From the Archives: The Devil's Green Thumb

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From the Archives highlights great pieces from Oklahoma Today's seventy-year history. Discover decades of stories, recipes, essays, photos, and more in the Oklahoma Today archives, available free at this link.
The Devil's Green Thumb was published in Oklahoma Today's Summer 1978 issue.
Our Summer 1978 issue

Our Summer 1978 issue

I classify seed catalogs right in there with bust developers and ten-day diets.

Now, I’ve never had a green thumb. I can take a healthy tomato plant, give it tender loving care and it rewards me with three sickly tomatoes, blistered on one side, a worm hole on the other. Onions come to the table the same size they were when I set them out, while across the pasture my mother-in-law grows them big enough to choke a pro-linebacker.

After much disappointment I should give up but I’m a pushover for a convincing ad. After weeks of snow, sleet, cold, and gloom that seed catalog with enthusiastic testimonials is the Devil with chocolate icing. If Mrs. D.A. from Podunk can do it, by golly so can I.

With visions of bountiful harvest, I tried this new tactic I’d heard so much about. I TALKED to my plants. I patted, petted, dusted and called them sweet names. One chili pepper, two rows of green beans, and the crabgrass heard. Everything else turned a deaf ear and disappeared beneath the marching feet of the eager crabgrass.

The pepper plant, sole survivor of the six, thought it had to carry the load for its fallen comrades so it concentrated on being six times better. Heat waves from it blistered my legs as I hoed around it. I thought of sending it to the Tabasco sauce manufacturers for their yearly supply but couldn’t find an asbestos box to mail it in.

Oh yes, the green beans heard. They grew lush and green. They grew heavy with beans. I was proud. I picked and ate and canned and started over. I picked and canned and canned some more. Every jar was full. Friends and relatives were stockpiled for weeks. Still my beans grew. I couldn’t keep up. As I picked I talked to them again. I left out the sweet names. I was downright unkind and handled them roughly hoping they would feel my non-love. They stretched their little tendrils to cling to my fingers and rub against my legs. I could see them growing. I could hear them growing. I was exhausted. I looked at my hands. All then thumbs were green—dark green with stain.

The moment had come. I could stand no more. With a jerk of the starter rope and a battle roar, my power mower and I approached the enemy. Up the bean row we went, ruthless, heartless and deadly. Little bits flew out and fell to the ground. Up one row we went and back down the other.

We headed for the pepper plant. I swear when the mower blade hit that plant I heard a sizzle like water hitting hot grease. Steam hissed disapproval. But it was done and I was glad.

When you read advice on talking to your plants, add this footnote: some plants are like a love-starved dog. Pat him once and he’s in your lap the rest of the day.