I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Thirty Years of Friendship with a Plant

Sometimes a plant means more to us than simple beauty.

This lovely zygo cactus has been with me for probably eighteen years now, since my son asked me to look after it while he was tripping overseas. But I've followed its life for much longer.

I remember when it belonged to my favourite Aunt Edith, a wonderfully artistic woman who made hats and the most exquisite clothing. She trained as a milliner as a young girl when hats were absolute confections, made individually and with great skill.

My own mother and Edie were always great friends. Edie gave her the zygo about 1980 and soon after moved to Perth where she died in 1998 at the age of 90 years.

The plant remained close to Mum's heart and she even took it to the nursing home in the late 1980s where she tended it with loving care, even though very ill.

She had a small stand of pot plants outside her bedroom, and the zygo was there too. Most days the home gardener would bring her a small can of water and Mum would struggle, breathing heavily, to a chair placed nearby the plants.

In between many rests she would inspect her pots, remove any stray weed or dead flower, and douse them with water.

It was one huge effort.

Poor Mum died a sad death in 1988 and my son Geoff asked if he could have the zygo in her memory. He loves plants as much as she did.

I remember it was in a white ceramic pot then. Geoff took it to his digs where he worked for the Department of Agriculture at a research facility, so it thrived.

I think it was late in 1991 that Geoff asked me to look after our zygo while he tripped overseas, as many young Australians do as a sort of rite of passage. I've had it ever since.

The zygo is more than double in size than when I first saw it. Every year since it's been in my possession it has flowered right on Geoff's birthday - May 27. It was as though a dependable gift.

This year though there were no flowers on the zygo on May 27. I hoped that this little ritual would not be broken, but I needed to wait two full weeks before the first bud burst into a pink bloom.

I wonder if climate change had something to do with this late coming?

How is climate change affecting the environment around you?


  1. Such an interesting post, June. And such pretty flowers.

    Yes, this year , climate change seems to be causing lots of changes. Here in Mumbai, our monsoons are already 12 days overdue; my apartment is so hot , you can probably bake a cake just keeping something in the living room, and they are already talking about water-cuts in Mumbai, as most of the lakes are drying up...

  2. Good to see you Suranga ...There does seem to be so much evidence just in everyday life - and yet there are still climate change skeptics out there ...

  3. Hi June, I truly loved this post. The plant is beautiful but sharing your mum was lovely. Your son and I share the same birthday, May 27
    is when I turned 62. I don't mind telling my age or getting older. Every day brings new challenges and promises which I look forward to and enjoy....Life is good my friend.
    Have a great weekend.....:-) Hugs

  4. What a wonderful post June. I loved learning more about your family. Your son has the same Birthday as my best friend. Beautiful plant. My daughter and I pass long lived plants back and forth also. I have many cactus I am partial too

  5. Good on you Bernie - as I've said somewhere before, wisdom only comes with age I reckon - so we should be proud.

    A Gemini eh? AND a yellow sports car!

  6. Cactus and succulents are great plants Linda - hardy, and they sure don't need much water - so important these days.

    I have a little garden of them out the front with about a dozen different varieties. They look magic.

  7. This is very inspiring, June. Life is full of such beautiful moments when we can bond with living and non living things and when we have such wonderful plants by our side to provide us with company and memories from times gone by, life becomes meaningful.

  8. Thanks Mampi.
    Lot's of memories here for me ...

  9. Hi June

    I was photographing one of these zygos at my friends place - I had given it to her and it is flourishing like yours, and then mesmerised by it went to the nursery and bought myself a new one, but each of the little buds fell off or shrivelled...What Have I done - too hot, too much water?

    Yours has a memorable and touching provenance.

    Happy Days

  10. I posted after you on Bernie's blog. Decided to take a look at "you"! I was hooked after reading you profile! I'll be back when I have time to go beyond this zygo story (could it be we call it "Christmas cactus" in U.S.?)...

    I like the way you described the varied phases of your life. I can identify with that perspective. One is either destroyed or made resilient by the phases! Looks like you are MARVELOUSY resilient. Somehow, it invigorates me to see you flourishing in this particular phase.

    I'll tag along from time to time to gain perspective and exercise my brain by learning new things from you.

  11. This is a beautifully romantic type of story. One could almost right a Nicolas Sparks kind of book about it. Does it have a name?

    It amazes me plants can actually live that long. I've got a philodendron I've kept in various stages of existence for four years. I got it when my step-dad died as a funeral present. I can't take much credit for it's health as phili's are quite stout.

