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Confessions of a Brown Thumb

Updated on July 25, 2009

Ssh, Brown Thumb at Work!

If you're sneaky enough, no one need ever find out you have a brown thumb!
If you're sneaky enough, no one need ever find out you have a brown thumb!

No Green Thumb Here

My name is Shirley Anderson. I am a brown thumb.

You have to understand that I don't set out to go through so many plants in a season. It's not something I am proud of but I can't help myself. God knows, I love gardening and I do the best I can but I've been down on my luck lately.

I know what you're thinking. "Why doesn't she just stop?" Some of my friends and family have suggested that I get help, they even sent a landscaper around to try and talk to me. They don't seem to realize how good it feels when I've planted a few too many. What a heady experience it is to see a flower bed cram-packed with blooms that may live as long as a week!

My husband always argues the expense of my habit and I suppose he's right but that very sensible approach does little to satisfy my addiction. This year, I decided that I must be more discreet about my plant consumption. For starters, when his birthday rolled around, there was a beautiful basket of plants waiting for him when he got home from work. He eyed me suspiciously and asked where I intended to bury them. I said, "You mean plant, don't you?"

"No, I mean bury. You might as well choose their final resting spot before you put them in the ground. And by the way, you're not very good at this, I know you bought those for yourself."

Okay, so it wasn't his best birthday ever. He'll get over it and the sight of those beautiful flowers in our front yard is bound to cheer him up! At least for a week or two, anyway.

Last month, I bought fifteen packets of seeds and filled up my sewing room with dozens of little pots for planting herbs and flowers. The gardening bill would be so low, I reasoned, that hubby would wonder how I did it. Best of all, he'd be off my back about the whole business. I could once again bring my thumb back out into the open.

The week that many of my seeds sprouted, I went out and purchased a nice new pair of gardening gloves in wild anticipation. On my way out of the store, I bought an African violet for my sewing room, you know, to celebrate the occasion. What could one hurt? The week the seedlings all died, I wallowed in devasted misery as I fretted over how I was going to manage all my re-planting needs throughout the summer.

Once my self-pity party was over, I was able to come up with a solution that I think has great potential. For a few hours a week now, I work at a local nursery. Don't worry, I don't give advice or plant anything, I just handle paperwork. We employees receive a discount, which actually leaves me a bit of money left from my pay cheque. I have devised a way to throw people off the scent and make them think that I could've stopped anytime I wanted to. It has worked so well thus far, in fact, that friends and loved ones now credit me with perserverance. They congratulate me for 'hanging in there' as long as it took to finally, successfully achieve a beautiful garden.

That's what they see and that's what I let them think. And as long as they don't stop by during the wee hours and catch me planting, they'll think my brown thumb has turned green.

Editor's Note

This article is a reprint from the March 1997 issue of the Old South Advocate.

It is true that I loved gardening, it is true that I worked at a nursery where I planted and did the paperwork. It is NOT true however, that I gave my husband a basket of flowers for his birthday, that was fabricated for the story and inspired by his gifts to me.  I just wanted to clear that up.

What Colour is Your Thumb?

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    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Aww, Imadork, I'm sorry to hear that you had the same luck with goldfish that I had with plants.

      When my son was little, we found his goldfish floating belly up one morning. He was really sad, but when we flushed it and the flushing made the fins move, he was devastated because he thought that we had killed him, flushing him down the toilet while still alive. Huge tears of heartbreak and guilt, I felt so bad for him.

      He didn't want any more for many years. I suspect it was the same perspective that you had. He felt like a murderer.

      Out of kindness to plants and my own ego, I don't grow much anymore.

      Thanks for sharing your touching story!

    • imadork profile image

      imadork 9 years ago from St. Peters, MO

      When I was a kid, my parents bought me a goldfish.  It died a couple of days later.  They bought me another one.  It too died soon after.  My parents, apparently think the 3rd times the charm, brought me home another one.  Of course, it died also. 

      They asked if I wanted another one.  Choking back tears I replied, "No.  I don't wanna kill anymore of them."



    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi Peggy: Yes, the Falls are gorgeous, even at night when they put the coloured lights on them.

