‘Turning black thumbs green: What to do when you aren’t good at gardening’

Oct 12, 2021
Gay doesn't have much luck with plants. Source: Earl Wilcox / Unsplash

Me and my black thumbs … Of all the members of my family, they tell me I’m the only one to kill a cactus. I guess gardening isn’t my thing …

In the 1940s, when I was growing up, every back yard was a feast of vegetable patches and fruit trees. When the Italian and Greek families arrived in our neighbourhood, they put concrete out the front and had a veritable treasure of edibles out the back, some on the roof of the garden shed.

Spending time with my friends after school at their homes consisted of me being the smallest sitting in the apple tree and throwing down apples to be devoured. Of course when we were asked if we’d stripped the trees of their fruit, not one of us owned up. I’m guessing the faces full of juice and dribbling down the front of our clothes was a bit of a giveaway.

We moved a lot so my love of gardens consisted of doing the rounds visiting other people’s homes. One home had seven kids that pretty much did what they wanted, the air was loaded with the pong of eau de nappy, but a better, more loving family would be hard to find.

With so many mouths to feed, a lot of their back paddock was devoted to a magnificent banquet of vegetables. I lined up to help them erect a wobbly wooden fence. It was designed to keep the goats out, and it did … for a while. There was disappointment all round when they found their way in and ate most of the new plants.

People looked after people back then and one weekend the church folk got together and built a new sturdy fence. I’ve never forgotten the tears streaming down the mother’s face when she saw it. Her husband was on the verge of crying too (he’d lost both legs in the war).

With all these successful gardening people around me, I was sure I had green thumbs. My nan gave me a cactus and promised my mother I wouldn’t kill it. I was of the age where every living thing got some sort of outpouring of emotion from me (I cried when my father ran over a patch of daisies with his cart on one occasion), so there was a little bit of confidence that at least the plant would be loved.

Maybe it was wrong, but I named my cactus ‘Cookie’. I might have loved it too much. Over time the cactus got whiter and whiter, then it started to shrivel and then it died.

I left gardening to my family after that.

I married a man who loved gardening. He had flowers and vegetables growing successfully so all I had to do was pick them and enjoy the goodies.

He developed emphysema later in life, but he had a slave, me, to do the gardening for him. I’d wheel him out in his wheelchair and he would direct me where to cut when pruning roses. Sometimes I thought I was losing half my blood supply as I fought with the thorns.

The only other thing I had success with was a capsicum. Imagine my delight when I saw it growing happily. I always suspect my husband might have had a word with it, encouraging it forcefully to grow, or else!

My children and grandchildren have green thumbs, but how things have changed. More common these days is to grow herbs. I tried it once and we don’t speak about it.

Maybe one day another capsicum might catch my eye.

Do you enjoy gardening? What do you grow?

Please sign in to post a comment.
Retrieving conversation…
Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up