Flower Power

Your humble scribe likes flowers and plants – as long as it’s on someone else’s patch. So this morning I was thrilled by an unexpected virtual wander around blogger Kathryn’s beautiful garden on her great blog Vastly Curious, which you can find here. The wisteria blooming out of the screen was so real that it would have any asthmatic reaching out for their inhaler. I was instantly reminded of my love-hate relationship with plants: they love to hate me.

I follow two blogs that talk about plants and flowers in the hope of discovering where I went wrong. Letters and Leaves has a twin passion for plants and literature. She ties her spade and rake to her bike, Macgyver-style, before cycling off with her book to her vegetable plot. I take my horticultural hat off to her, because she not only manages to make things grow, but actually eats what she produces.  I also have a soft spot for “A north east ohio garden”, where John Hric writes with enthusiasm about his day lilies – and the adventure of crossing them to create new flowers. His impatience to see what results from cross-breeding trials is catching, and I am intrigued by the tender way he refers to the “parents” and “grandparents” of each new “baby” he presents.

But put me in charge of John’s garden, and it would be transformed from a lush Garden of Eden to a post-apocalyptic wasteland faster than you can say “Alan Titchmarsh”. I freely admit to being the Grim Reaper of the vegetal vortex. The green finger gene deftly sidestepped me on its way through our family tree. In the same way that my mother just has to look at a plant for it to instantly transform the kitchen window sill into a dense stretch of Amazonian forest, a simple glance from MM is enough to make anything green keel over and die. Plants and I have an unspoken mutual agreement by which anything that isn’t already in the vegetable tray commits herbal hara-kiri within a month of meeting me.

Grim Reaper (advertisement)

“I hoe, I hoe, it’s off to compost you go…” MM’s alternative gardening version of the seven dwarves’ chart buster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My main problem with plants is that they are at our mercy for everything. The thing that worries me the most is that the damned things have a real communication problem. We are told that we should talk to them, but how do they get through to us? They wilt. Plants wilt to communicate every single need across a spectrum going from water to sun through soil, fertilizer, air, company, and warding off evil spirits. Now, If plants could just talk, they’d have a deal. After all, if my kids had been born with leaves instead of mouths, they would be no more than fond memories in the steaming compost heap of my mind by now. (This also explains why I did not name my daughter “Petunia” or “Daisy”; I probably would have watered her to death before her first birthday.)

So we can safely conclude that on the intelligent gift idea scale, giving MM a plant ranks 0/10. As far as good ideas go, it is on a par with asking Myra Hindley around to babysit, accepting Eva Longoria’s kind offer to drop your husband off at the hotel, or temporarily entrusting your piggy bank to Bernie Madoff. Yet despite my gold medal-winning inaptitude to take care of anything green, a strange family rite occurs in this house once a year. Every spring it is the same scenario: 1. PF buys plants.  2. PF charmingly “hides” plants beside the washing line at the bottom of the garden. 3. Children give MM the plants as Mother’s Day offerings. 4. MM digs holes in the garden for them to die in. (That sentence was ambiguous: I am of course referring to the plants and not my children).

Clementine the Mandarine, sole long-term survivor of MM's fruit boot camp. Note Paddington Bear style instructions label around neck. instructions

Clementine the Mandarine, sole long-term survivor of MM’s fruit boot camp. Note Paddington Bear-style instructions label around neck.

“Clementine” the Mandarine is the only long-term surviving contestant in the “who will survive MM” contest – Bernard the Bougainvillea quickly declined into an irreversible coma last year, and went to blossom in the floral fields of horticultural heaven not long after I’d noticed the instructions label hanging forlornly around his withered neck. As I entrusted his mummified remains to the depths of the garden muttering a perfunctory “leaves to humus, dirt to dirt” under my breath, I was elected “bad plant mum of the year” for the umpteenth year running, and informed that next year I wouldn’t be getting any more.

I lived in hope for an entire year that the plants would be replaced by their weight in chocolate, but this year PF set off undeterred once again for the local plant store, where he  gravely elected this year’s unfortunate candidates for MM’s horticultural version of Death Row. He just can’t help himself. You can give the man ten out of ten for determination: Optimism is my husband’s middle name.

