Resilience isn’t pretty

Andre Breillatt
4 min readJul 31, 2021

When we moved into our current house there was this sad, bare, ugly little tree in a pot by the front step. We had no idea what it was, but instead of tossing it I put it out back and began to water it along with the rest of the plants. Little by little it came back to life. As it grew a few leaves again, I took some pictures and uploaded them to a plant database. To our surprise, we had a mature hibiscus that had been left to die in the South Florida heat.

Over a couple months it got stronger and was soon covered in beautiful green leaves. I repotted it with some fresh soil and we waited to see what kind of hibiscus it was. The first day it flowered was magical. We were now the caretakers of a ‘Hibiscus rosa-sinensis’, or the classic red hibiscus. It also happens to be my wife’s favorite flower, so she was thrilled. As the months passed, more flowers bloomed. At its peak we had 3 to 5 bright red blooms per week.

Things started to go downhill after that. The large, lush, green leaves started to look more like an organic cheese grater — the work of small brown and black beetles that love to destroy everything from young avocado to mint to hibiscus. (Basically everything I grow.) I sprayed some insecticide and the beetles went away for a few weeks. Then the leaves began to turn yellow and drop off. I checked the soil, but it wasn’t being overwatered. I added some organic fertilizer, thinking that maybe the potting soil was void of nutrients. Nothing helped and I thought maybe the plant was just dying after one last hurrah. Then I saw them — little cottony white insects on the underside of the leaves surrounding one of the last flower buds.

For those familiar with sub-tropical foliage, mealybugs look a lot like the scale that affects palms. They quite literally suck the life out of plants and kill them. Quickly. A mealybug infestation is very dangerous, but plants can come back from an attack if treated in time. Using a combination of neem oil, castile soap, and a water base I began a 3 month regimen of treating the hibiscus every 3 to 4 days, making sure to get the underside of the remaining leaves. For the most part it worked. Leaves began to grow again and it bloomed regularly.

But the hibiscus was never the same. I repotted it in a larger pot with fresh soil after a year and it revived a little bit more. But it seemed that the damage had been done. The leaves never returned to the lush green that one associates with a healthy hibiscus. They would regularly turn yellow and drop off. The blooms became less frequent and at times were somewhat stunted. It didn’t help that the green iguanas would come out around mid-day and munch on the bright red flowers, leaving little nubs behind.

Little by little the leaves stopped growing altogether until it resembled a slightly taller version of the sad, bare, tree that came with the house. I decided to give it one more shot to see if it would come back. I checked each branch carefully to determine what was dead and what was still alive. When I finished pruning, it looked a bit less sad, although definitely still bare. There seemed to be life in there still.

And, so here we are. I check on the hibiscus daily to see if there is any improvement. For more than 2 months it has remained bare, but alive. I’ve resolved to continue to do what I can as long as that little tree displays a will to live. As long as it is resilient in the face of everything Mother Nature throws at it.

Now that’s a nice story, and I suppose gives some insight into one of my favorite hobbies — gardening. But what’s the point?

The point is that we, individually, are like that hibiscus that sits out back in its big orange pot. This life is difficult at best, and cruel at worst. Our goal is to be covered in lush greenery and beautiful blooms — the perfect version of ourselves. The reality is that we struggle to keep those leaves from turning yellow and dropping. And that’s OK.

That is life in all its beauty and glory. Our true goal is to hang on and move forward as best we can. Some days that means we’re covered in red blooms the size of a fist. Other days we’re left bare as can be, but still very much alive below the surface. As long as we refuse to give up things will work out.

In the face of everything life throws at you, be resilient.