One Word After Another – James A. Autry

The Pleasures of Plants

When I was on the editorial staff of Better Homes and Gardens, choosing an appropriate magazine cover was always a challenge, except for one month. We had a saying: “A rose by any other name would still be on the February cover.”

Why? Because February was the season when the new roses were introduced. It was also the month when home gardeners received the new season’s catalogs. And serious gardeners pored over the pages and planned their spring gardening activities.

Just as the pandemic supercharged stay-at-home activities such as cooking, reading and board games, I suspect it has done the same for home gardening. If so, that means there’s a lot of garden planning going on right now. Not including me, however.

I am less interested in gardening than I am in plants. For instance, rather than try to grow one of the new season’s roses, I’d prefer to see if I can entice a florist’s ornamental plant to grow in a pot on my sun porch, then to see if I can keep it alive and for how long.

I have a rather exotic plant, given to me some years ago by dear friends. It is a night-blooming cereus cacti (pronounced “serious”). It blooms very large white blossoms with a yellow center and a lemony fragrance. And yes, you have stay up at least a couple of hours after dark to see it; the darker the better. The next morning, it becomes droopy and the blossoms have closed.

My favorite plant, however, is a rather impressive azalea that started as a small, one-blossom centerpiece at my retirement dinner in 1992. (That’s 29 years ago, but who’s counting?) This year, to celebrate the coming of the decline of the pandemic, my wife gave me a large amaryllis bulb, which produced beautiful multi-blossom red flowers. Plus, she gave me several packs of herb seeds to start on our sun porch. This will join the amaryllis, the cereus, and a few other cold-sensitive plants.

Until five years ago, I lived in a large, two-story home with a greenhouse, a source of endless pleasure when, in winter, I could go in among a large collection of plants and smell the aroma of fresh-turned earth. Now I’ve downsized my house and reduced my gardening to a sun porch.

But the pleasure has not been downsized. It has struck me that while the pandemic has downsized many of our opportunities for pleasure, it has not eliminated them and perhaps has introduced us to new pleasures and even intensified the ones we still have.


James A. Autry of Des Moines is a well-known author, poet, musician and business consultant who has written 15 books on such topics as gratitude, servant leadership and his Southern boyhood. His newest book, “The White Man Who Stayed,” was published last September by Ice Cube Press.

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