Plant Obsession Stories: A "Botany of Desire" Contest

These are stories submitted by our readers, describing times they were obsessed with a plant. This contest was run in honor of the new movie, "The Botany of Desire", airing on PBS on October 28.

Thanks to all who shared their story with us!

Peas in the Middle of the Night

Suzanne Santos

It was the coldest night of the year, in January of 2001. Yet I was cozy in a restaurant full of people and good food celebrating an annual fundraiser of Sustainable Food Center, where I still work. I was worried about my peas, though.

Young, ankle-high sugar snap peas planted for early spring harvest suffering in the biting winds hitting 20 degrees later than night (not a usually Texas night, even in winter).

Upon leaving the party about 11:30 pm and driving 25 miles home to Kyle, Texas, in a skimpy evening dress, I did nothing but worry all the way home about the peas.

When I got home, I threw on a jacket, slipped on some gym pants and farm shoes while still wearing the dress, and cajoled my then-husband to help me wrap up the peas in row cover, using clothes pins to latch it down in the winds.

That spring, we were the only area farm that had peas.

Love with the Proper Peony

Mary Vanderwoude

I once had a garden, and though I live in the city now, I have a few metropolitan compensations in the form of botanical gardens to keep me warm, mostly I remember my very own peony that played so hard to get. She kept me in suspense for three full years.

I bought "her" with the naive expectation that I would have flowers in my garden that spring, and then it was to be the next and then the next. At the end of each season her leaves would curl up and get brown, and I was ready to pull the plug when in the spring of the fourth year, she got green buds and pink blooms and then giant blush flowers the size of cabbage heads. The fragrance of the flowers was almost obscene it was so sweet. And as if to compensate for being such a late bloomer, she gave me more more and more flowers each spring for 10 anniversaries after that.

Then I moved. I never met the family that inherited my beloved peony, but I hope that they appreciate her. I cannot pass a florist shop or farmers market selling peonies and even silk ones in department stores without comparing them to mine. They never quite live up to mine. How could they?

Some Things Just Weren't Meant to be Grown in the South.

Debbie Hill

Some things just weren't meant to be grown in the south....in Marietta, Georgia to be exact.

I am a "seed freak" and like nothing more than to grow unusual plants from seed. I also like to take cuttings and root hard-to-grow-from-seed plants such as rosemary, lavender, etc. Well, tea tree comes from Australia, and apparently it grows there quite well. I have tried everything to get seedlings growing. First they come up, and they look great! Then out of nowhere, they damp off and die. I finally managed to get a few to "hang in there" and then they got too dried out and died! Now, i have one plant left, it's one I "forgot about" (or gave up on??) and it is doing well on it's own, thank you, without my interference! I do have to bring it inside in the winter, as it is what they call a "tender" perennial. Two years now, it's still hanging in there! :-) Thanks for letting me share my story!

The Sun Shone Brighter

Angela Davis

Once upon a time, the sun shone brighter, the days were longer, summer smelled sweeter and nothing brought me more joy than tending garden with my Grandma. Those magical days filled with weeding, watering, chopping and harvesting. The smell of flowers in the air, grass under the toes and Grandma's love all around. I learned so much about gardening, people and life in general in those days; how to love, how to treat others (and myself), how to build relationships. I also learned harsher life lessons such as being frustrated when dogs lie in flowerbeds, irritated when neighborhood kids taunted me and sadened when learning to deal with loss.

Those days helped prepare me for many of life's ups and downs and especially when I inherited my Grandma's plants. No one else wanted to be accountable for killing her beautiful legacy so the task came to me. All those summer days following her around with a mini watering can had given me the green thumb of the family. There were potted geraniums, spider plants, anuuals, perenials, and a philodendron over 20 years old. And most fondly, her Angel Winged Begonia that grew taller than me (at age 30). I pruned back each beautiful plant every Fall and witnessed the miracle of renewal each Spring.

