My mom’s greenhouse was always packed with plants, a miniature rainforest on two metal shelves jutting out above our kitchen sink. Spiny plants with thick rubbery leaves; African violets with tauntingly soft but oversensitive velvety leaves; something feathery inside a foggy plastic bubble that required watering through the hole at the top; and a stubby brown root topped with a high ponytail of cascading green leaves.
Some had been with my parents since they were first married in the early 1970s, traveling to Washington State from Illinois from the impossible to imagine time before I was born – a time as distant to me as the old growth forests. “A plant can live that long? Longer than me?” I thought. “No way.”
The greenhouse window was a staple of my childhood. Everyone had one in my 1980s subdivision, though not everyone used theirs for gardening. My babysitter kept hers stacked with mail and the Playdoh masterworks of her charges (mine included – I was a virtuoso with garlic press “hair” on my snowman-like people).
But for us and others who filled it with plants, the window offered a green growing barrier to the outside; something alive in a world that was otherwise dramatically altered and built up by humans. And maybe it was also a bit of longing for another place, a way to nurture something that otherwise had no business growing in the temperate Northwest.
The image of that window popped into my head this morning on my way to work. Unbidden but there and strangely vivid. I could see nearly every plant, and remember the hours my mom spent carefully taking each down from the shelf and varying her watering to meet their specific needs (no water on the leaves of the violets!). Do houses even have greenhouse windows anymore? I couldn’t recall the last time I saw one.
My own plants sit on a windowsill and the floor, enjoying the view, maybe, but missing the camaraderie of the packed greenhouse window.