      You know what? Sage was one of the plants that I had luck with. I dried the leaves in the fall and stored them in air-tight containers. I've tried to remember what location I planted it in (haven't had the herb garden in years) in case it gave a helpful clue, but I can't, sorry.

      Good luck with the sage, and thanks for coming by.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Enjoy Niagra Falls. Beautiful spot!. As to your plants..........has everything to do with planting the right kind in the correct soil and paying attention to the plants needs..........water, light, etc. I'm pretty lucky most times, but I have STILL to keep the herb sage alive for long. Still looking for the right spot!

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Oh, I hadn't considered the spiritual aspects of plants! I guess there's a plant Heaven. Great! Now, every time I lose a plant, I'm going to see little angel plants with wings and a halo floating up out of my victim, playing a harp as it goes. No guilt. Thx, Cris.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Btw, is there a plant heaven? On second thought, if there is one, them plants wouldn't go there - they committed suicide (if they're Catholic that is)... just wondering... LOL

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      LOL, thanks for the encouragement, Cris. I felt bad killing plants, I really think that they committed suicide because I babied them more than I did my kids.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I had fun imagining you, crouched, concentrated, determined (praying?) while you bury (your husband's word, not mine!) those unborn plants! LOL But hey, I totally support you in this your greatest ambition in life - to grow a garden you yourself planted. Setbacks are common in the beginning anyway. just try and try until you see fit! :D

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi, Michelle. That is the best way not to kill plants, or she could give you a silk one.

      Cindy, you'll love it! Seeing as how you're coming in May, bring a jacket. It can still be pretty cool here at that time of year. Some years, it's hot, but not usually. Depending on what part of the month you're coming, the plants may be starting to bloom.

      I agree with you, Sheena. Planting can be very therapeutic and relaxing. It is nice if they live, though. Do you still have Gigli? Thanks for reading.

    • sheenarobins profile image

      sheenarobins 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I think this is very therapeutic. Not the brown thumb but planting.l.ol I am no good with plants, they die. l.ol I tried the pet and fell in love with my little Gigli. heheheh. Nice hub

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Yes Shirley, we will be staying right by the CN Tower in a flat above my Husband's friend's pub, plus we plan to go on the 'Maid of the Mist' for a trip under the falls. Can't wait!!!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hahaha maybe. But I just told Stella not to give me plants as gifts. I don't want to kill another plant by mistake. LOL

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Cindy, you'll be about an hour away from where I'm living now. Toronto is a big city (capital of Ontario) and there's tons to do there - lots of theatre, restaurants, the CN Tower, shopping, etc. Will you get to visit the Falls? Oops, that's how we refer to Niagara Falls. You will be close enough to day trip it.

      Hi Michelle! No, I think that if you only lost one plant, that means you merely have a brown hangnail or something. :) Thanks for coming by!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi Shirley, the plants in our garden didn't die yet. LOL But one time my friend Stella gave me a plant for my birthday. I don't know how it happened but I cut it the wrong way and it never grew back. It passed away. Just like that. Gosh. Does that make me a brown thumb too? Hahaha

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      No worries Shirley, (I am actually going to Canada in May for a holiday with my Husband). I think it is Toronto where we are staying).

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks, Cindy. I'm a Canadian, with British ancestors and relatives, so I know some of the Queen's ways, but 'O Levels' are not something I'd heard talked about. I like learning new things, thanks.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Hi Shirley, 'O Levels' were the exams (in most subjects) you used to take here in the UK at aged 15 - 16 before you went on to college or university. They have now been replaced by G.C.S.E. 's. Not sure if that helps or not, as I don't know what the USA equivalent is to offer the comparison. :)

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks, Cgull. Actually, I wrote this article for a newspaper many years ago. I don't have the garden or the husband anymore. :) I don't think it had anything to do with my plant expenditures, though. I don't think.

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 9 years ago from North Carolina

      There is nothing like growing our own plants, so be the same, it is like growing children :) Your husband will love those flowers. Cheers.

