Fred was born about 40 years ago, not sure of his birth date. He lived with me in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in a setting that encouraged harmony, good energy, lots of water. This was a perfect green environment. His world was filled with green friends. I cared for him with all my heart and enjoyed his company. He had a humble personality, his small stature featured well balanced limbs. Fred was my favorite dracaena marginata, or dragon tree as it is often called, living in my indoor garden of more than 30 plant species.
Young Fred was re-homed when I moved out of my brownstone in Park Slope to new digs. A younger cousin helped me with the daunting task of packing and at day’s end I told her to chose any plant as a thank you for all her hard work. She chose Fred (so named shortly thereafter).
That day, so long ago, off went my spirited and delighted cousin with newcomer Fred in her arms, to her parents’ home on Long Island where her mother firmly stopped her at the front door, “Where do you think you are going?” Fred’s new Mom replied,” cousin Alice gave me this plant and I am going to keep it in my room,”
“Oh no you’re not, plants go in dirt in the garden, not in the house”, said my aunt. A resident sympathetic grandmother came to the rescue and Fred was placed on a windowsill, a new landscape facing him. Happily, my cousin was satisfied with this resolution.
I learned all this recently in a conversation I had with this cousin, whom I had not spoken to for more than 25 years. My cousin said she had never seen what she called my wall of plants in that brownstone.
The next day I received a photograph of Fred from Park Slope as she calls him. In the photo you can see that Fred is a 44 year old majestic and noble senior tree. My cousin attached a note that describes her elderly mother’s occasional visits from Florida and her greeting to Fred. Gently shaking a branch she says, “Hello Fred, how are you and how is my niece?
I could not stop staring at this picture for so many reasons. And as I stared I could not stop crying. The feelings it stirred were overwhelming. I had never seen a plant this old. I felt a connection to him. The connection startled me and made me sad but nostalgic. I could not understand why I had this strong a reaction. Fred became a monument to me.
What I came to terms with and realized after a few days is that my green sanctuary in Park Slope in those early years was part of me finding myself. My mother never had a plant in the house. She and my aunt did have lilacs and roses from their gardens in the house. But, she would have recoiled in disgust as my aunt did. The idea of an indoor plant was anathema back then, at least in our family. I think I couldn’t accept those rules and did it my way. That was the beginning of my bigger-than-life world, so, why not, a wall of plants. We are lucky, my cousin and I, that Fred is a testimonial to who we are today.
My cousin was determined to keep Fred, I believe he shares her story and journey. She persevered to be herself and today is a respected and successful artist. Who knew that a plant, yes a simple dracaena, could symbolize independence and the yearning of the human spirit to prevail.
I am decorating my garden, it is springtime. I have a large bright yellow architectural fixture advertising THE BRONX ZOO. At some point someone must have pilfered it from the zoo grounds. I found it in a junk shop many years ago. Now as I gaze at its uniqueness in my quirky garden, I think of Fred. He would like this light, they have common roots….(lol)……….they are both seasoned New Yorkers……Fred is from Brooklyn, the sign comes from the Bronx.