That is until I moved cross country. I painsakenly divided each plant, giving every family member a mini version just in case the drive from North Carolina to Arizona was too much. After careful packing, my cat, my sister and I drove the 2400 miles over 3 days. Upon reaching our new home, I nurtured the philodentron, who florished over the past 6 years. I loved the green annuals and flowering perenials. But no amount of love, patience, fertilizer nor tears saved that Angel Winged Begonia. My Mom and sister still has a rooting so when I move back East I'll again be able to enjoy the beauty of a cutting but the loss of my Grandma's favorite still causes me pain.

Many years have passed since those summer's days filled with memories; both happy and sad; glorious and melancholy. Memories that fill my mind today with love at remembering my Grandma's flowers.

It's More Than Just One...

Brad Weiser

This is not a story about any one plant that has taken over my life...It's about all of them...It's about a whole farm. Or maybe at least about the farming way of life.

My family used to have the best farm in the whole world. Or at least in MY whole world. It was acres of apples, peaches, plums, pears, cherries, blueberries, cantaloupe, watermelons and every vegetable imagineable from asparagus to zuchinni. As kids, we tilled soil, planted seeds, pulled weeds, trimmed suckers, picked eveything by hand and just plain worked our tails off. And we had no clue of the foundation that all that was laying.

Those days don't exist anymore. The beginning of the downward spiral started when we were informed that our stone fruit had Plum Pox and it all had to go, and we couldn't re-plant, and we couldn't argue about it. To a farming family, this was quite a shock and we did not know how to adjust. We planted other things in the place of all of that stone fruit but it was not the same. We had lost some versatility in our product mix and lost one of our biggest earners. Then came some pretty serious debt, aging of the workforce and the inherent bitterness that comes when things don't go as well as you are used to them going. It forced the kids away and it forced wedges between the remaining family members.

Now the patriarch has aged and needs significant healthcare and the succession plan was poor so those assets are going to be liquidated. And I am not ready to let it go. I love it now more than ever. I walk the fields with renewed purpose. I take a closer notice of growing trends. I love the smell of tilled soil and the look of rows upon rows of freshly plated vegetables and sapling fruit trees. I love the challenge of finding recipes for things that some people are not familiar working with. And I love to talk farm and food with patrons of our ramshackle market.

It isn't protection of just one plant or one variety...it's the preservation of a lifestyle that motivates my agricultural heart. I want my kids to grow up the same way and that is a phrase that I could not have imagined myself saying in the past.

50 Ways to Love Your Leaves

LIsa Treadaway/The Little Herb House

I am obsessed with the awe-inspiring group of plants called herbs! They always give back so much more than I invest into them. What's not to love about them - their aroma, flavor, medicinal qualities, aromatherapy, beauty and the intriguing lore and history of them. In fact there are so many ways to enjoy herbs, I have written a booklet called "50 Ways to Love Your Leaves" (instead of Leave Your Lover, as Paul Simon would have us do)!

After my youngest daughter (of three girls) started school, I decided that I would be bored to death with no one at home during the day. So, I go out and buy some herbs, buy a book about how to grow and use them, and plant a small herb garden. That was pretty much YEAR 1.

YEAR 2: I discover that my all-knowing husband has "Rounded-Up" my herb garden!! When questioned about the whys of spraying my herb garden, he says, "They all look like weeds to me!" I was so upset that he promised to help build raised beds of herbs the next season. True to his promise, he built 2 raised beds of 15' X 3'. I planted more herbs and read more books.

YEAR 3: I decide that I love these plants so much, I want to convert a huge parcel of our horse pasture into an herb garden! I also decide that one of the old stables needs to be converted into an herb barn where I will teach classes and house a gift shop to sell all the wonderful herb products I am making. "The Little Herb House" is born - my fourth child!!

The wheels turn and the garden is planted and the barn is renovated!

YEAR 4: The herb garden has grown from the original 6' X 6' (that was sprayed with Round-Up) to 100' X 100' !!! My husband says he wishes he would have never sprayed Round-Up on my original herb garden! An additional acre is planted with herbs, flowers and vegetables! A greenhouse is built to propagate more herbs! And the old horse barn now houses a treasure-house full of herbal pleasures! The Little Herb Hosue opens for business!!

