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……

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Mother’s Day.

Last night, I opened the window wide, slid between the sheets and listened to the free concert outside. Midwife toads, marsh frogs, owls and nightingales had combined their efforts for the perfect lullaby. A gentle breeze blew across the room. I was almost expecting a frog with a banjo to appear on the windowsill and start crooning something corny out of Disney. It wasn’t going to happen, but I fell asleep feeling privileged, imagining my lazy Mother’s Day lie-in and almond croissant the following morning.

I was rudely ripped from my slumbers by the sound of blaring car horns nine hours later. Just as I had dragged my eyelids open, an unknown voice with a strong provençal accent yelled through the window: “And what does he say, Pascal? He says ung, deux, trois, quatre, cinq-euh, six, testing!” We were then treated to Madonna at high volume.

For immediate safe haven, I had a choice between P.F’s armpit or underneath my pillow. Given the high temperatures we’d had overnight, I took the second option, and dived under the pillow.

In my poetic thoughts about my mini-paradise the night before, I had forgotten one small detail: the village sports ground opposite our house. Today appears to be football tournament day, which means free, loud music from 8 till 5 non-stop. P.F prodded my arm. “Morning! Happy Mother’s Day!”

“Bloody football players”, I grouched. ”Do they know that A) it’s  Sunday and B) it’s Mother’s day? Pascal and his bunch of pals had better bog off and play ball somewhere else before I go over there in my PJ’s and pull the plug on their party”.

The bedroom door burst open, and two beaming, underwear-clad offspring leapt onto my bed. “Happy mother’s day. When can we give you our presents?” Then I heard the sound of accelerating dog claws on the floor, and 28 kg of panting, smelly, over-enthusiastic Golden Retriever landed on me. The bed was still standing, goodness knows how. Life could definitely be worse, and Pascal the provençal footy fanatic was forgiven.

One almond croissant later, I was given my mother’s day gifts. My kids have grown up after the probatory period of school-made pasta necklaces and hand-decorated eggcups, and I was impatient to see whether they had bought or created. I was thrilled to see that Bigfoot had bought me three droopy tomato plants for the tender beginnings of my vegetable plot.  His brother had carefully painted me the frog that may play banjo on my windowsill some day, and my daughter had painted a flowerpot and planted a wilting begonia inside it. A small orange paper, folded carefully, was put in a dish of water and unfolded to reveal a message: “I love you forever”. I am a very lucky mum, and now have the difficult mission of keeping the plants alive: I am as successful at gardening as King Kong would be at needlepoint embroidery.

As for P.F, he gallantly stepped in to take his daughter to sport, and returned shortly after with his gift: a jubilating, dancing Bigfoot, a long face and a fine for ignoring a stop sign on his way home.  You’ve got to love the guy. Originality has always been his forte.