Of Jupiter, Saturn, and philodendrons

Gardening is not my greatest skill. Be it a vegetable garden or a windowsill of houseplants, once I get the plants going, I tend to slack off on their maintenance. Especially watering. Really, if the shamrock plant could jump up on my bed and poke me until I watered it, the way my cat used to insist on being fed, all my plants would be happier for it. And someone who barely remembers to water her plants is unlikely to remember to prune them. Indeed, it’s difficult for me to get past the notion that pruning a plant will harm it. Never mind that millions of Americans mow their lawns several times a year without killing them off, it feels counter-intuitive that snipping off branches and fresh new growth helps a plant in the long run.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a moderate collection of houseplants that have managed to survive my maintenance style. Among them is a philodendron. It has been one of my more successful home gardening efforts, sending out tendrils and unfurling new leaves with exuberance, and bouncing back remarkably well when I’ve watered it after a period of forgetting. I certainly haven’t pruned it.

* * *

In astrology, Jupiter and Saturn are symbolic opposites. Among other things, Jupiter represents growth and expansion. This is the planet associated with good fortune and boundless possibilities.  Jupiter brings with it the faith that it will all work out somehow, although this is the optimism that comes from never having had to grapple with a real problem. In the days of yore, astrologers dubbed Jupiter the Greater Benefic, and it’s difficult to see Jupiter as anything else than a good influence. Which of course, it isn’t always. Just ask anyone with a malignant tumor, a problem with obesity, or who is living on a planet suffering from ecological exploitation what the downside to unrestricted growth might be.

Saturn, the Greater Malefic, represents all those limitations and restrictions that Jupiter doesn’t comprehend. Duties, responsibilities, rules, delays, the passage of time, eating your vegetables before you get dessert, paying your dues, recognizing your limits—all of these are Saturn’s domain. Sure, nowadays we tell ourselves that these things are good for us, that they build character, but mostly we just put up with them.

* * *

Leaving the philodendron to grow as it would seemed reasonable at the time. Heck, I was thrilled that it was growing, period. Leafy vines covered the plant stand, helping disguise the fact that all of my plants look a bit tired (living with me isn’t easy). But today, I saw the philodendron without my rose-colored glasses and realized that it wasn’t healthy. It had reached the stage where there were more vines and leaves than the roots could support, both in terms of nutrition and in holding the structure of the plant itself together. Those cascading vines had more dead leaves on them than living and many were largely bare. Dried leaves were scattered around the plant, which had a stretched look to it as the vines were pulled straight under their own weight.

So I’ve had to prune the plant to give it a chance to thrive. Maybe two-thirds of the vines had to be removed (the image of the god Saturn with his scythe comes to mind). I struggled to untangle vines to find a safe spot to clip them and discovered that the philodendron had started climbing up itself, strangling itself in the process. It’s entirely possible that in waiting this long, I may have had to cut off too much for it to survive. We shall see.

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