Sunday lunchtime thus found MM staring out from behind the floral equivalent of the great wall of China at her beaming offspring. I was relieved to see that the choice of plants has finally moved away from the usual frail and fragile exotica demanding filtered holy water, daily meditation and feng shui-flavoured compost spiked with tropical fruit bat droppings. This year’s candidates are more resistant and realistic plants like dahlias, flowering sage and strawberries. If these don’t survive, I’ll no doubt be getting Triffids next year. I duly thanked my offspring, and went to the garden to dig the graves of my next victims. Here is the macabre scene for Act Two of MM’s tragic Mother’s Day impromptu plant play: “The Death of the Strawberry Sisters”.

The future tombstone of the Strawberry Sisters. I will play "Strawberry fields for ever" at their funeral.

The future tombstone of the Strawberry Sisters. I shall play “Strawberry Fields Forever” at their funeral.

I crouched down on the ground at sunset and levelled with my new recruits to outline their future in MM’s merciless berry boot camp. “The deal is simple: I give you water. You don’t wilt, and you give me strawberries. Any desiderata must be spelled out in stones at your side in simple code – “W” for Water, “S” for Sun, “F” for fertiliser. Last year’s winners were called the Cocktail Commando – a tough tomato trio. They were Solanum Supermen; top-notch tomatoes who followed the vegetable plot to the letter. Now it’s over to you, Strawberry Sisters. I don’t want wilting wallflowers, I want girl power. Berry nice, girls, over to you.”

They didn’t reply. I’m feeling anxious. I’m off to have a word with those weeds now – I can swear I heard them whispering on the sidelines……

25 thoughts on “Flower Power

  1. I leave the growing and nurturing of things to people who can do it well. When the things are grown and fully nurtured, I eat them. It occurred to me that what is good for a thing might also be good for a person, so I did the same with our children. My wife thinks it’s outrageous that they even pass the time of day with me let alone that they should be my best friends. I think this sounds worse than it is: my wife, on the other hand, thinks it is very accurate.

    • I had to read that twice; at first I thought you had a Hannibal Lechter streak. Then I saw that you are best friends with your children. Oof 🙂 I manage fine with kid growing, but its probably because they have never been able to let me go past them without saying the words “hungry” or “thirsty”….

  2. I killed strawberries last summer 😦 I’m a total nightmare with plants so I know where you’re coming from! I rescued a plant from B&Q last year that was almost on it’s death bed… thinking, I can’t possibly do it any more damage, it’s on it’s way out anyway! It’s still alive and kicking… the only plant I’ve ever managed to nurture and it makes me so happy whenever I walk past it, especially when it’s wonderful flowers burst forth! 🙂 However, my daughter bought me an orchid for my birthday, which is absolutely gorgeous but it gives me so much stress because I so don’t want to kill it! Why is it so hard for us and so easy for others? I don’t get it! 😦

    • Welcome to the club. We’ll call it “the strawberry stalkers” 🙂 I was referring to orchids when I talked about filtered holy water and tropical fruit droppings….they need the permanent plant equivalent of intensive care. My condoleances, in advance 😀
      I have a plant I saved too: I also have an exception to my DDT fingers. Percy the Papyrus froze to death on my bathroom windowsill this winter. I gave him a short back & sides and watered and threatened him every day, and now have lush green sticks with green brollies sticking out of the top. Hooray!!

      • Really worried about ‘Possibility’ now (my Orchids name) my daughter’s told me to only give it a thimble of water when it’s pot is dry… every day I examine it with a furrowed brow, thinking it’s leaves are looking more wrinkly than a few weeks ago… plants are supposed to bring you peace and happiness not wrinkled foreheads and constant worry!
        Well done on Percy though and Clementine’s looking good too! May get one of those it looks lovely and rustic with the shutters in the background! 😀

  3. WOWWWWWWWWW! I was just opening todays emails and I am so behind I have not even answered any messages..I BLUSHED to see my name :)))))) Thank you so very much ! Now I will look to see who else you follow. Kathryn 🙂

    • Kathryn, Cannes is over but MM is doing her best to make sure everyone knows that you are a star. Meet Kathryn everyone, and pop over to check out her blog. Kathyrn, enjoy meeting all the other vicitms of my warped sense of humour!

  4. Dear Grim Reaper. Try some Miracle Grow ! It really works well although I generally do not EAT what I feed with it…..hmmm.. I will have to research this rather than offer poisen pen advice.
    Back atcha.

