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  • Vermilion Voice

Prairie Wool

Green thumbs

I really appreciate houseplants. Especially throughout the winter when spring becomes a foolish little dream. Of course, I’m not as good at growing them as some people, but I try. Sadly, there is one variety of plant I love but have never been able to keep alive – a Boston fern.

I have a friend that likes them too, and several years ago, she had a dandy. Each visit to her home, I’d see it sitting proudly in the front window; its emerald fronds sweeping her hardwood floor.

“His name is Klaus,” she’d said fondly, giving him a loving little spritz of water. After a few months, I asked for the secret to her success. Her eyes darted guiltily away, “To be honest, this is the fifth Klaus I’ve had.” She sighed deeply, “I can’t grow them either.”

As for me, I’d get one from a greenhouse and tend it lovingly, allowing myself bright hopes for its future, and then a leaf would flutter to the floor, and I’d know it was all over. Despite my best efforts, it soon became the spiny, lifeless husk I knew so well.

There was one time, however, when I was able to grow a wonderfully fertile specimen. It was in a cool place with indirect light. The soil was kept moist, and I gave it a good soaking with pure rainwater every month. I fertilized sparingly and frequently misted. By golly, it flourished!

Then one hot summer day, I stood at the window, watching my children playing outside. A smile crossed my lips as Chris came into view, leading his younger siblings on some wild adventure of destruction and mayhem, as was his custom. Turning, I glanced at my healthy fern and moved to fetch the water bottle. In this heat, it surely needed a drink.

Grabbing the mister from beneath the sink, I applied it generously, shining beads of moisture lingering on each lush green leaf. But wait! What was that smell? Why was the nose-wrinkling scent of Javex suddenly floating on the afternoon air? I lifted the bottle and took a whiff. Bleach?

“CHRISTOPHER!” I hollered out the door as I charged past with the fern. Plunking the poor thing into the tub, I started the shower. Maybe the poisonous effects could be rinsed away. Meanwhile, Chris appeared behind me with a carefully constructed look of innocence. He didn’t know why he’d been summoned, but applying his look of innocence was the safest bet until he figured it out.

“Why have I just misted my favorite plant with bleach?” I ground out between clenched teeth.

Jauntily, he began answering back, “I don’t know. Why have y—” until I fixed him with my own look, known to my kids as “the look of death.” He fell silent and took a sudden interest in his shoes. “Well, it might be because I put some in there to kill ants on the sidewalk,” he finally mumbled.

“WHAT?” I roared, and he scampered out the door, wisely not returning till suppertime when I’d cooled down.

In any case, the fern died, and that was the last one I grew. Just didn’t have the heart for it anymore. Give me a geranium or a nice succulent, even a hoya, and I’m good to go. Just keep those poor bloody ferns in Boston.

To contact Helen or to learn more about her stories and books go to

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