I’m having a hard time growing things. Last summer I got enthusiastic and very domestic, even for me, and decided to grow some basil. I love it, my husband loves it, and like my friend Faith, I put it in almost everything I cook. Lemonade with Basil Syrup? Astonishingly delicious. I was tired of paying $3 for a clump of basil at the grocery store, only to have half of it rot and be thrown out when I didn’t use a whole basil bush in one week; after all, there are limits. Basil Oatmeal? Not so much.
I picked out some inspiringly colored pots (in the color that I wanted to decorate the house in, but that they only started making available after our wedding, when all the gifts were in use and we no longer had any decorating money) and got a bag of potting soil. I went home and planted, ready to save money and contribute to an atmosphere of superior breathability. So, I sprouted the little seeds, they grew like weeds, and then, just when they started to look really promising…a suspicious-looking fuzz appeared on the soil. I was on the phone with my friend Amy.
“Amy—” I interrupted our conversation about the relative literary merits of Lewis and MacDonald “Amy, what is the matter with me? There’s moldy looking fuzz on my basil dirt! I think I really do have a black thumb!”
“It could be a blight,” she replied calmly.
“How would it get a blight? It’s brand new dirt!” I said.
“Where did you get the dirt?” she asked.
“There ya go. Your basil could have a blight.”
“Are you kidding me? My basil has blight? Stinking Walmart dirt.”
“You gotta watch that Walmart dirt,” she said solemnly.
So, I threw away my poor little choked basil sprouts, and hoped that the lavender plant I had going in my other brightly-lacquered pot would fare better. After all, it was a sturdy plant when I acquired it, and since the stuff is used, in the wild, to growing on barren moors akin to those in a Charlotte Bronte novel, I thought it had a good chance. My pleasant dining room, with dazzling sun in the mornings and a moderate, balmy clime all afternoon, would be an excellent place for a rugged, already-thriving woody bush. Perhaps in some other home it would. The lavender waned, and waned. I trimmed, watered, coaxed, prayed, and re-read the planting instructions that accompanied the ill-fated shrub. It died a lingering death unbecoming to a plant of such benevolent reputation.
I gave up on plants for the year, but halfway through this summer, I was again seized with aversion to the flagrant waste involved in purchasing hydroponically-grown basil at Wegman’s. I bravely entered the savory foliage department of the local farmer’s market, and picked up a questionable-looking pot of yellowing basil. It looked like it had already spent a few weeks in my house, but it was only $.099, and I figured the odds were already against it and if it died quickly I wouldn’t have lost much. I took it home, watered it, and tried it in the kitchen this time, where there is a brief but brilliant time of sun in the morning, followed by a dining room-like atmosphere of cheery light throughout the remainder of daylight hours. In a day or two I was delighted to see the yellow leaves turn to their wonted glowing green, and the little plants seemed to grow and thrive in their miniature starter pots. I watered them well and gave them the best spot in my tiny kitchen, and it seemed my basil plight had rounded a fortuitous corner.
Until one day when the whole plant appeared wilted and yellowish, despite a thorough watering and flourishing appearance just two days before. I decided that perhaps in their accelerated proliferation they had outgrown the plastic starter pot they’d come in, and so I once again got out my pretty planters and the dubious Walmart dirt. (It was just sitting there being dirt, and we were broker than the previous year. It can’t really have been the dirt, I thought to myself.) I transplanted. Then I gave them extra extra water, put some more water in the planter dish underneath them, and went on vacation for 10 days.
When I returned they were still alive. But not thriving. I examined the dirt with deep suspicion, but no fuzz appeared. As of today the basil remains living, but it lives with a tenuous and questionable sort of existence, not the kind you would expect from a plant that makes summer salads worth boiling pasta for on a 98-degree day in a second-floor apartment with no air conditioning. Not that kind of life from a zesty, saucy herb. I expect it every moment to clutch its throat in a dramatic, last, gasping frenzy, and fall with desperate finality to the fuzzy carpet below, on the blighted Walmart dirt.