My coffee plantation


Gardening runs in my family.  My father grew industrial-sized corn and cabbages the size of world globes in our backyard.  My mother’s dahlias were enormous.  Both my sisters had incredibly lush gardens, and both had the knack of snipping off a tiny bit of a plant from anywhere – a doctor’s waiting-room, a restaurant, a neighbor’s (private) garden – and taking it home and sticking it in the ground and making it grow.



I do not generally share the family gift.  I love plants and flowers, but they do not grow gladly for me.  Either they grow rank and wild like disobedient children, or they don’t grow at all.  Partner and I had a plot in the local community garden for a few years, and everyone else’s garden looked like a Brazilian rain forest, and ours looked like a moonscape.  We harvested precious little: a few flowers, some tomatoes, a couple of peppers.  I gave it up after a few years.



My garden is now a small table next to a south-facing window.  I have some cacti, purchased from Ikea four years ago in a three-pack.  They were little peanutty things when I first brought them home, so I put all three together in a mini-topiary arrangement and told them good luck.  They thrive.  All three have quadrupled in size; they are so healthy, in fact, that I’m afraid they may be mainlining steroids, or Vigoro, or something.  One of them is putting out leaflike projections at the moment; they’re getting bigger and weirder by the day, and I can only hope this is not some peculiar “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” situation.  (I also bought a companion cactus a few months ago in Big Lots; it was cheap and peculiar-looking, lumpy and spiny and shaped like an alien fortress, and it looked as it might fit in with the first three.)



There is also a Pereskia aculeata, aka “Barbados gooseberry.”  I have written about it before.  It is one of the rank/wild/disobedient plants. It’s pretty much a weed in the Caribbean.  It climbs all over everything, and it has wicked spines (it looks like a regular creeping vine with big shiny green leaves, but it’s a cactus too, believe it or not).  I’ve had it for twenty years; it has changed residences with me twice, and it has grown monstrously and died back, and it is still with me.  I am sure it will outlive me.



Also, my pet, my prize: a coffee tree, which I bought about ten years ago.  It was just a baby then; it’s almost three feet tall now.  It is a lovely shrub, with nice shiny leaves.  Several years ago it surprised me by blooming (my plants never bloom), with small jasmine-like flowers scattered all over its branches. 



Then, somehow, it pollinated itself, and I had a crop of coffee berries.



The berries are lovely too: small, bright red like cherries, and slow to mature.  The tree has repeated its fruit-bearing phase twice, and I just picked a ripe berry tonight.  I tried looking up the method for making actual drinkable coffee out of the berries, but it’s a long process, with fermentation and drying, and I don’t think I’d get much coffee out of the small handful of beans my little tree has produced.



But I am impressed that it has shown the effort to bear fruit.  Of all the plants I’ve ever owned, it’s the only one that has actually behaved nicely and done what it was supposed to do.



Does anyone want six or seven coffee beans?


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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