It’s moving time. Again.
The Current Mr. Perfect and I are striking out on our own, which requires relocation. Groan. But not to worry; like most things in my life, I have an outline for moving (the most notable exception being an overall outline for said life). My moving outline is a distinct, step-by-step procedure designed to ease the burden of changing my address. My actual move day will be relatively painless, unlike the move days of a few of the people I have in the past helped with a household relocation. I speak now of those who wait until the very morning of the move day, after the volunteers have arrived, to begin even to think about the process. Children’s’ toys strewn about, laundry still in the machines, nary a dish wrapped and packed, beds still burdened with crumpled sheets. This is an approach I do not advise, especially if you care to maintain your friendships with the volunteers.
Making a move easy requires a regimented, sequential approach. If you follow the proper steps, come moving day there will be nothing left to do but hoist the boxes and furniture to the moving van, and then un-hoist it all at the new domicile. To my way of thinking, moving requires forethought and planning. This is a fact I should verily know; as nearly as I can recollect – and trust me, it took a notebook and a few minutes to conduct the recollection – this upcoming move will be the twenty-ninth time I have changed households in my life.
Mind you, I am fifty-four. When one does the math, those numbers translate to an average stay of 1.86 years in each home. My conclusion? It is no wonder I am a pro at the moving process. I could probably to do it in my sleep, without help. Hell, by now at the mere mention of moving most of my possessions independently undertake the moving steps. To the letter. Weeks ahead of time, things begin to automatically wrap themselves in (stolen) newspaper and assume their assigned spots in the moving boxes (which, most likely, I have scavenged from the CVS dumpster in the alley or the copy room at work). There, resting, my “things” patiently wait for the joy of unpacking day in the new home.
If I am being honest, moving a household can be a tedious task. However, the process does present certain benefits.
First, every single item gets cleaned. For that, thank your personal God. Historical evidence reveals that by the time one is preparing to move, everything fairly demands a good cleaning. The apparent fact that everyone (including me) neglects to wipe down or vacuum the out-of-sight stuff simultaneously amazes and disgusts me. After all, I consider myself to be a very clean person. A clean freak, some might even venture. Ask anyone who has lived with me. I have shine standards that go far beyond the norm. My cleanliness requirements border on OCD.
This trait, I own.
I have, by virtue of living with my birth family, various roommates, and a staggering collection of different boys, shared a space with twenty-three different people thus far in my lifetime (for you mathletes, an average of 2.35 years with each). I rarely argued with any of them over the state of the kitchen sink. This is because I comprehend that the need to have it all picked up, cleaned up, and put away is solely my compulsion. Not anyone else’s and certainly not theirs.
I learned this early.
So funny, isn’t it, how certain traits skip a generation? My mother didn’t give a twit about how clean or organized her house was. This was possibly the only thing that could have driven me crazy about my beloved mother, had she not preemptively taught me that no one but me is responsible for my compulsions. My mother didn’t bother to concern herself with household cleanliness, but sometimes nowadays as I sanitize and organize my own home, I can almost hear her mother, my Clorox-scented German Grandma Rose, reminding, “A place for everything and everything washed and in its place”.
When sharing space, it is my wont to give up on nagging and just clean up. After everyone. No wonder my friend Carl only half-jokingly refers to me as “Mrs. Garret”. Still, come move times, one discovers dust/grime/cat hair that one never suspected. As it turns out, everything must be shined before it gets placed in the new house. It’s a fresh, clean start.
Another benefit of moving, especially to those of us with minor-bordering-on-full-blown hoarding tendencies, is the chance to winnow out one’s possessions. One is forced to go though things item by item and evaluate the value (whether functional or emotional) of holding on. Some things (my Grandma Rose’s vaguely racist Aunt Jemima Cookie Jar, a succulent carrion plant (Stapelia gigantea) which no one but me cares for, a dried rose from my younger brother’s funeral) always make the cut. Other things – a lively but short green sleeper sofa, a too-blonde 1950’s Dick Van Dyke bedroom set, a much-loved but back-breaking 10-speed road bike – are deemed replaceable. Or simply no longer needed.
