Lemon Balm in Winter

Lemon balm doesn’t grow well indoors. I didn’t know that until I moved one into my dining room. She’s an unplanned houseplant, a relic from last year’s garden I brought inside (because at the end of the growing season, I found her flourishing in the center of the leafy geodome my un-staked tomato plants incidentally had grown, and I didn’t want frost to kill her).

Before we go any farther, I need to tell you that I AM TERRIBLE AT KEEPING HOUSE PLANTS ALIVE. I don’t want to be bad at it. I want to be a plant lady. Like my sister in Kentucky who grew a $0.25 cactus into two giant cacti that had to be divided and divided then donated to a doctor whose lobby housed big succulents, or my friend in Evanston with a picture window covered in foliage on the inside⁠—it’s like a living wall. I’m me, though: ambitious and a serial plant-killer.

Picture of a lush, green lemon balm plant

So this lemon balm here, I brought it inside to save its life and made it struggle instead, because lemon balm shouldn’t be grown in apartments. According to The Spruce, “Like other herbs, lemon balm can be grown indoors, but the Herb Society of America recommends against it because the plant will never be as strong or hardy as its outdoor cousins.” I didn’t read or know this until the leaves had all dried around the edges and the plant looked leggy. The recommendation is to water your lemon balm every day, so that’s what I’ve done ever since, and it’s doing better.

I’m counting down the days until I can plant her in the ground where she belongs. Around here, that will be Mothers Day weekend. From now until mid-May, every day she survives is a triumph.

I have another house plant that should be grown indoors and is thriving. Epipremnum aureum—devil’s ivy. It’s the ultimate beginner’s plant, but I’ve even killed a couple of these in my life. Before I knew the lemon balm isn’t supposed to be grown indoors, I measured my progress by the ivy. It drapes and trails past the chimes and yarn God’s Eye I’ve hung from its container, but now that I know my balm doesn’t belong inside, she is my stick for measuring. Because…

Healthy green leaves around a ceramic skull in a hanging indoor planter

Flourishing where you belong isn’t as hard as surviving out of your element.

Are you a house plant kicking ass in a house? Bully for you.

Yesterday I felt like a tropical plant in Alaska. A leggy lemon balm stuck on a dining room table. I didn’t feel like I belonged. Not in any place with anyone. My head was singing a borderline-anxiety duet about how everyone hates me and I’m going to die alone soon, and after trying to work past it by focusing on projects, channeling my anxiousness and dis-ease into music, taking a hot bath, and shutting my Facebook temporarily down, I gave in and stuck a Xanax under my tongue, then I crawled off to bed.

I planted lemon balm outside my front door because it’s purported to induce calm and quell anxiety. I put it in with my zinnias and tomatoes (two things I try to grow every year, because my best friend’s mother loved the showy flowers and I regret not naming my daughter for her, so I grow her favorite flowers instead—a voodoo notion of penance, prayerful seeds I plant every year in her honor—and because I love the way hands smell when they’ve been picking sun-warmed tomatoes). When I get that leggy feeling, when I’m out of my body and in my head, I try to give myself what I need to make it: water and understanding.

Today is better.

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