YEAR 5: I literally try to do all "50 Ways to Love Your Leaves!"

The Little Herb House is filled with all the "50 Ways" to sell. Customers start coming out to our farm; magazines and newspapers begin to write stories about me; and my "fouth child" is growing and prospering. I am definitely not bored anymore!

YEARS 6-9: I am loving what I do!! Who would have thought that so many doors would be opened from just growing plants that smell and taste good? I have taught hundreds of others to love and appreciate these plants; I have witnessed our best friend's daughter get married in the middle of my herb garden; and most importantly, I have offered a venue to allow others to escape the grind of daily living and come out to the farm to relax and enjoy the bounty offered by these plants!

I don't know what my plants think about me . . . I hope they love me as much as I love them! They probably wonder why I still struggle with the right amounts of water, sunshine, feeding and proper care. I wonder why I still struggle with the right amounts of these with my now teenage daughters! With the exception of my family, this humble group of plants connects me to the Earth and all her rhythms more than any other thing. I know that God created them just for us to enjoy! And I think He created us to take care of His garden - especially herbs!!

The Giant Tented Pumpkin

Andrea Caron

It began with a seed, as all plants do. Of particular interest with this plant was that it had been given to us, entrusted that is, to us, by the "Great Pumpkin Grow-off" party organizers. A summer long led up to a fall party, in which twenty four pumpkins were dispersed to the community to grow.

Determined to have the largest pumpkin, we manicured the plant daily. Mixed delightful buckets of compost tea, covered it at the slightest spring cool night, and researched all we could about pumpkin growing.

A tip we had heard was to protect the pumpkin, now beach ball size, from getting sunburned. "Really?!? Pumpkins can get sunburned" I thought. Sure thing, and when they do the shell starts to harden, and stops growing in size. My interest was piqued.

For most of August, my husband and I took turns walking out to the patch to peek at the pumpkin, and in the morning, cover it with a t-shirt to prevent from any burning. The dilemma came when we were to leave for a ten day vacation. Who will put the t-shirt on each day? Do we just leave it on? Is that ok? Questions tumbled in our mind, until at last, the a-ha moment, and we built a tent for it. The perfect marriage of what we needed: shade during the day, and uncovered at night - just as the book said.

It worked; our pumpkin tent. The results of the largest pumpkin are yet to be determined, but we were more relaxed on our vacation knowing the pumpkin was well taken care of by a simple covering of an old t-shirt type tent.

Strawberry Bliss

Trinkle Jones

I loved strawberries when I was a "tween (still do). I was astonished to find them sprinkled among the wild grasses on the steep hillside behind our house. Such tiny plants, tiny blooms, and yes, tiny berries. They were a rich and deep scarlet, so succelent, so flavorful. Many an afternoon, year after year, I was determined to gather enough for the family dessert. I promised my mother I'd be back in a few hours with the best strawberries she'd ever taste. Year after year, I failed miserably, returning home with scarlet lips and fingers. They were the best berries she'd ever taste, if she had ever gotten any. . .

You Say Tomato....

Desiree Hall

You say tomato, I say it's my little baby and you better not touch it!! I started gardening for the first time this year. I'm not sure what my biggest inspiration was, the fact that I love cooking and the idea of being able to snip my own lettuce and pick my own tomatoes was really appealing or if it was the super cute pots that I caught on sale. Didn't really matter, because I was motivated!!