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      A man that does laundry! I'm sure you'll look very dapper for the ladies in your clean red scarf. Perhaps offer them some pretty flowers? If you're going to pick them from my garden, make sure it's after a fresh planting. You don't want to show up with wilty blooms and dried stalks.

      Yes, I'm human, complete with the foibles that go along with it. Thank-you for the compliments, I'm blushing.

    • poorQpine profile image

      poorQpine 9 years ago from USA

      Shirley Dearest,

      Actually I do have a nice red handkerchief. I think some construction worker left it. It is a bit tattered but hey, it was free. I wash it regular with the rest of my laundry, down by the creek. Had to take advantage of the day today, sun came up and the water was warm at 35 degrees. My little fat paws are a bit chapped from scrubbing. My scarf was getting soiled and you know how the ladies are about that masculine scent? It will be mating time soon. Have to keep up the image.

      You say the nicest things about me. That is why I love you soooo very much, how kind you are, and thoughtful too, and truly HUMAN.

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Horticulture? You are a pro, then. What is an O level? If you can grow things so well, you obviously have the gift of green thumb, congrats!

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      LOL Shirley, I have always grown things since I was a little girl, and later took Horticulture as an O Level. I still grow stuff today with few problems, which amazes my Step Dad who is not nearly as successful, (still can't pinpoint why).

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Cindy, you sound like a pro! Thanks for all the good advice!

      You know, I wrote this a long, long time ago AFTER I'd worked at a nursery. Luckily for all involved, I only had to keep the nursery plants alive until they were purchased.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      LOL, Golly, what are you all doing so wrong? My plants both indoor, outdoor, veg, flowers etc all thrive. All I do is plant them in garden centre compost, keep them moist and feed them every two weeks. Don't overwater, so let the compost nearly dry out before watering again, and you could also try mixing both slow release fertiliser pellets in with your compost, and the water retaining powder that turns to jelly when wet.

      If  you are planting in flower beds then make sure you space the plants out according to the instructions, water in well after planting, and keep moist for the first few weeks until well established. Feeding also good once they are in growing mode. Make sure you read the instructions as to the kind of conditions they need too, e.g. sunny, shade, semi-shade, acid soil, alkaline soil etc. Ignore this and they will surely perish.

      Good Luck

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great, Pam! I could use the extra money and I would love to see it, as well. You're so creative.

      Tourmaline, you poor fellow brown thumb. Some of the commentors here have shared a tip that might work for you - fake plants. Yup, more people use them than I realized. Something to think about, you're pretty much guaranteed they won't die unless somebody takes a flame-thrower to them. Thanks for sharing your gardening pain with us.

      Oh poorQpine! I was thinking about you last night, wanted to look you up, but alas, it was past my bedtime. I promised myself this year that I would be in bed by midnight every night. It's January 5th, and I've been pretty good - only missed 2 nights so far. :)

      I'm glad that you enjoy my wit, but dear poorQpine, it pales in comparison to yours. :)

      Hope you had a hanky for the tear. Do poorQpines use hankies? I'm thinking that if they don't shave their legs, they probably don't carry kleenex.

      Well, I'm off now to check my family tree, see if any of my ancestors had the last name of pine. Thanks for honouring me with a visit PQP!

    • poorQpine profile image

      poorQpine 9 years ago from USA

      Oh Miss Shirley.

      I so enjoy your crafty wit. I think my favorite part was the "Wild Anticipation" Got me reading HARD and fast. I advocate planting and more planting and the thought of you out under the moonlit night trying to make beautiful flower beds brought a tear to my eye.

      "Wild Anticipation", that's Miss Shirley. By the way, could it be that you are part porcupine? I have two brown thumbs. I Thank God for Mother Nature's way of keeping it all going. She must be all thumbs and every one of them green.

      From the looks of your legs in the opening photo, I would say that the hairy part got to you and you broke out some new blades!

    • tourmaline2777 profile image

      tourmaline2777 9 years ago from Chicago

      I am a bona fide brown thumb. I can't keep anything alive-even the supposed fail-safe stuff dies.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      ROFL! Shirley, if I can ever stage a picture like what you described about the blindfolded plant with a cigarette, then I'll split the fortune it makes with you. ;)

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi Pam, thanks. When I read your comment, I got this funny visual of a woe-begotten plant, blindfolded and standing with a cigarette hanging out of its mouth. He hears the click of guns as he faces the firing squad....fade to Tapps.

