By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Is it OK to kill plants just because they are ugly? The snapdragons sprouting up in my front yard a few summers ago were innocent. They were doing what snapdragons do: send down roots, suck up water, push out blossoms. But they were ugly, really ugly — a screaming red-maroon color that outshouted the pastel pinks, lavenders and yellows that I’d planted in my rock garden.
If I ripped those snaps out of the ground in full bloom would that make me an assassin? Would I be committing — what? — floricide? They were ugly, but clearly they were living, striving things. Beings of some kind. But their color, somewhere between scarlet and maroon, was getting on my nerves. I don’t like scarlet. I like maroon even less.
At the nursery, when I first spotted the six-packs of baby snapdragons, I saw only creamy buds. As they grew, however, the blossoms turned maroon and started taking over my garden, leaving the lavender and the bacopa to go unnoticed.
My mother had shelves of potted plants growing with fervor out on the patio of her assisted living apartment at the time. One plant, a philodendron, was not doing so well. It had only a few leaves, most of them dead or yellow.
“Do I throw it out?” she asked. “It doesn’t look very good.”
I thought of my snapdragons. And my mother, for that matter. She didn’t look very good.
I thought too of the cypress tree growing in our back yard. When Peter was little, we found out he was allergic to cypress. “Hmm,” I said to the pediatrician. “We have a cypress tree growing in our back yard a few feet from the house and Peter’s bedroom.”
“Cut it down,” the doctor said.
Jon and I conferred. Our cypress was massive — five stories tall — and older than both of us put together. It was a magnificent tree, timeless, a steady presence at our house. Its branches had grown over and around our deck, so that you could go out there at any time, day or night, stand inside that tree and forget where you were in time and space.
No way were Jon and I going to get rid of that cypress tree. Peter would have to take antihistamines. Or grow out of his allergies. Or we’d move to another house.
Peter outgrew the allergies. We didn’t move. Today, the cypress tree, as stately and self-sufficient as ever, lives on.
But the awful snapdragons? The scraggly, deadish philodendron on my mother’s patio? I put them out of my misery. I killed them.