how much am I loving the series Dexter?).  I try to keep them alive.  Sometimes I succeed just long enough to get my hopes up, and then something horrible happens and they droop, or turn yellow, or get spilled all over the floor, or simply disappear.  It’s sad, really.

Over the past few years, there has been a ray of light after a lifetime of dark, lifeless soil.  I’ve finally found plant-related success.  I still cannot keep a plant alive, indoors, for any significant period of time, but I can keep several big pots of herbs thriving outside by the front door, for culinary and gloating purposes.  (“Look!  They’re still alive!  And green!  And, did I mention, alive?”)  I can, with enough fertilizer and focus, create a satisfactory vegetable garden, though I haven’t had enough of either to even try since we moved here.  I can also plant bulbs, forget completely about them, and then do a spastic goofy elegant and refined happy dance when bright-colored blooms burst out of the ground with little to no warning.

So Emily and I just spent two hours – without a single argument or snipe or eye-roll – raking and digging and planting more than a hundred new bulbs in the little triangle of yard between the walkway and the house.  We’re branching out a bit, as it were, and trying some strawberries and lilies of the valley, on the theory that roots can’t be that much different than bulbs, gardening-wise.  It all feels so productive, and hopeful, and grown-up.

I can’t consider my thumbs to have attained full greenness, just yet, but they’re at least somewhere on the spectrum.  Chartreuse, maybe.


  1. Well, I have quite a green thumb – but have never been successful at keeping either Spider plants OR African violets alive for very long. I think the violets require extra care.

  2. I think the opposite of green is red. Opposite side of that color wheel and all.

    I can keep African violets alive, in theory, but they refuse to do anything resembling flowering for me.

    I have had odd success with orchids, which look incredibly exotic and awesome and like you know what you’re doing.

  3. The curse is lifted,!
    That trip to, uhhh…., Jamaica paid off!

  4. What kind of bulbs? Cuz tulips, hyacinths, daffs etc go into the ground in the fall. Gladiola bulbs are impossible to kill and the look terrific when they come up.

    I am quite good with plants when I want to be but spider plants suck. I’ve grown african violets and gotten them to blossom over and over. Yes, I am gloating just a bit.

    I am thrilled to have discovered a lilac bush in my back yard. It is one of my very favorites and I’ve never had my own. I don’t own them now but I am renting them. They should blossom at the end of May. It’s been a very cold spring and things are a tad late.

  5. Yay for outdoor gardening! I love watching my bulbs come up and perform with no work from me. You could also try hosta, ferns, and creeping phlox (pinks). Sonce you have success with herbs in apot, you could try patio tomatoes in a pot, as long as you can find a spot where they’ll get 6 hours of sunlight.

    For indoor plants, I think more important than the green thumb is buying the right plant for the kind of plant owner you are, and for the light in your house. If you have only eastern exposure for the bulk of your windows most tropical plants won’t survive, but conversely if you have only southern exposure it might be too much for delicate varieties. If you tend to “kill them with kindness” then you need a really rugged, adaptable plant (ZZ plants come to mind). If you tend to ignore them then succulents and cacti are your best bet.

    I have good success with houseplants, but my African Violets never, ever bloom, and I have systematically (and accidentally) killed off a whole fleet of orchids. I think a green thumb can be cultivated, so keep working on it!

  6. I call it the Black Thumb. I, too, am afflicted. I kill plants just by getting into their general vicinity.

  7. I am exceptional at growing weeds

    . . . try a philodendron for indoors, they seem to live on air!

  8. The opposite of a green thumb, is in fact a black thumb.

  9. I’m becoming a plant serial killer … intentionally. I used to love a house full of beautiful green plants, but now? I’m just too lazy. So don’t feel badly — at least your heart is in the right place. 🙂

  10. Black thumb is what we call it in my family.

  11. I love Dexter, too.

    And I love flower gardens.

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