      Eventually, no one tried to intervene anymore, they just left me to it and made sure that I knew they thought I was crazy. I got brave and started sticking new plants in during the daylight hours.

      I agree with you, that sometimes a mercy killing is the best way to go.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Ah, Dottie! You went to the master for advice. Master gardener Bob will never steer you wrong. He'll turn your thumb from brown to green in no time. Thanks for stopping by!

      Christoph, Scarlett O'Hara would be proud as punch that you quoted her. I've heard lots of people say the same thing you did. The more attention that they pay the plants, the worse they do. Seems that they know how to take care of themselves, which of course, takes all the fun out of it for those of us who insist on killing them with kindness.

      Oh, and we'll see if you don't start seedlings indoors again this year. It's only another month or so away to start, at least for Ontario.

      Thanks for coming by, always nice to see you.

      G-Ma, thanks! Those are great pointers. I love groundcover, especially Periwinkle - until it takes over and I have to dig down 3 feet to remove the roots. I think actually, that I have never killed ground cover. Hmm, maybe I should stick with that. I have had some luck with flowers that reseed, except you never know where they'll start growing, which is detrimental to my sense of symmetry. I agree with you that perennials are a great answer! As long as I can get to come up 2 years or more in a row. Re the bulbs, the squirrels love it when I plant those. Apparently, bulbs make a great snack. Sometimes they like to get their kicks by digging them up and replanting them elsewhere. I can hear them snickering at me from behind a tree when I discover them moved.

      Thanks for your comment, G-Ma! Very helpful. Oh, do you change your fake flowers by the mailbox or leave them to fade?

      VS, that was a brave admission - welcome to the club. That's a funny story about your sister's plants! She may not have seen it that way, but I got a chuckle out of it. I had a friend who was a bigger brown thumb that I am. She used to say that she was growing dried flower arrangements. That sounds so much better, kind of puts a positive spin on it.

      I like your idea of a pro landscaper, although I do like to garden. Make sure you get references if you go that route.

      Thanks for coming by and letting me know that I'm not alone in my brown thumb-edness.

      Hi, Elena. I'm glad you liked that. The words were a little discouraging...they also were (unfortunately) true. You're right, RIP to the plants. Thanks for stopping in!

      Proud Mom! Another sister to the club! Welcome. Oh no, to your gardening order! Don't those people know that the very reason you're buying it is so that you don't have to do that? Good luck, and thanks for commenting.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 9 years ago from Virginia

      ROFL Shirley! So your friends and family tried to stage a "plant intervention" by sending a landscaper over. ;) LOL! Good for you for being able to outwit them all! Moonlight gardening can be fun.

      My thumb color depends on my mood. Right now I have many plants that need to be buried and others that need some love or a quick death or at least a chance to be released from my captivity. ;)

      Fun read Shirley! :D

    • Proud Mom profile image

      Proud Mom 9 years ago from USA

      I think you've secretly read my diary and posted my experiences as a garder.

      I finally bought one of those mail order "gardens" last year full of perennials that are supposed to give my front bed that professionally landscaped look. I didn't read the fine print, however, and missed the fact that the picture of what I thought I was buying was actually what it should look like in several years. Don't know if I can keep them all alive that long!

      Thanks for the hilarious hub!

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 9 years ago from Madrid

      This thing about burying vs planting was hilarious. May they rest in peace, right? Laugh!

    • VioletSun profile image

      VioletSun 9 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      I am a brown thumb, there its now in the open! One time my sister left over 20 plants in my NY apt to watch over them for a few weeks while she moved from one place to another. By the time she came to pick them up,  what mostly left were the pretty plant holders. Yikes! hehe. I watered them, I talked to the plants, but they still died.

      Now that I am rural town with plenty of garden space, I don't do a good job at all in planting flowers. If business goes well this year, I am going to convince my lifemate who prefers to do things himself, (but doesn't always get to do them, which is often the case with the male species) :) to let me pay for landscaping - I like pretty gardens!  