    Thanks for the inspiration and thank you for your encouraging posts on my blog. I look forward to them.

  12. oh June, I love this post...I had a "tree friend" when I was in the US and I know how our green buddies can "grow on us". (excuse the lame pun..)

    The climate change is effecting my husband more than anything right now... he gets so cranky when it is hot... (Right now he is happy because we have the fan on!) LOL

    I think the cherry blossoms aren't lasting as long as they used to, the flowers fell off really fast this year!

  13. What a neat cactus...I have Christmas Cactuses here that I wait to see bloom...sometimes they bloom all the way from Xmas to Easter!
    I have missed your regular blog posts versus stories posted.....

  14. I'm with you on this one. I hate the way plants are treated as disposable items, they deserve to be cared for and kept for many years. We are having a wet and windy Scottish summer at the moment which seems to have been the trend for the past few years.

  15. June--what a wonderful story! The weather has been a bit strange this spring--we have had almost 12 inches of rain in June alone. Hope you and your zygo continue to thrive--best c

  16. Climate change has, so far, been fairly benign here.

    In the UK winters have been milder so there have been fewer losses to frosts and, I think, a slightly longer growing season. Things do seem to be lusher.

    However, the autumn colours of leaves don't seem so vivid. Does a good frost enhance the colour of old leaves?

    And we are starting to get larger creepy crawlies surviving the winters too.

    My wife and daughter don't like that trend; goodness knows what they'd do if they lived in Australia.

    Talking of longevity in plants. I have a bonsai. Hope it sees me out.

  17. Maybe old age? : ) I too have such a plant that had belonged to my mother-in-law. It is now two plants and still going strong though it blooms sporadically!

  18. Hi June, We are having more rain than ever before and the humidity is awful here for this time of the year and storms, too. I would like a normal summer! That cactus is just awesome it is so pretty. I am sure you love having it with you and when you look at it you remember good times with all the people who owned it before you. What a great story.

  19. Hi DELWYN
    That's sad about your zygo. Ours thrives in mostly shade. It certainly doesn't like to have very wet feet. As with most succulents and cactus, it's important to have well drained soil.

    I feed ours occasionally with a liquid fertiliser, and right now it would probably be happier in a slightly bigger basket.

    Was yours healthy when you bought it? Did you look for any signs of insects? I understand that they can get scale - so look out for that if you buy a new one. Did you hang it in full sun? That's a big no-no.

    My daughter Lynne tells me that zygos are better off in strong light without sun during the day, and that they like long periods of darkness at night to flower well. So that means you don't hang them in a spot where they are in light at night - from a street lamp for instance.

    We have a far better chance with plants from a nursery that keeps plants in fresh air and looks after them carefully. Supermarket plants can be disastrous - air conditioning is the last thing they need.

  20. What a stunning picture June! I get a kick just out of admiring it on your blog.

    I left my divine Boston fern too close to the edge of the verandah last week and a horrible Central Tableland frost burnt one side of it badly. Painful lesson for me. After 17 years here you'd think I'd learn.

  21. Hello REBECCA
    It sounds as though the Zygo cactus could be called 'Christmas' in the US of A - you're the second to remark on that and I'd say if it flowers in June here it's likely to flower at your place in December.

    I think I am resilient - I sometimes believe I'd have to be, to still want to get out of bed! Although I hasten to say that a lot more people than I have had downers in their lives, I'm quite sure.

    The 'phases' I spoke about in my profile were not age or date related. I quickly chose some of the more impactful events, although certainly not all of them in such a short piece.

    I do think resilience is among the more important of human characteristics. If we can't pick ourselves up, dust off and get on with it, the first puff of wind would knock us out.

    Well Rebecca I don't know what you'll 'learn' here - only time will tell.

    No - no name for this story. I agree that it could be expanded a lot more. I wrote it in probably fifteen minutes.

    My 'real' stories are much more developed. Have you peeked at Journeys in Creative Writing (link above)?

    I think that plants are a wonderful way to remember someone - and certainly last longer than a cut bunch.

    I have a cutting of our zygo in another pot and intend taking more in the spring when I will put our friend in a larger container.

    The lineage must continue.

  23. TULSA
    Cherries like cold weather don't they? Yours may be reacting to the warmer temperatures. We can't even grow them in our area of Oz.

    It does look as though your Christmas cactus is what is called zygo here. Someone in the US has commercialised them?