Bubbling over with inspiration and ambition, I registered for a class on how to grow tomatoes taught by a self-proclaimed tomato expert. Armed with this knowledge, I then purchased 5 little tomato seedlings of various type, mostly romas and cherries, although I thought I would try my hand at growing Brandywine, an heirloom variety. I bought special soil in addition to compost and feed, watered them, moved them into the sun, then out of the sun. Looked their leaves over every night. Then they outgrew the pots that they were in, so I rushed off to the hardware store to buy something more suitable. Armed with two giant half wine barrels and 6 bags of new soil, I replanted my precious tomato vines, the whole time suffering immense heartache as I hear vines snap from their forceful relocation and then hope for the best. As they grow and grow and grow some more, laden with the beautiful little flowers that I'm hoping are all going to turn into delicious homegrown tomatoes, I spot it! My first little tomato! I was so excited I immediately grabbed my phone and took pictures for e-mails and facebook! I was so proud of my progeny! I watched all of my vines carefully, then I started noticing that there were holes in their leaves...but being of the organic mindset, I didn't want to do anything rash. I mean, how much could whatever this thing was possible eat? And we are all of one world, one universe and we all have to eat, so feeling sympathetic for the hungry little critter, I decided to share what little bit of my tomato leaves it might want. Then, after installing tomato cages to contain the vines that were growing and growing and growing some more, I started noticing that there were weird indentions in my soil. Whatever could that be, I wondered. Hmmm. Will have to remain vigilant. Then, one day, I notice that my beautiful vines are finally developing lots of fruit! But the one that I am most excited about is my big, beautiful Brandywines! I gloated and bragged. Called my grandmother and informed her of all the gourmet tomato sauce that I was going to can this year because I was laden with fruit. Everyone in my family--in my life--was aware of my brand new green thumb. And they were jealous. I could just see it in their faces. I was king of my backyard garden!

Then, just as the Brandywines were beginning to develop the lightest blush and my salivary glands were going into overdrive, I notice it. THERE ARE GIANT BITE MARKS IN MY TOMATO!!! Wait! THERE ARE GIANT BITE MARKS IN ALL OF MY TOMATOES! NOOOOOOO!!!! How can this be? What was doing this? I look around only to discover a seemingly cute squirrel sitting on my roof, giving me the finger and saying, "So long, sucka! Thanks for the meal!". Filled with rage and vowing to seek revenge, I declared war. Off to the gardening center, where after hearing my tales of woe, I was mocked relentlessly. Then told there was nothing I could do. I tried the black pepper powders. He used it as a condiment. I tried roping things off, I tried shiny reflective paper, I let my dog pee on the barrels. This squirrel didn't care. He just continued to eat--and continued to aid and abet the green horned worms that were eating all leaves. My tomatoes didn't stand a chance against them. And as much as I wanted to poison them all, I didn't. Because I can buy tomatoes at a Farmers Market and that little bastard squirrel and those disgusting worms can't.

Never did get a Brandywine. Will try again next year. Maybe. I mean, probably. If I can recover from the trauma.

First Desire

Joan Deckman

My mother says I was around 3 yrs old............. I remember walking out my grandparents back door into their small Atlantic City garden that was fenced in. I walked down a brick pathway, plants tickling my legs, and found a small arbor with a tiny bench. I sat down, gazed around, and fell in love with plants and flowers. The feeling was so intense that it has remained with me to this day. Forty seven years later I'm still planting, smiling and in love with nature!

The Ice Storm

Randall Dutton

I had a greenhouse/garden center in Southeast kansas started in 1998. One small greenhouse and one large Stuppy Power house powered by eletricity and natural gas. One winter we had an ice storm that knocked out power to a large area including our home and greenhouse. Temperatures were predicted to get well below freezing that night and although we had natural gas we had no electricity to run the heaters or the fans. We had to heat our house by turning on the gas stove and periodically then shutting it off after a short while opening the door to let out just enough heat to keep from freezing to death. My wife, kids, and I slept by that gas stove. There were no generators to purchase for miles around because they got snatched up quickly. We already had a small generator that I thought I could hook up to the electrical system to at least provide some heat to the plants.

