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Life is a bitch. I steadfastly maintain that most of what the people are reading this article experience are classified as “first world problems.” Probably aren’t many life-threatening issues in our average day-to-day. A problem’s a problem, failure’s a failure, and sometimes we’ve got to vent about it.

Of all first world problems, the ones that bother me the most relate to my love of plants and gardening. My most recent failure has its roots in Africa. Put on your imagination caps because we’re going for a ride.

The Nguru Mountains gut the clouds and leave mountaintops and shallow valleys bathed in mist. Cacophonous waterfalls drum thousands of gallons of water into streambeds and mountain pools adding moisture to the air. These areas are called “Cloud Forests.” The drier spots of these forests hold a colorful treasure; small plants with hairy leaves and dainty flowers, clinging to pockets of soil and hidden from the worst of the moisture in the air.

It is a plant called Saintpaulia ionantha, more commonly known as the African Violet. You’ve probably seen them as indoor plants in the homes of old ladies, retirement homes, and on the writing desk of yours truly. Easy to care for, the African Violet is an excellent introduction into the world of plants.

Once you’ve gotten along with these easy-going plants for some time, you’ll want more. Almost the entirety of Saintpaulia is asexually propagated; greenhouses remove leaves from mature plants, plop that leaf into some potting mix, and in a few weeks, each leaf has grown into a new plant. They are essentially clones of the parent plant.

It’s supposed to be an easy, straight-forward process. If you haven’t guessed by now, this is where my bout with failure comes in.

I attempted to propagate some cuttings of this bad boy a few months ago and have seen each one of my cuttings die one by one. In some swash of cosmic humor, I even wrote an article on a gardening blog about how to grow African Violets from cuttings.

Seriously, every single one died. It’s embarrassing. I’ve got half a dozen containers of green goop where beautiful new houseplants ought to be. It was up to me to get these things going, and it’s entirely on me that they collapsed into undefinable lumps of nastiness.

I failed.

But.

But, I can start again, can’t I? What’s preventing me from carving up one of my mature Violets and starting the process all over again?

The band Foxy Shazam has a few great songs and a couple of excellent lyrics. My favorite from their portfolio is, “Life is a bitch, but she is doable”. That applies awfully god damn well to the concept of failure. It sucks to show up empty-handed after you gave it a go, but that doesn’t make an attempt any less fruitful.

We grow from our failures. After a few scrapes and beatings, we simply have to get back up and try again. If our lives were a wallchart list of accomplishments, we’d have gold stars for every time we got back on the bike. The successes are important, but the losses teach us how to keep on keeping on.

Matt Suwak
About the Author

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in bird watching and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works during the day as a landscaper and gardener, and by night a freelance writer. He can throw a football ten miles from a stationary position and has grappled mountain lions and lived to tell about it. The lions cannot say the same.

His other writing can be found at www.heyplantguy.com

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