Survival Game

August 29, 1993|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

Free to good home: One dozen flower and vegetable plants, left over from spring. Poor condition. Abused by owner. No guarantees.

Take them, please! These spunky plants are getting on my nerves.

I've abused them for months, to no avail. The plants, mostly tomatoes, marigolds and zinnias, keep growing. There is no stopping them. They've been sitting on the porch since April, straining toward the sun, waiting to be transplanted into the garden.

Waiting for the call that never came.

The roots have burst through their tiny pots, coiling themselves around the outside of the containers like balls of thin, white twine. The plants are tall and scraggly, with narrow stems and very few leaves.

But those sparse leaves are green, and I've even seen a flower or two.

The plants refuse to die, and I haven't the heart to pull the plug.

If the plants won't croak, perhaps I can give them away.

I feel badly for these plants; they were the losers in my spring landscape plans. I always raise more plants than I need, and give away the rest. Neighbors and co-workers took some of the extras. Alas, there were no takers for these, the weakest seedlings. So I set them aside for the moment.

I would have discarded the castoffs, except that it pays to keep a few plants as insurance against the bugs and bad weather of spring. Weeks passed, and I forgot the plants were even alive until my friend Ralph noticed them.

Ralph scoffed at the sorry-looking plants. He called them rejects. He offered to bury them for me.

"Are you going to put these plants in the ground or under it?" asked Ralph.

He suggested I put them out of their misery. "Do those plants a favor and add them to the compost pile," he said.

That was four months ago. Several of Ralph's tomato plants have since passed on. Meanwhile, one of my tomato "rejects" has mustered -- with little soil and practically no water -- two cherry tomatoes.

Rejects? Ha!

Wallflowers, they are not.

I admire these scruffy-looking plants, which have managed to produce flowers and fruit with little support. Every day I stroll past the tray of losers, imprisoned in their tiny cells, and shake my head in wonder. How can they survive without food? I've never fertilized the plants. How do they cope in near-desert conditions? I've watered them once or twice, but only as an afterthought, while filling the dog's bowl.

I am not even providing basic life support; yet, last week, a zinnia bloomed. The bright red flower was small, but just as handsome as the other zinnias that are thriving in the garden. I started to pick that lonesome flower, then stopped. Better its mother should keep it. That plant put so much oomph into producing the single flower, it ought to enjoy its beauty.

The cherry tomatoes weren't so lucky. I stripped the fruit from that plucky plant and ate them on the spot.

So much for compassionate gardening.

Some of these plants have contributed. I've also harvested three lettuce leaves, two strawflowers and a "head" of broccoli the size a boutonniere.

I wish now that I'd planted these gutsy little guys in the garden. Given encouragement, there's no telling how big they might have grown. But there was simply no room for the plants in the yard last spring. I would have had to stick them between a rock and a hard place.

So I should have trashed the plants, months ago? Nah, I couldn't do that. I grew these babies from seed. It's harder to part with plants you bring into this world, than with those you buy off the rack.

Transplant them, you say? Not! It's too late, and too hot. Most of the plants' roots are now wrapped around the outside of the pots. The shock of transplanting would kill them.

Frankly, I'm becoming protective of these plants. They are starting to grow on me.

I've even begun to name the castaways. There's Gilligan and the Skipper; the millionaire and his wife; the Professor and Mary Ann and . . . well, you get the picture.

Pathetic as they look, I'd really miss these plants if they disappeared.

Wait a minute. I just put them up for adoption.

Forget my offer.

I want to see if Gilligan will last until frost.

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