It was February and we were well into the season of having small plants already growing in the greenhouse. In fact the greenhouse was full to the brim of the kind of plants that have to be started early, such as geraniums and such. I tried and tried to hook up that generator but could not get it to work. We had a wood burning furnace in the greenhouse but it had an electric fan and so could not distribute the heat far from itself. I finally gave up about midnight and closed and locked the door saying a little prayer for at least some of the plants to survive. Then I went to bed with visions of brown plants greeting me in the morning. All night tree limbs could be heard cracking and crashing to the ground or into our roof. I tossed and turned all night worrying. When I awakened in the morning I went out and there was not one plant damaged. I can only assume that the ice coating that covered the outside of the plastic greenhouse insulated it just enough to retain enough heat to keep the warmth from the earth from dissipating . We did not lose one plant, thankfully.

The Tornado

Randall Dutton

I had a greenhouse in Southeast kansas started in 1998. One year we had a tornado go through about May right after many of my customers had purchased their tomato plants and such and had them in the ground. After the tornado, I had customer after customer come in and tell me stories of how their plants were ruined. One fellow even came in and said that the tornado had uprooted his tomato plants pulling them right out of the ground. He had made a pretty substantial purchase of vegetable plants and after hearing his story he had come in to repurchase his vegetable plants. After he relayed his story to me he picked out his plants and came to the cash register and began to pay for them, but I said no don't worry about it. "It's on the house."

After word of this spread I had several people come in with similar stories and I replaced every plant for free to anyone that had been affected by the tornado. I'm sure that some of the people took advantage of the situation. But I did not care because the publicity and good will that we received from that simple gesture assured many loyal customers after that. We didn't ,make as much money as we could have that year but the good will made up for it because I think in the following years I saw many of the same faces happily coming to purchase plants from us for years to come.

The Infamous Babaco

Rebeka Vega Gonzalez

When I was taken my Master degree at the University of Delaware. I choose to work with a plant that is a natural hybrid called Babaco. This is a highland female papaya plant with grows in the Andean valleys in Ecuador. It was called Carica pentagona, by the botanist Heilborn. The most remarkable cite that I found was in Bot. Absts. Vol VII, Genetics, page 124 as " 848. Anonymous. A mule in the vegetable kingdom. Tropic. Life 16:139. 1920.

According to the London correspondent of the North Queensland Register, Mr. F.J. Moore, of Lion Creek in the Rock Hampton district of Queenland reports an apparent hybrid between banana and paw-paw. A clump of bananas growing in a close proximity to a small paw-paw tree produced a bunch of fruit which look like small plantains, but on being opened they were found to contain seeds resembling paw-paw seeds. H.N. Vinall". Later, Wilson Popenoe had reported in 1924 in Economic Fruit-bearing Plants of Ecuador, as

"the most remarkable and valuable of the several interesting species of Carica cultivated in Ecuador... The plant is propagated only by cutting, and has not been observed in a wild state. Its is said that its introduction into southern Ecuador ( the Azuay and Loja) has been effected in recent years; plant are believed to have been carried to these regions from Ambato."
Also has a picture of the tree with the farmer and his daughter, that in my opinion is one of the ancestors of the Mera family that still lives over here in the neighborhood (Nat. Herbarium, Vol 24. Pt 5, Plate 46).

This crop lead me to an International Peace Scholarship in 1987, to the best research paper award on Tissue Culture of Babaco, Carica pentagona, Hielborn, for the Am. Soc. for Horticultural Science in 1988, to a grant of 150.000 dollars on Projects of Science and Technology Cooperation (PSTC 7.340 USAID NAS) in 1989. This grant helps me to develop a plant tissue culture laboratory in AMDE Corporation in Ambato, Ecuador for the rescue of endanger of extinction Andean food crops. Also took me to international seminars to Aspen, Colorado, U. of Davis California, U. of Purdue on Indiana, San Jose of Costa Rica, to be in touch with the world scientist community that had similar PSTC projects.

The babaco is growing now in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Pakistan, California, New Jersey. It is possible you may cross in the market with a gigantic yellow fruit, that looks more like a football than a banana, that is BABACO. One is laying in the fruit basket in my dinning table... surrounded me with an unique and wonderful smell of citric and strawberry aromas that makes my day.

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