With each move, one takes only the things that belong in that time and for that space.
Moving provides a chance to start afresh, even when the new home is only a few blocks distant (as is the case with my current move). Despite proximity, it is a new space and a new opportunity. A new life, if you will. Conversely, and I know I repeat myself with this adage but it is an adage that bears repeating, each new life also portends the shuttering of an old life. One door opens, another closes. Along with the fresh start comes an end.
This is why I like to conduct a private ceremony after all of my possessions have been removed from the home I am vacating. Once the space is rid of my detritus and shined in preparation for the new inhabitant, I ask the moving volunteers to leave me alone for a few minutes. I find a comfortable spot to reflect on the memories, on the joy and the sadness I have experienced in that location. And I give thanks to the space, often accompanied by joyous tears, for hosting me. Lastly, after I have composed myself, I ask that the space release all of my associations, both those positive and those negative, in order to prepare itself for its new inhabitants.
I have no idea if this has any real impact, but I have always vacated the spaces I have called home feeling like I have taken all of my baggage with me.
I have not, however, been able to take all of my gardens with me. And that has always been sad. When departing Northern California to return to The District, I was forced to leave behind my lemon tree, my orange tree, my papyrus, and numerous other much-loved patio plants. There was just no way to bring them with me in the tiny golden Ford Escort I was driving cross country (three thousand miles) with all of my clothing, a dog and a cat, and a few very select plants. The Former Mr. Perfect and I specified in the lease for the incoming tenants that they were required to care for the garden, but when I did a house inspection two years later I was dismayed to find most of the plants that were not well-established had perished. The potted papyrus, among others, had passed. I was ecstatic, however, to pluck some lemons and oranges from the firmly-rooted trees to smuggle home, nestled in my luggage.
Another time I moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Denver, Colorado, in the dead of winter. At the time I was in possession of a huge elephant ear philodendron. I trussed her up and packed her last, in the very back end of the unheated U-Haul truck. Several days and one-thousand five-hundred and eighty miles later, upon arrival in Denver, I untied her. Imagine my horror as the frozen leaves shattered into brilliant green shards of ice. I was left with nothing but the three stubs of her trunks protruding from the potting soil. Never fear . . . within a few months, those stubs had produced a new, vibrant plant. Ten years later, when I moved from Denver to Seattle, the philodendron no longer seemed necessary (and at her size would have required her own moving van). I left her in the care of the Recreational Therapist at the Senior Citizen’s Home where I volunteered every Saturday morning (teaching wheelchair aerobics, mind you, set to the tunes of Sylvester – the ladies loved it).
When last I visited her, it was again as a volunteer: this time to hoist her mass atop a three-foot plant table to protect the low-hanging, foot-wide leaves from the bruising wheels of one hundred roving wheelchairs.
When I left Denver, enticed westward by the gentle climes of Seattle, that emerald city where my best friends lived and gardens aren’t planned, they just occur thanks to the good graces of a temperate, rain-infusing Garden God, I passed along most of both my indoor and my outdoor gardens. I moved very few specimens to my new city and state, other than the afore-mentioned carrion plant succulent and a couple of other precious starts.
I had two plant-deficient Denver-based friends at that time, and one avid gardening buddy. Kathy One (plant deficient and plant ignorant) had just purchased a new townhome. It straddled a city lot that came with a huge, construction-compressed and barren back yard. Kathy Two (plant deficient, but motivated) adored my “knack” for houseplants and vegetable gardens, and had just purchased an older home in the distant suburbs complete with established vegetable and flower gardens. Eleanor (the only Eleanor, a gardener worthy of envy) shared an alley with me. It dissected our two back yards. She and I had long appreciated/coveted each others’ specimens over the back fences, and shared seeds and starts and advice at will.