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      funny funny funny...used to be me too then I learned to plant the kind that re-seed themselves and also to plant (already started of course) ahh perenials  that's it...and plants native to where I live...much better luck...but still some die...also bulbs are a great way to plant ...they last for a long time then the green part dries up and 6 months later your flowers magic and they spread...just don't dig em up planting others on top..LOL..ground covers are good also...some bloom beautiful flowers and lttle watering too...and I also have some fake flowers out by my mailbox...cause I always forget to water the real thumb is like a brown green yellow color...Thanks for the fun hub...G-Ma :o) hugs & Peace

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 9 years ago from St. Louis

      I, over all, have a green thumb. As green as Ireland. But I have tried the "seedlings started in the house" many times, including last year, and it is always a disaster.  Why do I keep trying?  It's like you say:  Think of the money I'm saving!

      Like yours, they come up great, but then--I don't know what happens--they all die a miserable and painful death!  Last year, as the summer was near it's end, I took the leftover seeds in frustration and threw them willy-nilly into some empty clay pots outside, and paid no attention to them.  They came up like crazy without any help from me--thank you very much.  No watering...nothing.  It's like they're saying, "Just don't touch us or try to help, Mister!"

      I'm never going to start them inside again.  As God is my witness!

    • Dottie1 profile image

      Dottie1 9 years ago from MA, USA

      Hey Shirley, I was so happy to vote I have a green thumb, thanks to my other Canadian friend, Mr Bob Ewing, who answered all my gardening questions and turned my brown thumb green. YEY....

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I laughed out loud at that, Goldentoad! Hilarious!

      Kylie, that sounds like a very pretty hub! I used to have a green thumb and it worked GREAT for house plants and veggies. Flowers, I dunno, I could grow them, but they just didn't thrive like the rest. I didn't do anything radically different, so I'm not sure where I went wrong.

      Isn't it sad when we miss an opportunity with seedlings (or bigger plants) and they die? Seems like a waste. I agree with you - I'd rather not have grown/bought them in the first place.

      Thank-you so much for your words of encouragement, Kylie!

    • Kylie Doak profile image

      Kylie Doak 9 years ago from Australia

      lol - great hub.

      I just LOVE gardening. My favourite flowers are the bearded iris. I'm actually preparing a slide show to add to a hub that I will publish in the near future.

      Despite my green thumb, I totally understand where you're coming from.

      At times, I get so excited about all the plants that I'm going to plant in my garden (in addition to the great number that are already there!), and I buy oodles more, only to find that I've "run out of steam", or I get too busy with other things, or the weather is either stinking hot or raining! Before long, those beautiful plants are shrivelled and dead and I'm cursing myself for buying them in the first place! (and so is my husband, of course!) Doh! I start with the greatest of intentions, mind you, as we all do.

      I look forward to your next hub, Shirley. Keep up the great work :)

      ~ Kylie Doak ~

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 9 years ago from Free and running....

      mine are faded too! but if you drive by real fast, you can't tell.

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      LOL, Goldentoad! That's hilarious. At least you camoflage them. That's pretty clever, actually.

      My mom used to use ALL plastic flowers in her front bed and window box. Not only that, she'd leave them there all year round so they faded, as well. There wasn't anything even remotely natural about them, so no one offered any 'great garden' comments.

      Thanks for the tip. Some other brown thumb my follow your cue.

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 9 years ago from Free and running....

      I defininitely have a brown one, its so bad, I just bought fake plants and flowers for the front yard and mixed them with the real ones. It funny to hear people say great garden. I save on water too.

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks, JamaGenee. Of course, there are ways to make people think otherwise. :)

      So, Eovery, are you saying that you're a green thumb whether you like it or not? Lucky guy! Enjoy your garden.

    • eovery profile image

      eovery 9 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      I only have a green thumb because everything wants to grow here in Iowa.

      Well, I am going to have to start thinking about a garden.


    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Being a brown thumb myself, I'm ROTFL! Great hub!


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