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Vera the plant, meet my mom

Jun 2, 2017 - By Robert H. Peck

I lack a green thumb, but I do not lack plants.

Mittens the beefsteak begonia has been covered extensively in these pages before, and Vera the aloe also bears mentioning.

There is an as yet unnamed small, tree-like plant in a pot in my room in Iowa as well, which was covered in miniature silver sprinkles by its seller to make it look like a small Christmas tree. Don't do this to your plants, please. The sprinkles don't come off.

Vera the aloe comes from the Iowa City farmer's market, in other parts of the year has some trouble drumming up the same fervor for business it sees in September and October, when crops of apples and potatoes and all sorts of other foods are stacked high on carts.

In the spring, marketgoers must make due with packets of spice, flower arrangements, and, yes, aloe plants like Vera, whom I bought last year in May. She's a sturdy sort, having made the trip to and from Wyoming many times without giving in to changing climates and motion sicknesses.

My mom named Vera. She (Vera) relieved kitchen burns many times. She is probably better company than your cat.

But Vera has never grown up. She's produced a few volunteer aloe plants from the base of her stem, but her own stalks (is that what they're called? I apologize to all botanists) are still about the size they were when I got her.

I started noticing this last fall, having expected Vera, now repotted and given plenty of sun, to begin ballooning up into one of the massive snarls so common among other succulents like her.

Instead, she stayed small, fresh-from-the-market sized, as Mittens the begonia, repotted three times because he got too big, looked on with scorn.

What was I doing wrong? I turned to the internet. Elvis lives, it informed me, so I turned to my friends instead.

Make sure she has direct sunlight, and you don't overwater her; aloe is a desert plant and wants to hunker down for winter. So said my friend whose entire apartment is filled with plants in various stages of life and rebirth, including many succulents and an aloe plant pouring like melted wax out of its pot.

So, I moved Vera to the window, where she'd see more sun even in the winter, and resolved not to flood her with water so often.

But she grew worse still. Now she was not only small, but the bottom few leaf stalk things I don't know the name for were beginning to brown. That couldn't be right. Even I knew brown wasn't the one. Was the sun just not bright enough? Reluctantly I moved her back to her old place, in from the window, where at least she'd been green. She never thrived, remaining petulant until it was time to put her in the car and come home to Wyoming for a visit.

When I arrived, my mom took one look at my poor plant and took her up personally.

"We'll put it right in here with mine," she said, setting Vera on a table next to an aloe plant some 10 times Vera's size.

And within a week, Vera perked up. Don't ask me how. No green thumb, remember? But she's growing now, and has another volunteer, and she's looking a lot happier.

So the moral of this story is that Mom can usually fix it. Funny, but that's what she's been saying all my life.

Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.

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