I have tried everything, but my houseplant just isn’t happy

Maybe it’s because I’m still new to the houseplant craze, having only begun this summer, but I can’t get Shirley (my aloe vera plant) out of my head. She droops atop my medicine cabinet, her leaves yellow and creased. She did not look like this during the years she was at my friend’s house, standing tall and lively as if to say, “Ta-da!” But when she was given to me, something changed.

I have tried everything. I have tweaked the light by increments both ways, and done the same with water. When the heatwave hit, I bought a little spritz gun, visiting her twice daily (one spritz for Shirley and one for me, a cooling blast to the face). Different rooms. Plant food. Repotting.

It has become an obsession. I expect it taps into some deep-seated neurosis, some abandonment issue that means I simply cannot walk away from Shirley.

“I’m sorry, miss, I have other customers,” says the nice man at the garden centre. I got carried away talking about Shirley. Again. “But don’t feel bad. Sometimes you can do all the right things but it just doesn’t happen. That’s life.”

Does that pill ever become less bitter to swallow, I wonder on the way home, cycling through the countless times I thought I’d done all the right things – solid work, attentive love, dedicated health regime – putting everything I had into it, but never getting the expected result.

That’s life. It offers no guarantees. Perhaps the key to being happy with it is not to let work, love, exercising, and growing a pot plant called Shirley become an obsession, where one’s own sense of accomplishment relies on an outcome that is never totally within our control.

I take a moment to appreciate my other plants growing brightly, and finally know what to do. I head to the composter, a goodbye ready for the aloe.

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