I gave them everything; the richest compost, careful misting twice a day, scrupulous weeding, and heaps of praise. Situated as they were, outside the door where my son plays the piano, they were even given regular serenades. At first, the tiny, stumpy plugs of Irish Moss took to their spot and grew much faster than expected. In three weeks, these notoriously slow growing plants had spread out, filled the spaces between and become the mounds of soft fluffy green I had been dreaming of for years.
Then, after about a month of luscious, show- offy perfection, they started turning a hideous burnt dead brown, dying off in great patches of matted yuck. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The soil wasn’t too wet, and it wasn’t too dry. The light conditions were ideal, they were hardy to from zone 3 to zone 10 and we live in zone 6. So, WTF?
My gardening friends were stumped, my landscaper contacts were stumped, my friend Ben the plant wizard was stumped. Finally, I asked Peter del Tredici, senior research scientist at the Arnold Arboretum, who happens to spend family vacations by the same lake we do. I’m not sure Peter likes getting horticulture questions while on vacation, but it made a nice change of topic from the subject of my divorce.
Irish moss has always been a scrappy plant, Peter told me, able to suck nutrients from the sandy windswept coastal soil of Ireland.
Okay, so my (pricey) little moss plants were supposed to be low maintenance, and here I was fussing over them like a hysterical stage mother. Still, I asked him, what plant is going to complain about conditions being too good?
He proceeded to explain to me a little about plant physiology. “When plants have ideal conditions they put all their energy into exuberant growth, and very little energy goes into building their defense system.” On the other hand, in conditions that are less favorable, plants tend to “grow slowly, and put a large portion of their energy into building their defenses and increasing their hardiness.”
Wait, are we still talking about plants here? It so happens that yes, I did spoil my husband. And I dare say that lots of our friends did see us as exuberant and even enviable in our capacity to have fun, throw dinner parties, share vacations and tell jokes. Our life, in many ways, was a big soft fluffy green bed. With an extremely fragile root system.
“I doubt this has anything to do with divorce,” Peter said, while watching his grandson thrashing around in the lake shallows, “but with plants, it’s important to strike the right balance between comfort and struggle.”
Yo, that’s enough! Does everybody know why my marriage fell apart? And as long as we are strictly speaking about plants here, can anyone advise me on whether to throw out the moss and find new plants that will appreciate my fine soil or keep the plants and degrade my soil with a generous helping of lowly sand?