Monday, April 20, 2009

Growing a House Plant -- A Metaphor

Around early November, my wife and I made a long-term commitment: we bought a house plant, which we named "Bob." The timing of our purchase had nothing to do with the fact that a historic election took place around the same time. But, the house plant under our guidance, just like our economy under the guidance of a new administration, has had a turbulent couple of months.

Here is a picture of young Bob when we first brought him home.

Bob was young and fragile. Indeed, it would have been easy to kill our new house plant with bad management. What's more, we had no real experience taking care of a plant. Neither one of us had any clue about how frequently to water, where in the room to place Bob, or even whether Bob needed to be placed in a larger pot. We did our own research, tried an assortment of strategies, and we consulted our advisers (family). Some of our advisers thought we needed to transplant Bob into a new pot, or he wouldn't survive the month.

We searched for a pot at our favorite stores (Walmart, Costco, Jewel-Osco, etc.), but we were unable to find anything suitable. In the meantime, we watered Bob sporadically (whenever he looked droopy), but we did little to care for our house plant.

Two months came and went under our naive management. Bob survived our first month, but he began looking sickly. Moreover, we were not sure how to cure an ailing house plant. We tried watering more frequently and placing Bob nearer to the sunshine. These strategies were merely transitory. What Bob needed was a long term fix. He needed a larger pot.

Then, we made a big mistake. In all of our planning for a week-long trip to Montana to visit family, we forgot to watch out for Bob. We left Bob alone for an entire week without anyone to water him. What's even worse? We had not watered Bob for a few days leading up to our trip. When we realized what we had done, we thought that would be the end of Bob. In retrospect, we are ashamed we treated Bob so poorly, but we do have other priorities!

When we arrived home from our trip, Bob looked like this:

We were horrified that Bob was in such bad shape because of our negligence. From that point onward, we pledged to be better stewards of our plant. The next day, we finally looked hard enough to find a suitable pot. We also bought some good potting soil and some Miracle-Gro fertilizer. Bob was going to need all the help he could get.

Cautiously and vigilantly, we nurtured Bob back to health. Now, our plant has a bunch of new growth. He's perky and healthy. To be sure, Bob is a vibrant addition to our apartment!

Here's how Bob looks now:

Through our ordeal, we learned some powerful lessons about growing a house plant:

  1. House plants need a proper foundation. This includes good soil and a pot that is large enough for the roots to take hold.

  2. House plants need the right amount of water. Too little water can cause the plant to wilt. Too much water can also cause wilting. We found that watering Bob once every couple of days is the right amount of care.

  3. House plants need to be given the right amount of space. When we left for a week, that was too much space. But, when we were initially hovering over our new plant, we just about smothered the life out of Bob.

As I said at the beginning of this post, Bob has had a turbulent first few months in our house. Now, his outlook is good and we are seeing signs that Bob will be a beautiful part of our apartment for some time to come. Here's hoping that our economy experiences a similar change of course.

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