The Plant Whisperer

Flora and fauna have long captivated humanity.

Artists paint them – Monet’s Water Lilies, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Poppies, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers – and people give bouquets as gifts. Blooms represent love on Valentine’s Day and serve as a balm to ease the pain in times of sickness or grief.

Plants and flowers emerge from the earth, trembling in the sunlight and just like people, they bloom under a caring and tender touch.

Despite having no formal training in horticulture or being involved with the floral industry in any way, John is the plant whisperer with the unique ability to create life where there once was none.

John came to Village For Change in January, 2014. Diagnosed with chronic depression, anxiety and mood swings, he self-medicated with alcohol and drank to keep the pain away.

“My alcoholism was a result of experiencing trauma,” he explains. “I lost my dad too early. He was my best friend and when I lost my dad, I lost my way.”

He knew he had to make a change and when he heard about Village For Change, he knew it would be the key to redemption.

“I never felt the deep need for change until I came to VFC,” he said. “This program focuses on the individual because you can’t go at this alone. You need to have someone tell you that you’ve improved and because this program features so heavily on CDOI (client directed outcome-informed therapy), it does that. It was my last hopeful stop and the way I was received here was a godsend.”

John moved into the facility and made himself at home.

Sitting in the cafeteria one day, he noticed a fruit basket filled with oranges, bananas and a lone, wrinkly Red Delicious apple. He picked it up and started musing to himself.

“Look at you. Nobody appreciated you, nobody saw your potential and now, you’re ready to be thrown out.”

He cut it open and discovered a plump black seed with a green tendril sprouting out of it.

Amazed by the delicate life growing within the forlorn and forgotten piece of fruit, John made a decision to Change The Odds.

“I wrapped it up in a piece of tissue paper and took it home. I watered the seed and after a week, a shoot popped through the tissue. So I planted this tiny thing in a soda cap and just kept looking after it. A little while later, a leaf popped out so I transferred to a laundry detergent cap, gave it some soil from outside and made a homemade compost of salad greens and just kept nourishing it,” he said.

“I named him Johnny after Johnny Appleseed and now, this tiny little sprout has been moved to a bucket and stands at about 4’ tall. It felt really good.”

Proud of his accomplishment, John was eager to do more and he found opportunities all over Village For Change.

“I saw this plant out by the dumpster. The leaves were all brown and someone had just thrown it away because they didn’t want it anymore. It was a spathiphyllum. I pushed away all the brown leaves to discover green shoots,” he said. “I saved that plant from certain death just like Village for Change saved me from certain death.”

Now, John runs a hospital of sorts for broken plants out of his room at Village for Change and has even taken to playing doctor to plants on the facility’s grounds.

“I saw three sticks poking out of the ground and thought, ‘Well hey. That’s a rose bush.’ So, I watered it and took care of it.” The bush’s treatment also involved natural fertilizer courtesy of discarded banana peels. This was due to two reasons – the first being they were available on site and the second being the immense amount of potassium banana peels contain.

His goal was to get a dozen roses to bloom and he far surpassed it with 36 buds blooming all at once. These roses – peachy-coral like a South Florida sunset – were carefully plucked and given away to Village For Change’s female clients and staff for Mother’s Day.

“It always comes back to my recovery,” he said. “Helping these plants helps me.”

Word about John’s thumb spread through the organization and reached Director of Client Outreach Services  Jibby Ciric who needed help with a Lucky Bamboo plant. It had been given to her as a gift and held a lot of sentimental value but the leaves were brown and the plant was dying.

“I told Jibby you gotta trust me and I took the bamboo home and operated on it. I carefully pruned the dead leaves, made tiny incisions, sealed them with candle wax and a few weeks later, I saw a little green growth blooming out of that stalk,” he said with a smile.

“I fell in love with helping it but I knew I couldn’t keep it.  I gave it back to Jibby, healthy and beautiful, and I wrote her a card to go along with it that I think not only applies to the plant but applies to me and applies to everyone here.”

His message on the card?

“It’s never too late to be brand new.”