Root Bound

 

Plants are a great way to jazz up any room. They add life, fresh air and cheer to any décor. 

While recently brainstorming on how to redecorate my home office (a/k/a The Mother Ship), I knew one thing for sure – I wanted lots of plants. Succulents are my greens of choice. They’re beautiful, easy to grow and don’t hold it against you when you forget to water them for two weeks.

My friend, Bradley Bemboom, was helping me with the project. Among his many other talents, Bradley is an accomplished interior designer. He suggested we install a succulent wall.

A what?

“We’ll drill containers into one of the walls and fill them with succulents,” he said.

Who’s gonna do what now? Drill? Into the walls? The ones I just had patched and painted? 

While creative, this concept was way outside of my comfort zone. You see, my house is old. It was built in 1896 and all the walls are constructed of lath and plaster. We’ve lived here for nearly 14 years and in all that time I have managed to avoid making holes in the walls. This is not to say that I haven’t hung a few things. I have, using those 3M hooks that stick to the surface and don’t leave marks when you take them off…allegedly. I don’t know if they do or they don’t because I’ve never removed one. I’m afraid to go near them once they’re up. They might be strong enough to hold potted plants but that wasn’t a chance I was willing to take.

I reluctantly agreed.

“Trust me,” said Bradley.

Well, trust him I do. And so, we began the hunt for the perfect containers. Once we found them, Bradley started drilling while I hid under the couch. Much to my surprise and delight, the wall did not crumble into a pile of 127-year-old dust.

Now that the scary part was over, the fun part could commence.
I knew exactly which succulent varieties I wanted. One of them, known as a burro’s tail, is a pale green trailing showstopper. Gorgeous! It would be perfect for the French flower market pail we used. Bradley told me the burro’s tail had to be in a six inch pot to sit properly in the pail. I knew that the local nursery had them, so I went to get one.

The Succulent Wall

As expected, there were several, but none of them came in a six inch pot. So I picked up a four inch plant and brought it to the register.

“Can you transfer this to a six inch pot for me?” I asked.

The salesman pursed his lips and said, “Hmm…I don’t think so.”

“You don’t have six inch pots?” This confused me. After all, it was a nursery.

“Oh no,” he continued, “we have them. I just don’t know if it’s such a good idea. I mean I’m looking at it from the plant’s perspective.”

I didn’t know plants had perspectives.

The succulent wall from a different perspective

“You see that house plant over there?” He motioned to a little rubber tree. “I had one just like it. I transferred it to a great big planter. It died.”

I furrowed my brow. “I only want to go up two inches,” I said.

Apparently this was the wrong response. I guess I should have mustered up some sympathy for his loss and validated his grief before getting down to business. He looked annoyed.

“Hold on,” he sighed. “Let me get Gretchen. She’s the expert. She’ll know what to do. Gretchen!”

Gretchen The Expert strode past me to take her place next to the salesman at the register. She looked to be about 20 (young as far as experts go) and possessed an air of superiority in the way that experts do. I disliked her immediately.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asked.

“Problem? Well, it’s really not a problem,” I chuckled. “I just want to transfer this four inch burro’s tail into a six inch pot.”

“Really?” she asked. Her tone implied the very idea was preposterous.

“Look,” I said, showing her a photo of the empty pail attached to my office wall. “I want to put it in a pot to sit inside this.”

“Does that have a drainage hole?” she asked.

A drainage hole? What kind of an idiot would put a drainage hole in a planter mounted on a freshly painted wall over a brand new rug?

“No,” I answered.

“Here’s what you need to do…fill that container with gravel…”

I interrupted her, “You don’t seem to understand. The container is bolted to the wall. I can’t take it down. I want a pot to sit inside of it, so I can take it out when I need to water the plant.”

“I got that,” she snapped. Then, ignoring me completely said, “You fill it with gravel almost to the top and sit this on top of it.” She pointed to the plant in my hand.

It took everything in me not to roll my eyes. Buying our dog was less complicated than this.

“I have an idea,” I countered. “How about you sell me a six inch pot and I’ll fill that with gravel and sit this on top of it?”

She and the salesman looked at each other. Their non-verbal communication suggested they might actually refuse to sell me the plant. Any minute now, they would ask me to place the burro’s tail on the counter and back away slowly. I decided to keep any other ideas to myself. I might have said too much already.

“You have to understand,” Gretchen proceeded, “this plant must assimilate to its surroundings. If you were to transfer it, well…we can’t have it stressed now, can we? Understand?” She spoke in that slow, condescending tone one might use while teaching a simpleton how to butter toast. “It likes the coziness of the small pot. It likes to be a little root bound. And it has to become familiar with its new location for at least a year before you give any thought to transplanting it.”

The only way I was going to get out of the store with this plant was to humor her.

“Ohhhhh!” I said, as though the lights had just come on. “Yes. Yes. Of course. I get it. Absolutely. That’s exactly what I’ll do!”

“Great.” She seemed satisfied. “Is there anything else I can get for you today?” she asked.

“Actually…come to think of it…I do need a six inch pot for a geranium on my patio.” This was now the second lie I had to tell just to buy a silly little eleven dollar cactus. But was I being too obvious? No. Gretchen fell for it. Who’s the simpleton now?

She retreated to another part of the store and came back with two pots. “This one is five and three quarters. This one is six and two eighths.”

Gretchen The Expert was nothing if not precise.

“Six and two eighths did you say? I’ll take that one,” I told her.

I paid in cash so they wouldn’t know my name. Walking briskly to my car, I glanced over my shoulder. Had they put two and two together? Did they figure out what I was going to do with that six inch pot the minute I got home? Would they try to stop me in the parking lot? I picked up the pace.

My burro’s tail is thriving and assimilated to its new six and two eighths pot. It is happy, well-adjusted and, above all, relaxed. In fact, just the other day, it told me it appreciates its slightly bigger container and was surprised to find that being a little root bound isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Then it thanked me for this new perspective.

I love it here!

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