Hot Plants

My rosemary is recovering.

I nearly did it in this summer. The combination of July’s heat wave and my relapse – the first of which coincided with and seemed to have a hand in the other – both put forth their best effort to snuff the spiky, resinous life from it.

It had seemed to be holding its own in the heat, and then one morning before breakfast I looked out the kitchen window while washing my hands and noticed it had become yellow, dry, and sickly-looking. Nothing else looked that great around that time either – the sage was getting leggy and sunburned, and even the mint looked a bit peaked. The two basil plants I’d put in the week before everything went south with my health and the weather had looked so green and hopeful when they first went into the ground and had been promptly chewed down to the roots by the local roof rats.

And I, my fever roiling, having lost another five pounds I didn’t have to spare, and only able to summon the energy to shower every third day, caught a dim glimpse of my reflection in the pane’s glare as I replaced the oversized cake of olive oil soap in its wood and wire holder with a small clatter and lathered my hands in an unconscious rhythm.

I wasn’t looking so hot either.

I always wanted to grow rosemary, and Fresno was my first real chance. My mother-in-law, a formidable gardener who has the sort of graceful, unstudied-looking yard full of exuberant azaleas and lush greenery that is the result of more than 20 years of diligent, thoughtful work and smart plant choices, told me that in the mid-Atlantic, where I grew up, there are two ways to overwinter rosemary.

“You can bring it inside and kill it, or you can leave it outside and kill it.”

Not so Fresno. I’ve been amazed to see rosemary, huge boxwood-sized amounts of it that clearly take the better part of a decade to grow, acting as a hedge. You could roast all the potatoes in town and not use half of a plant that size. And you can hardly find one – let alone two – ways to kill it. It loves this climate.

So I’ve been growing some in a container since last summer. I probably should have moved it out of the sun somewhat when the heat wave came, but I never had the energy to do it or direct Chimp to do so. Really, he didn’t need another thing to do, what with trying to keep me fed and somewhat comfortable and from constant tears. When I asked him about its fading appearance, he told me he was watering the plants; even constant watering wasn’t enough to prevent ill effects from that streak of 115-degree days.

After the heat broke, after that string of ten days during which I didn’t leave the house, after I got back the ability to sit up, and bathe, and stand for a minute or two, I started watering the plants again from time to time. It wasn’t much of an herb garden this year. It seems like I was too busy with and tired from a schedule full of research projects during the spring, and I hadn’t gotten around to planting dill or summer savory or parsley or cilantro or even basil early on. But I did have what had overwintered – the sage, and the mint, the two kinds of thyme, the Greek oregano, the winter savory – and the rosemary.

Week by week, the rosemary sheds a few more of the yellow leaves it was nearly overcome by. I find them in the chips and on the ground around the container when I turn the hose toward it. I set the sprayer on “jet” to blow out the webs that the spiders seem to love to build in it, and a few more dead leaves come off. The fiercely propelled water raises its piney fragrance, and I run my hands through the plant, plucking off a discolored piece or two and picking up its aromatic gum on my skin in the process. I bring my hand up and inhale deeply.

I’ve seen this plant through a summer and a winter and another summer. Actually, that’s not quite right – I’ve watched this plant through that time, and I’ve given it a bit of supplemental water and a better-than-average soil. It keeps going, den of weaving spiders and heat waves notwithstanding. It is made for this place. I wish such adaptation and resilience for myself.