Why didn’t I stop my elderly and disheveled mother from scooting out to the rose bushes flanking our front door to bury the breakfast banana peels? The short answer would be: she’s my mother. The longer answer would be: she so believed those banana peels would help my roses, she had me half-convinced, too. That was how we rolled, for decades. So firm were her beliefs about any number of VERY outside of the box things, that I couldn’t unequivocally decide she was wrong.
So I didn’t stop her from rooting around under the rose bushes, even though I was uncomfortable with the activity for a number of reasons. Foremost was the fact that this woman who was still climbing trees to prune them when she was in her sixties, and showing off her can-can kick in her seventies, was now in her late eighties, post a few strokes and the passing of my father. She was frail, unsteady on her feet, and had retreated deep inside herself, courtesy of depression and beginning dementia. Second was the fact I wasn’t super supportive of burying any of our garbage a few feet from the front door, especially in daylight, and I wasn’t too sure my neighbors would be, either. And third, while I was open to the fact that the peels might help the roses, I was also concerned that rooting around the rose roots in the dirt among the few remaining strawberry plants that were supposed to be ground cover could be more harmful than helpful to that little front walk ecosystem.
I also didn’t stop her because my mother loved to garden; one of the only joys she had left. It didn’t bring a smile to her face; nothing did at that point. But fussing over plants was about the only place where present-day challenges would fade, and she would lose herself out in my yard, burying banana peels or pulling weeds, or in the house, walking around grooming my houseplants. Gardening was a comfort, one she’d enjoyed as long as I could remember. If I made her come in the house, or stopped her from taking her tipsy weak self up the stairs to complete her houseplant routine, what was a saving her for? If she died gardening, I knew she’d be happy.
My mother has not been in my garden for a number of years, or any garden for that matter, except perhaps a great garden in the sky. If we have any say in what our heaven is, my mother is gardening. My indoor and outdoor plants now survive despite the care, or lack thereof, that I and my husband can give them. Even with her crazy schemes, my mother was a better influence on any garden than I probably will ever be, even with a horticulture degree as one of my credits.
But I did inherit my mother’s curiosity about plants and what makes them grow. So last week, years after those banana peels were laid to rest under my roses, as I researched the answer to the garden legend that peonies need ants to bloom (they don’t), I stumbled upon banana peels under the rose bushes. Roses supposedly like buried banana peels because they increase soil potassium. However, the soil microorganisms breaking down those banana peels have to extract nitrogen from the soil to complete their job, so the soil can end up low in nitrogen along the way, and without even much potassium to show for it. A net negative. Composting the banana peels first is the way to go, followed by spreading compost around the roses.
I may have also inherited impatience from my mother. Who wants to wait for months down the road for the banana peels to be composted, after all that monotonous effort of liming and turning? Burying banana peels to make your roses bloom is magical, a fairy tale we want to be true. Practical is important, but magic is imperative.
Note to son: the day I shuffle my silver-haired self out to scatter used coffee grounds under the azaleas in your yard, let me be! I’m doing just fine.