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A plant by any other name

August 28, 2012

As someone who was away from home often, houseplants didn’t make a lot of sense. Some fellow expats and travelers would arrange for family or friends to come water their plants while they were away (usually as an afterthought to caring for pets left home alone, which seems more worth the effort). Others brought their plants to the office so a secretary could water them during their absence, others had dependable roommates. But I never felt comfortable knowing I’d have to depend on the kindness of acquaintances to keep something alive.

But then I got married and suddenly there was another person in my home who could help do all the things I’d never grown accustomed to having help doing (I won’t get into how that person may or may not have ever grown accustomed to having to help do anything). Soon my mother-in-law presented us with a hearty plant, which was one of the first things I labeled with a name tag — צמח באדנית (tsemach ba-adanit, plant in a pot). These name tags became omnipresent in our home in Israel and elicited comments from visitors, be they delivery people or childhood friends, as I grew more determined to learn Hebrew. My husband’s mother said the tsemach would live for a month or two, but it lasted almost the entire two years we were there, and could still be alive for all I know. All thanks to having someone there even when I was not.

Now that my life is less transitory — which is lamentable for this blog but a nice change for the time being — I decided to try to grow something more challenging. After the unexpected success of my first houseplant, I bought a tiny basil plant, transferred it to a proper pot, and have scrupulously cared for it all summer.

Brand new basil in June

Basil still alive in August

Even though this tsemach isn’t in Israel, I still think of it by its Hebrew name and expect all potted plants that will surely join our household over the years will be labeled as such in my mind, even if they lack a characteristic name tag.

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