Do you know those games where there’s a picture and then next to it there are a bunch of other pictures that look exactly the same except they have something missing, and the point is to figure out what’s missing? That’s what I felt like this morning when I walked outside of my house, pitcher of water in hand, in search of my potted tomato and pepper plants. I’d left them the night before at the corner of my house, just on the edge of the driveway/alleyway so they’d get both the morning and afternoon sun. In fact, I’d just potted them the day before. When I moved into the apartment last October two nicely potted shrubs had been placed in big containers on either side of the door of my ground floor apartment. They’d languished all winter (languished being a nice word for ‘died’) and I’d lallygagged about planting something in the pots all Spring. Well, maybe not lallygagged. I’d actually decided not to plant anything.
…but then I kept going to markets and seeing little tomato seedlings, and I started dreaming of my own little tomato plant. This is as close to maternal as I will ever get. If only I could figure out how to get enough sun on it, since I didn’t have a patio. No point investing in a plant if it was just going to die. Even little herbs that could hang on a railing didn’t seem like the best idea, since they’d be right on the side of the alley, in danger of being knocked off. A lot of dogs get walked through that alley, and there’s a lot of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. There is also no lawn or space for a garden bed on the ground. What’s the point? It would just get constantly rained on by dogs.
Still, I went to the NDG Co-op and saw the most wonderful pepper and tomato seedlings that I just had to buy them. I even bought a huge bag of compost and a small bag of crab meal fertilizer, which was ridiculous because all these things together weighed about as much as I did. I carefully placed the seedlings in an open shoulder bag, put the fertilizer in my backpack, and lugged the huge bag of compost in front of me all the way back to the metro, then back to my apartment. My shoulders killed, but I made it home. The farmer at the Co-op told me that all I needed now was potting soil, which I found easily enough at the Atwater Market next to my house. I dragged my granny cart down there one morning and came home to start planting.
First I had to get the old, dead plants out of the pots in front of my house. I took my rubber gloves (why invest in gardening gloves for just two plants?) and dug in. I used a slotted spoon to lift chunks of dirt into plastic bags. We don’t even have normal black garbage bags, my roommate and I. Again, what’s the point since we make only one small bag of garbage per week? It would be even less if we could compost. Once all the soil was out of the pots, I mixed half a bag of compost and half a bag of potting soil, along with one cup of crab meal fertilizer in each pot. I put my cookie-making skills to work and combined all the ingredients. These were deep, hefty pots, so it took a bit of time. Then in went the seedlings – one in each pot – and then I watered them. They were so beautiful. Standing up so straight. Hopefully I would manage to not kill them. Already I was dreaming of the day they would bear fruit and I could proudly call myself a gardener. My first home-grown fruits and vegetables. I had always felt like it was stupid to grow my own when I lived right next to a great market, but I was so happy to have my own little plants that I had potted myself. There was no blood, sweat, or tears involved, but there was a fair bit of labour and cost.
So when I got outside to water them this morning and I felt like I had fallen into a nightmare child’s picture game, I didn’t know quite what to do. Emotionally I felt empty, like it hadn’t registered. My pots had disappeared but I wasn’t angry or upset or…anything. I should be yelling or crying or swearing. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions that someone had stolen my plants, but what were the alternatives?
Maybe garbage men had thought they were garbage? Well, no, because yes it was garbage day, but all the garbage was still there. Also, these were clearly healthy plants. The soil was fresh, there were green leaves and there was even a small green tomato on one branch. They were not right next to the garbage, but close to the side of my apartment.
So maybe someone had thought I had just left them on the side of the road to take, like old furniture. It is almost moving day in Quebec so people troll the streets looking for toss-offs. These plants were clearly not toss-offs, though. Someone had clearly put work into them. Besides, they were in heavy pots, the kind that are hard to move. So someone would have had to be very determined to take these plants.
They weren’t knocked over anywhere, and they hadn’t been moved to the alleyway because they were in the way of some vehicle trying to get through. There were no friendly notes saying, “Please keep your tomato and pepper plants out of the way,” especially since they were not in the way of anything.
So, all that’s left in my big box of hypotheses is that they were stolen. Someone would have had to make two trips or had a big vehicle to quickly load up the plants. I was home the whole time, probably sitting in the room just inside the big window in the front of my apartment. Was it premeditated, this stealing? Had someone seen me gardening the day before, or did they happen to just come by, see some ground level plants prime for the taking? If they didn’t have a vehicle they couldn’t have gone far, so I started walking around the area. For goodness sake, they would ahve even had to make two trips to get the second plant! Three streets over, two back, through the alleys I walked, looking into backyards, up fire escapes, onto balconies. My plants were nowhere to be found. It’s hard to not notice these two big, grey, decorative, urn-like pots with ridging on the top. Part of me thinks I might even have recognized my seedlings; motherly instinct and all.
The only upside of this whole event is that I’ve introduced myself to some neighbours because it it. I asked if they saw anyone carting away my plants. My neighbours were as shocked as I had been. One even said he grows a bunch of tomatoes himself (far from ground level), heirloom varieties that stretch back for a ridiculous amount of generations. He said he’d bring some by when they were ripe. Another neighbour welcomed me to the neighbourhood and commented on how it wasn’t a nice way to get to know the area. I didn’t mention that I’d been here for almost a year. Montreal winters are cold and you certainly aren’t sitting out on your front porch in -30 temperatures, so I wasn’t surprised she thought I was new. I’d certainly never met her before either.
So who steals a tomato plant and a pepper plant, anyway? Who lugs it off someone’s front lawn and thinks, “Ha! She never saw THIS coming”? Whoever it was definitely didn’t think about the time, planning, care, and effort that went into planting those two little guys in my big pots. I was going to be a gardener. Now I feel barren and wasted. No, I won’t go buy more. First, because I have no more pots, and second because who’s to say those plants wouldn’t be taken too? I invested about $30 total in my top quality organic seedlings, fertilizer, potting soil and compost, but I invested so much more than that. When I see other people’s healthy tomato plants now, all I do is covet what I can’t have, what I’ve been denied. It’s a good thing I don’t want children. I can’t imagine what losing them would feel like. To all the gardeners out there, love your plants and count your blessings.