  5. I think no….

    It is not organic that is correct, but organic does not necessarily mean that it is safe either. There are some “organic” fertilizers which I would not use on veggies or anything else I was going to eat. Milorganite being one. It is totally organic, but it is made from activated human sewage sludge. This gives new thought to the old adage….”you are what you eat!”
    Miracle Grow is made up from chemically derived nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. It is actually much cleaner and more pleasant to use then many of the natural or “organic” types.
    Also as long as it is a properly balanced fertilizer, which Miracle Grow is. It is safe to use right on through the entire cycle of the vegetables growth.

    Oh don’t try using it on your grass though, it is almost impossible to get an even spray with those hose end applicators, and your result will be at best uneven growth, at worst, you could even kill areas with over fertilization.
    If you think you have a steady enough hand to get it applied evenly, try this test. Take 10 empty soup cans and scatter them upright on your lawn. Try watering the area using the applicator with out any fertilizer, and try to do it as even as you can. Then go out and look at the difference in the amount of water you have in the cans, you will be amazed.
    I have been in the Green Industry pretty much my entire life. Now I manage the chemical maint. div. of a landscaping company and produce and host The Plant Doctor Show which airs on am radio 1410WIZM La Crosse, WI

    • AND you work in radio? Tea, please, nurse…. You’re a plant doctor? I think you’re going to have a whole new line-up of patients real soon 🙂 Is your miracle growth sold in Europe? I might try some on the local population here, as the further South you go, the shorter the people become. No worries about the lawn; I don’t have any. It just burns here in summer.

  6. Love “the Grim Reaper of the vegetal vortex” – haha, very good. I know how you feel. I’m not good with plants either. Some just do their own thing, others give up and die. It seems very arbitrary. I’ve got a lovely sage plant but my thyme is struggling and will probably die a thymely death as its predecessors have before it.

    My garden is not my own though so I’m not too bothered about improving it (expensively)…

    • A thymely death… Warf! I’m not sure that my piece of scrub qualifies as a garden; it’s a kind on hotch-potch of different survivors that PF polices with his long yellow hose. Thyme will tell……. 😀

  7. When I wander around the garden centre I am Capability Brown, Charlie Dimmock (with a bra), Carol Klein, Percy, Alan and Monty all rolled into one. By the time I reach home I am Incapability Brown and Charlie Dim. My plants often don’t even make the ground. Their pots become their coffins and then they feed the compost heap. What is that compost heap all about anyway it never actually gets put anywhere, but I feel oh so good recycling my food waste on it!

    I leave the gardening to the LGB who proudly brings me up courgette after cucumber after courgette until I just want to shove them where the sun don’t shine 😦

    Joking aside there is nothing like eating home grown.

    Thank you for your sister’s blog. Will pop along later.

    • You made me laugh with your parallels to the professional gardening world and your return to reality: I have a similar feeling when I walk around Ikea and when I get home with the miracle bits and bobs to the reality of the Hiroshima I fondly call “home”. Be careful with those courgettes, or LGB will be singing soprano to next year’s batch 🙂

  8. thanks god you’ve got markets and supermarkets to buy fruit and veg,….. or you would go hungry….. day of the triffids coming our way too 😦

    • Not growing my own veg gives me a great excuse to go to the market. I love the way the vegetable stall holder chases me across the market place with the stuff I forget because I talk for so long, I forgot what I went there for in the first place and leave empty handed 😀 I call those spiky things in your garden triffids, I don’t know what their real name is, but they are dead spikey and leave holes in unsuspecting bottoms.

  9. I just stumbled across your blog. You have such lovely markets in France, just buy your flowers there 🙂 Annie

    • Hello Annie, and welcome to my pad 🙂 I do indeed buy myself flowers regularly (PF has yet to take the hint). I have a soft spot for sunflowers – I tried to grow some last year, and they wilted on me. So now I buy them! I’m off for a wander around your blog now 🙂

  10. Hehe – I love your description of me! Actually, I love your writing style in general – giggled through the whole post! I wish I had more time to read your blog. Fingers crossed for your strawberries!

    • I’m glad you liked it, and I hope that everyone pops around to your blog see your vegetable produce faces with leafy hair! The strawberry sisters are still alive, but no flowers. No flowers, no strawberries. I have barren strawberry plants! What a rip off.

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