Remember Miss Piggy, who never ate anything she couldn’t lift? Although I like the jungly feeling that I get from being dwarfed by my houseplants, I apply Miss P’s standard to them—I won’t keep a plant that I can’t lift.
I have an ancient jade plant that has spent its life putting out one plump, thumb-shaped leaf after another, its stems thickening and lengthening until they draped over the sides of the pot, like an obese sort of ivy. I am a parsimonious waterer, especially of succulents, but over the years I had poured countless gallons of water into that plant, and most of that water was stored in those fat stems, those turgid leaves. The monster was nearly three feet across, and its branches hung so far down that I couldn’t set it on a table, but had to use a plant stand.
Yesterday I moved the jade plant from the bedroom to the sun room. I had to carry it at arm’s length to avoid breaking off any branches, and by the time we reached our destination my arms were shaking. (Later I asked my spouse to weigh the plant: 25 pounds—heavier than Bisou, even though it was in a light-as-air plastic pot.)
I saw right away that it was taking up too much room, crowding my beloved red and pink cordyline on the right, and the equally beloved giant peace lily on the left. I considered moving one of the rattan arm chairs out of the room, but there is no space anywhere in the cottage for an extra chair.
There was nothing for it but to prune the jade plant. I got my small pruning shears and a two-gallon bucket and went to work on those overgrown branches. They snapped with a satisfying pop, and I threw them into the bucket. When I was only a third of the way through the pruning, the bucket was full. Leaves and stems flew everywhere as I kept turning the pot, lopping off more branches. Was there no end to this plant?
There was. When the last drooping branch was off, my plant was transformed. Gone was the unkempt Medusa look, the disconsolate stems, the leaves which, despite my conscientious misting, had accumulated layers of dust. Instead, here was a perky, young-looking plant, its every stem pointing optimistically towards the sky. Where leaves and branches had crowded and choked each other, there was now plenty of what painters call negative space, into which the soon-to-come breezes of spring could waft unimpeded. The plant looked and seemed to feel the way I used to look and feel after an excellent haircut.
I gave the jade plant an extra thorough misting and left the room, the pruners still in my hand. Passing by the hall mirror I caught sight of my hair, which drooped down to my collar bones, forlorn, disheveled, and crying out for a trim. I looked down at the pruners ….