Last month, my neighbor asked if I would keep her frangipani while she went away on a five-week business trip. I thought she was going to give me an Italian pasta dish to store in my refrigerator.
Seeing the puzzled look on my face, she quickly offered, “it’s a plant.”
“I’m not really good with plants,” I confessed, “but if it only needs occasional watering I can handle that. I think.”
“It’s easy to care for,” she assured me, and then added, “you can also take my other two plants if you don’t mind. I don’t really know what they are, but play some nice music for them and give them a little water, and they’ll be fine.”
Nice music. What would that be, to a plant? Bach? The Beatles? Luther Vandross?
During the first week, the leaves on the frangipani turned yellow. I moved it to another window sill. I played it soothing Chopin Nocturnes. I read every article I could find entitled “How to Take Care of Indoor Houseplants.” I read voraciously about watering, pruning, and lighting.
By now all three plants were wilting in unison. I gave them pep talks.
There was no improvement.
I called a plant specialist I found on the Internet. “Good afternoon,” he said, “and welcome to “Plants ‘R Us, ‘U ‘R Your Plants.”
“I need help,” I wailed. “I have three plants that have stopped eating and drinking for no apparent reason.”
“I charge $100 an hour for a house call,” he informed me, “but let me ask you a few questions first: Are you fertilized?” “Am I WHAT?” I gasped. “Are you totally debugged?” he continued relentlessly. “Are you leaking water? Are your veins collapsing from dehydration? Are you ringed, stunted, distorted, or necrotic?”
“My doorbell’s ringing,” I told him as I hung up.
I called another plant doctor. “Hello,” a recorded voice chimed. “The plant doctor will be with you shortly. If you suspect your plant is affected by an insect, virus, bacterium, or fungus, please press 1. If the entire plant is affected by disease, please press 2. If only a portion of your plant is affected, please press 3. For all other questions please stay on the line while we play Pachelbel, the music of choice for plants.”
In desperation, I cut off snippets from the ailing plants, put them in my pocket, and started roaming the streets of Hoboken in search of a small but friendly neighborhood florist. One rainy day, I saw a catchy sign on 10th and Bloomfield that said “Beethoven’s Veranda.” The name drew me right into a little garage where happy plants were hanging everywhere. WQXR, the radio station of the New York Times, was playing its ample daily dose of classical music in the background.
“I need help fast,” I told the owner, who introduced herself as Christina. I produced the sickly specimens from my pocket and laid them on the counter. Christina looked them over calmly, spoke to them gently, and identified them immediately as a peace lily and devil’s ivy. Meanwhile, Christina’s husband, Bill, was unloading shrubs and flowers from a van on the street. “Welcome to Beethoven’s Veranda,” he greeted me warmly, “where music and plants go hand in hand.”
The ambience of this charming, intimate arboretum already boded well.
“A few vitamins in the soil, a bit of misting, and keeping them out of direct sunlight should heal them,” Christina said.
“Play Beethoven to the frangipani,” Bill added.
“That’s it?” I asked incredulously. “Vitamins, mist, and Beethoven?”
“That’s it,” they nodded in agreement.
I thanked them profusely, and, stepping out of the fragrant, miniature 19th century arbor into a 21st century Hoboken side street, I noticed that the sun had come back out.
“How were they?” my neighbor inquired, as she breezed in to pick up her newly revived leafy charges. “They were great,” I lied.
“That’s good,” she breathed with relief, “because I was wondering if you could keep them for another two months. I have some business in Brazil.”
I immediately went to the Internet to look up “Your Rights as a Foster Plant Parent…” – Pamela Ross
Hoboken resident Pamela Ross is an actress and pianist.