I dug up and transplanted to Kathy One’s dirt pile fresh divisions of many of my back yard specimens: bright red poppies, purple, white and yellow irises, succulent strawberries, variegated snow-on-the-mountain, orange day lilies, towering and fuzzy-leafed miner’s candle, pink dianthus, and many others. At the time I was planting them in her hard-pack soil, I knew that few were likely to survive. Along with her dirt, she just wasn’t prepared. Like the person who is moving but waits until the last moment to think about packing, she expected that we would shove the plants in the ground and they would flourish. She had no idea of the steps and care these plants would require to turn her dusty space into verdant bliss. Still, I consoled myself with believing that at least a few of the hardier (weedier?) transplants would thrive. I never had the heart to revisit.
To Kathy Two I bequeathed several large, outdoor potted plants as well as numerous specifically requested outdoor plant divisions and a plethora of indoor plants. The potted plants included a beautiful Scotch Pine “bonsai” tree growing in a half whiskey barrel planter for outside her front entry and a wide bowl with a salmon, February-blooming lily for her kitchen window. Along with the items I handed over to Kathy Two, I provided intricate written care instructions. When I visited this friend a few years later, I was ecstatic to find all of the plants thriving. She had even mastered the art of restarting and renewing.
To Eleanor, I donated only the one item from my garden she most coveted: a beautiful pink tree peony that grew in the other half of the whiskey barrel. Such a gorgeous plant! For years she had visited during its brief blooming period, and when it came time to part with it, I could think of no one else who would treasure it as I had. I never revisited it, but I am certain that it flourishes to this day. Eleanor possessed the gardening bug.
Moving might have benefits, but in reality there is nothing easy about it. It’s painful, and emotional, and despite being an opening door, it is also a closing door. Once you have moved on, you can’t go back. Trust your old Queen Gardener; you can’t go back even if you try. This is the voice of experience speaking. I will spare you those details, saved for another chapter.
Here’s my advice for moving your treasured houseplants. If at all possible, don’t attempt to transport the established adult plant. Make a new start. It’s much easier to move a small plant in a tiny pot than a huge, established specimen. Step one (of ninety) of the moving process: take clippings of every clip-able plant that you intend to move and get them rooting in water (or potting medium) as described in other chapters. When the rootlets are ready, pot the fresh babies in small, plastic (therefore unbreakable) pots. Come moving day, place the pots in groups in strong cardboard boxes, adequately watered but not soaking. Gently pack around the lower pot portion with wadded paper to keep them from tilting and rolling. Close the lid and you should be good for at least three or four days, often longer.
If the treasured plant in question is one that cannot be started afresh, like my elephant-ear philodendron, gently bundle and truss the leaves upward and inward to prevent breakage and tears and to condense the space requirements. I find kitchen string works wonderfully for this. Wrap the pot tightly in plastic to keep the soil intact and then fit in the vehicle as you can (trussed and wrapped thusly, most plants can survive three or four days – or longer – even while lying prone).
Another option is to hack it back as far as possible and start anew – as I inadvertently did with my lovely elephant ear philodendron.
Here’s one thing I’ve learned about moving houseplants: generally, they have become accustomed to the spot in which they have matured. Move an older, established plant and in the new home you most likely will be faced with sunburn, or sun-deprivation, or too hot or too cold or too something-or-other. The old ones just don’t transfer as well. Start a new plant and move her, and she will grow as intended in the new placement, adjusting to it at about the same pace as you adapt to your new environs.
It’s just facts.
As for outdoor gardens: take cuttings or starts of your plants for transport (similar crating technique to that used for the houseplants), and pass along divisions of those that you can. And the rest? The trees and shrubs and bedding plants? There is just not much to be done but leave it all to fate. When you visit in times to come, if some have not carried on, consider that the garden at your new home in some ways compensates for the living mass that has been lost. And for those plantings that have lived on, thriving even without your expert care, let me assure you that there is no joy like that of revisiting.
A special garden in Salt Lake City, Utah, comes to mind. One summer day while on my hands and knees weeding there, I discovered an infant, volunteer blue spruce. I tended this tree faithfully for a few years and then I moved on to another city. Years later when I revisited that garden, the tree loomed over a beautiful Koi pond. That, to me, was a joy similar to what parents must experience when their offspring embark on successful, independent lives.