What typically comes to mind when we hear the word “nurture” is a mother holding a baby. But nurturing is not a gender-specific activity, nor is it only applied to human babies. In fact, if you think of every instance when you viewed a scene or picture of a farmer cradling a lamb, calf, or chicken, that is what nurturing is—caring for a living being that often cannot express its thanks. The object of nurturing can be a child or other human, or it can be a puppy, kitten, apple tree, or flowering plant. All require nurturing in order to thrive.
This was brought home to me recently after I joined a couple of Facebook groups for African Violet (AV) growers. I noticed that many of the members are men. People in this group start plants from leaves, and more rarely, seeds. Growing violets like this is a very exacting and time-consuming hobby. Before joining the group, I pictured the typical grower as a woman of middle or advanced age, living in a cozy cottage where she served tea and cookies to fellow enthusiasts. Boy was I wrong.
There are these, of course, many of them genteel ladies living in sunny climes like Louisiana, Texas, or Florida, where indirect light nearly always fills the plant room. But the men. Who are they? Out of curiosity, I looked at the personal pages of some to see what kind of guys have the patience and enthusiasm to grow this most delicate of flowers. I expected to find that they were surgeons, psychologists, accountants, anything but what I discovered many of them to be.
One is a fireman, another an outdoorsman and gun rights advocate, and so on. Tough guys, macho guys, but maybe not so much. There is a softer side to many men that needs tending. These guys build complicated growing systems for their babies, multi-level shelving lit by shop lights and fancy gro lights, full spectrums that mimic daylight. They write the names of their hybrid plants on plastic markers and keep spreadsheets showing dates of planting, first bloom, divisions, harvest of leaves, fertilizer schedule, pH results, etc. As I said, a very complex process, requiring the kind of patience I had only given the women credit for. And most are more organized than I am.
Years ago, I lived near a couple — Eddie, a long-haul truck driver, and Sandy, who was home with their baby. Eddie’s hobby and passion was raising geraniums from seed. When the young plants were large enough, he would move them from the house to a wooden wheel barrow that stood on the front lawn.
One day in May, as he was headed out for a trip that would take him away for a week or so, he asked Sandy to watch the plants he had transferred to the wheel barrow. If the weather turned colder, below a certain degree range, she was to cover them with a tarp he had left for that purpose. Well, of course you know what happened. With other things on her plate, including a colicky baby, she forgot. I later heard the sad story from a man with tears welling up in his eyes.
Every morning brings a smile to my face as I read the latest posts from members who write about their achievements (with photos) and failures (with photos) and receive praise and advice from other members, including the experts who contribute to the African Violet Society of America http://www.avsa.org magazine.
I think the nurturing award goes to Anna, who moved to Los Angeles from Lexington, Kentucky this week with her AVs, more than 100 of them, packed in Rubbermaid tubs, each plant surrounded by insulation. She expected to lose a number as she drove cross-country, but every one survived nicely.
Carmen, another member of the group, was preparing for an appointment at the Jacksonville, Florida location of the Mayo Clinic, and her son was trying to make the time go by with distractions. She wrote that they stopped at a garden center where Carmen spotted a neglected little noid, which means no i.d. These are the plants you typically find in big box stores, as opposed to the registered African Violet varieties that growers favor.
“Of course I had to save it,” she wrote.“ And then this happened. My son decided to stop at a church to hear mass. They thought I was crazy because I said no way was I going to leave my violet in a hot car! So she went to church with me. At the end of the mass, the priest was at the door saying goodbye to everyone. There I was, carrying my plant like a bridal bouquet. He looked at me, he looked at my violet and then back at me, and I said, ‘Sorry Father, I couldn’t leave her in the hot car.’ He said, “Of course not. Let’s bless your violet,” and he did! My dear friends, I have a blessed noid that I am calling Blessed Mary.”
Members responded with good wishes and emojis that included smiles, hearts, and praying hands. It must have worked because Carmen came back to the group to give us an update. She posted a photo of ten new African Violets on the back seat of her son’s car and wrote, “My fixed heart celebration gift . . . All Harmony.”
Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 print newspapers and magazines, including Grit, New Woman, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the San Antonio Express-News and Bay Area Parent. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Sheila has contributed to online websites, including commondreams.org and dissidentvoice.org. She served as contributing editor of Organic Producer magazine and wrote biographical material for reference collections that include “Contemporary Authors,” the “Encyclopedia of International Biography” and “Notable Sports Figures.” Feel free to send her an e-mail.