Sometime last spring, Jack brought home a half-dozen plants and showed me the bedraggled little things. "Portulaca grandiflora," he said. They looked like moss roses to me. They were so ugly, I wondered why he'd bought them.
He scooped up one from its container. "From Brazil. Or maybe Argentina."
I had to laugh. Jack never bought sensible American plants. He preferred tropical plants like crotons, bromeliads, or elephant ears. Many of his exotics died on him, so I expected these floppy little plants would, too.
Jack touched my arm and spoke softly. "Where do you want me to put them?"
I sighed. "How about your office? The living room's jam packed."
"No, outdoors." He grinned at my surprised look.
"Outdoors?" I shrugged. "Oh, anywhere you want except my rose garden." My rose garden. I'd managed not to kill my 18 inherited roses for a decade. Irish luck. My former husband called me The Black Thumb, and he was right. The only plants I can grow are things like Aloe vera. Jade. Rickrack. They're all succulents. Indifferent to this distracted gardener.
I followed Jack out, watched him select a dirt rectangle near the front porch. An unlikely spot. Nothing ever grew there but weeds.
"That'll be too dry for them, Jack." I thrust my chest forward. "That overhang blocks the rain."
"It should be okay," he mumbled, dirt flying as he dug holes. "Nice and sunny."
I went inside.
Jack became a mad man. He could barely kneel, but every day I'd see him kneeling beside those portulacas, fussing, weeding, doing the things he did to plants, things I had no patience for. When I stood watching him, he reached over to pat my leg. "I just want to make sure they root, honey."
Then just before Jack moved to Crown Pointe, he took my hand and led me to the front porch. We stood and looked down on his portulacas, sprawling in the sun. A few bloomed. "Will you take care of them for me?" He squeezed me.
Bummer. Just one more bloody chore! I wanted to say, "Take care of your own damn portulacas. I don't even know how. " But I said, "Sure."
Once or twice over the summer, Jack asked me how the portulacas were doing. "Have the roots set?"
And I, who never looked at them, replied, "They're fine, Jack, just fine."
Once I even stepped out on the porch and took a gander, to see if I were lying. The funny little plants with their limp stems had burst into bloom: dozens of flowers in all colors, red, yellow, orange, pink, purple and white. Astonishing!
When I returned for the last time from Hospice House to my home, I glanced over at Jack's portulaca garden, suddenly remembering my promise to take care of it.
Weeds choked his blooms: two crabgrass plants, their tall skinny spikes twirling in the breeze, a huge many layered dandelion rosette that would take some uprooting to kill, and pig weed. I think that's what it's called, dozens of those plants, their long lazy fingers flat against the ground, surrounding and penetrating Jack's portulacas.
I wasted no time. For several days I carefully pulled weeds, not wanting to accidentally rip out the flowers. When the garden was empty of everything but blooms, I mulched the empty spaces.
And just for the heck of it, I looked up Portulaca grandiflora. Hmph! Moss rose, just as I thought.
To my surprise, moss roses are something even a black thumb like me could grow: they're succulents.