You know who thrived during 2020? All the plants and lots of people who grew them

Growers of green things honed our skills while stuck at home, leaning on plants as therapy, as a way to “mark the passage of time in any way.”

SHARE You know who thrived during 2020? All the plants and lots of people who grew them
Lauren FitzPatrick’s garden

Weeds never stood a chance in 2020.

Lauren FitzPatrick/Sun-Times

Maybe you’re crabby you were “stuck at home” throughout this pandemic, but I was off luxuriating in the garden.

My plants have never looked so happy since I’ve been home. 

Weeds never stood a chance once I started taking phone calls out front in the bee border and tall garden, and yanked the buggers as they popped up. Houseplants got watered and pruned (and talked to) on demand, not just on Saturday mornings when the house was otherwise empty. The big ones sucked up air and light on the front porch oasis arranged to make a safe place to see a few friends or some grandparents, an extra “office,” occasionally a kindergarten classroom.

Like the puppies and the babies of 2020, green growing things thrived with caretakers around all the time, clearly among the big winners of our collective staying put for weeks that have stretched into months.

And bonus, we growers confronting the end of normal got to hold on to some sanity, too, one unfurled leaf, one sprouted seed, one cycle of photosynthesis at a time. 

When I ventured out late in the spring and couldn’t find the usual seeds and seedlings to buy, I realized that everyone else was growing stuff, too. I asked an online houseplant group I joined this year: Why? 

All the birthday parties and barbecues and vacations got canceled. For a minute, actual food shortages seemed possible. We needed a bright side to unemployment, something to do with ourselves. Our COVID-essential jobs left us stressed and drained. We had to entertain kids who were isolated from friends. We always wanted to grow tomatoes.

The more of us the coronavirus killed, the more we surrounded ourselves with living things.

As one grower put it, she had to “mark the passage of time in any way.”

Because plants, green and resilient and craving little more than benign neglect, pacify and beautify our space with a reminder of why life is worth living.

When stores shut down unless deemed essential, and lots of us curbed our shopping trips, we turned to each other, swapping cuttings and seeds, giving away our extra bounty. We bought and sold perennials on Craigslist. We propagated new plants from our own plants, marveling to watch roots grow. 

This year we got so much better at taking care of what we already had. 

But this being 2020, even my flourishing garden out front also had to face an unexpected, capricious attack by forces far beyond human control.

In early August, that roaring derecho barreled through my neighborhood, hurling half of the giant parkway maple tree into the front porch and destroying, along with the tall garden, all the shade for the porch oasis, plus the ferns and hostas.

The garden after a windstorm in August toppled a large maple tree.

The garden after a windstorm in August toppled a large maple tree.

Lauren FitzPatrick/Sun-Times

The plants out front never looked so unhappy, guaranteeing that whatever 2021 brings us, I’ll be back in the garden.

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