In my article, Caring for Holiday Cactus, I mention my first Christmas cactus, which came from my mother, who got it from HER mother, who grew and tended it as far back as anyone can remember. What I don’t mention (for the sake of my reputation, of course), is that I killed it. Yes, that’s right, I killed the heirloom cactus, and I hang my head in shame.
The thing is, this plant had lived in my mother’s laundry room for years, receiving only the light that came through the blinds and only the water that someone remembered while ironing, and it even bloomed on occasion. Then it lived quite contently with me for a while, and then what do I do? I decide to remodel my house and stow all my houseplants in the basement to keep them safe, then I forget about them for, oh, about eight months, through a 100-degree summer and an icy winter.
By the time I remembered my plants and had a livable house to put them in, there were no plants – only a collection of pots filled with lonely, moldy dirt. Well, there was one shriveled Jade plant and one limp pothos that were able to be revived, but the rest were completely composted.
It’s been years now, and whenever family comes to visit, they are so complimentary about the house and the (now) many green plants. But I wasn’t born yesterday – I know what they’re really thinking. They’re thinking, “What this place needs is a nice, heirloom Christmas cactus.”
They don’t say anything, of course, but in my own mind I wonder: Will I ever live it down? Does one act of colossal neglect permanently blacken an otherwise green thumb? How many healthy Christmas cactuses do I need to have in order to make up for that one dead one?
Is my grandmother looking down on me and shaking her head, or is she up there happily watering her cactus and waiting for me to send more plants her way?
Everybody makes mistakes, and in fact that’s the best way to learn. I learned that whenever I get too distracted, after a year or so things sort of start to slide. It’s good info.