How Not to Care for Your Plant

This is Arabella.
This is Arabella. // WEEKEND

In college, we face challenges every day. For example, every time I come home, I’m reminded that I have no idea how to take care of the plant in my room.

It was really important to my parents that they buy me a plant for my junior year — I think they thought I would be lonely in my single (I’m not lonely, and the plant is stressful). But while perusing the rows of pots at Ikea, I experienced what I imagine adoptive parents feel when scrolling through pictures of potential babies online. Eventually I settled on a two-foot tall leafy, but nondescript specimen I decided to call “Arabella.”

But in this excitement, I forgot something very important: I am not good at keeping anything alive. I come from a stock of good midwestern farmers (or at the very least, Jews who sometimes cut their own lawns and grow tomatoes in elevated garden beds). I cannot even keep a small basil seedling from Whole Foods growing for more than a few days. I have never personally been responsible for something larger. A potted plant is a big commitment.

My parents gave me detailed instructions on when to water my plant, and how much. And then they left. They still function as a kind of emergency response team, replying quickly to S.O.S. picture messages of my plant’s ailments, such as when her leaves suddenly started to turn yellow. But the responsibility for the plant’s health is pretty much all mine. And I seem to be failing.

My current situation reminds me of the time in high school when my boyfriend bought me two fish. I managed to kill one of them (the one named after him, I assumed) within a week. Luckily, the pet shop had a return policy, and I received another fish in exchange for the carcass. This one died too. So did the one named after me. Within a few days, the fish tank was empty.

Part of the problem with my plant might be that I keep forgetting her name, and that I forget to water her at least every other week. I set an alert for Sunday at 1 p.m. that reminds me, with many exclamation points, that Arabella needs my love. But I usually ignore my phone’s vibrations.

And so, nearly two months into my role as caregiver for my baby palm tree, I have to admit that I am not very good at this. I can’t remember if I am supposed to leave the blinds open for her to soak up the sunshine or protect her from its harmful rays. (Is there SPF for our green leafy friends?) And I may as well confess that she looks nothing like a baby palm tree; I have no idea what kind of plant Arabella is.

If I ever had to re-pot her, I would have no clue what to do. My dean wouldn’t help, and I have never responded to those emails from my personal librarian.

And, so I wonder, whom do you ask when things like this happen to you? Well, the words above my byline say this column is called “Ask Rebecca,” so I’d like to propose that you send your questions to me. I’d like to think that I’m better with people than plants.

Think of me as a non-anonymous, less snarky RumpChat who’s a little more out-of-touch. Or a friend who doesn’t ever really text you back in time with the answer you need. But I’m still there for you. We can even get personal if you want; I’m ready to commit. I have a lot of opinions to share with you and am very excited to do so.

Sometimes it’s embarrassing to have to ask our parents and Google for help. We all have moments when we don’t know where to study, how to revive a lethargic Kombucha culture, or what to wear to a Lumberjack-themed screw. I’ll only write every other week or so, so it’s unlikely I will be able to help you solve all your problems, but you may as well ask. I may not know enough to answer every question you submit, but I fully plan on pulling a Pippa Middleton and convincing you that I do. Hopefully I’ll do a better job at this than she does in her column for Vanity Fair.

But this can be a two-way street: if you have any advice for me on how to repair things with Arabella, I’ll gladly receive that as well. I’ve been petting her as I write this, and it seems like she might be enjoying it.

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