Don’t name these houseplants

Ask not for whom the dinner bell tolls…

Some of my houseplants have names. Steve, the lucky bamboo, was named by my sister-in-law. Coy is the aspiring gingko bonsai that does not reveal its growth plans. Swamp Thing is a palm tree native to wetlands. Bambino is literally its name: Alocasia amazonica ‘Bambino.’

The basil plants and scallions have no names — because we eat them, and they shouldn’t be treated as pets. I was taught this by my paternal grandfather, Peter Burke, who grew up on a farm. When the time came for his family to eat Hardhead, the beloved calf, no one could bear to kill it, even though they were hard-scrabble poor. They had to trade it for an anonymous calf from another family.

Food is best thought of as food. I trim back some of my plants with names to keep them healthy and well shaped. Cutting up Helen and eating it would be a step too far.


Growing herbs and vegetables is a delicious way to justify a house full of plants. In fact, my husband jokes that they’re all I should grow. Scallions are especially easy:

Buy a bunch of scallions, also called green onions, at the grocery store. Choose a bunch that looks healthy and has relatively long roots. Chop off the white part with an inch or two of the green leaves, and put them in water. (Eat the rest.) The roots will grow, and you can plant them in soil. They like lots of sunshine and moist soil. Eventually, you can harvest the plants, and if you only take the mature leaves, you’ll have fresh green onions forever.

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