Spring Gardening Guide

Foolproof Flora: 5 Plants That Even You Can’t Kill

Not only are these plants easy to grow, they’re also useful (or even delicious).

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen February 8, 2015 Published in the February 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

“How is it that your dog is still alive?” This is what my mother asks me when I mention that I’ve murdered yet another potted plant. The answer, of course, is that the dog lets me know when she’s thirsty (loudly and frequently), while the plants just gasp and wither in silence before shuffling off their mortal soil once and for all. I won’t quit trying, though, or at least not until the price of store-bought herbs stops hovering between obscene and first-born child. And why should I, given all the hardy edibles out there capable of withstanding the ministrations of even the most incompetent gardeners?


The question with basil isn’t whether you’ll kill it, but whether your appetite for this cooking staple will keep up with its Jack and the Beanstalk growing pace. Luckily, this Meryl Streep of herbs is never the wrong choice—whether confettied onto pizza, stirred into lemonade, or pulsed into pesto. 


Everybody loves rosemary—on chicken, on potatoes, in bread, wherever. It also smells good in a windowsill herb garden, and it’s much prettier and more affordable than an endless parade of piney candles. Growing rosemary reminds me of having a cat—you know it needs you, but it’s happier if you ignore it sometimes.


Not having fresh aloe around bespeaks a casual recklessness on par with skipping renter’s insurance, buying jeans without trying them on, or telling a friend what you really think about her ex-boyfriend within 48 hours of the break-up. What, you never burn yourself on the stove? Never forget sunscreen? Well, okay.


Cilantro may be the ultimate impulse plant purchase. You wake up one day thinking about homemade guacamole, buy some coriander seeds (which is what the plant is, technically—the Spanish name refers solely to the leaves), and a few weeks later you’re harvesting an abundance of light, ethereal leaves. Some people more committed than I plant successive cilantro crops so that the flavorful, fly-by-night leaves are always ready to harvest and eat, but I prefer to honor the herb’s low-commitment lifestyle; in love today, gone tomorrow.


Every person should grow tomatoes when they’re feeling down about themselves. Fail a test? Get dumped? Tomatoes are the answer. Sure, the plants need lots of sunlight and the occasional deluge, but that’s about it. Unfussy and super chill to a fault, tomatoes will even grow upside-down, at least if those late-night infomercials are to be believed. Bonus: there’s something extra satisfying about watching these babies ripen—and then eating them, obviously, preferably with the aforementioned basil and some fresh mozzarella. 

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