    My short stories are on my other web site Journeys in Creative Writing - there are one or two here, but my novel et al are on Journeys.

  25. JENNY
    I went to our local growers' market this morning and it was pouring with rain in a month which is supposed to be dry here.

    In my neck of the woods we're lucky. Many other parts of Oz are still in severe drought.

    Even so, the growers were very glum indeed - we've had HUGE amounts of wet weather this year. One farmer said she couldn't even get out onto the paddock to harvest.

    Everything seems to be turning upside down.

  26. JUDY
    Yes our plant brings many memories ...

    Climate changes in Kentucky too eh?

    How old is your bonsai? I saw some 400 years old in Japan - trees which were still but a metre tall.

    Generations of dedicated gardeners had looked after them. So you've got a good chance of having yours outlive you!

    We rarely have deciduous coloured leaves here in the north of New South Wales but our national capital (Canberra) which is known for its freezing temperatures (by our standards) has wonderful coloured autumns.

    We certainly have creepy crawlies, but it's even worse as one moves further north.I used to live in Sydney and wouldn't kill an ant before I moved. Here it's a different matter.

    Even so, we humans are good at insect screens and doors and it's no real problem in residential areas. As with everything, one gets used to the occasional spider or lizard.
    By far the majority of our wild life is pretty benign really.

  28. Hi DOGWALK
    You mean you have a zygo or Christmas cactus? Perhaps you need to re-pot them and provide a juicy dose of liquid fertiliser? Could bring more flowers ...

    Twelve inches of rain already! How much more than usual is that?

    Thanks for the good wishes ...

  30. The Bonsai is certainly a bit short of 400 years.

    Maybe It will have to become a family heirloom; passed down generations.

    You're right about most creatures being benign. Even those that seem dangerous are normally only dangerous if they perceive us as a threat or food.

  31. A lovely post! So many memories kept alive by the zygo.

  32. Nice post. I have never been able to keep a cactus for more than a couple of months.
    As far as weather is concerned - it has been a miserable summer with no respite. The apartment is so hot. We are dependent on the rains and to date the rainfall has been only 45% of normal and that is real bad news for us. Aren't we all in someway contributing to global warming!

  33. LADYFI
    Yes - memories and beauty wrapped up in one parcel!

  34. RHADA
    Sorry about your heat and rain problems.
    Yes we all certainly do contribute to global warming. That's probably a reason why we should all try to do just a bit to reduce the impact in our own lives.

  35. june--rainiest june we have had in at least ten years--rumor has it the sun is going to shine this weekend--best c

  36. rightly said June..if we have planted or if we look after a plant, a bond grows between them and so do the plant.

  37. C.M. JACKSON
    It's been much the same here too. All of this evidence throughout the world makes you wonder more than ever why our governments don't really get into the climate change situation with ALL of their might ...

    I agree.
    I'm one of those people who don't rule out the possibility that plants really do enjoy a bit of demonstrated love - and respond accordingly.

  39. I have been having trouble commenting so hope this works.

    Both your children must love plants June. And what wonderful memories this plant must have for you. Oh I am glad its you and tht you have a green thumb. Lovely to think it was your mothers, sons and now with you. Beautiful flowers.

  40. Hi LILLY
    Yes, I have sometimes said that although I am not lucky enough to have grandchildren, at least I have plants!

    I wonder what's happening with my comments? A few people have said it's a problem here.

  41. What a wonderful story of one plant and those who have loved and cared for it. Hard to say why it bloomed later this year. How was the weather?

  42. Plants are behaving strangely in many parts of Australia ROBIN - blooming and fruiting at varying times, and the weather is erratic. Most of us put it down to climate change/global warming.

  43. Beautiful blooms and what a nice story!

    Sherry at EX Marks the Spot

  44. Welcome SHERRY
    I just visited your blog for the first time to discover that your husband died very recently. Perhaps there is a plant in your garden that was special to him ...
    I'm thinking of you in your loss.

  45. Thank you so much for visiting my blog, but most especially thank you for your comments and kind words.
    My husband wanted to plant a tree in our town; we received permission to plant the tree the day before he died. Now, it will be planted as a memorial to him.
    My heart still aches but I am glad we will be able to celebrate his life with this tree. He was my "everything."

    Sherry at EX Marks the Spot

  46. SHERRY
    What synchronisity there was in the fact that you visited my blog this week. Plants bring people together, in life and in memories.


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