My sister is very good at plants. She’s not just good at plants, she’s good at knowing where plants should go in the garden, what water features will look nice near which plants, what kind of seating you put next to plants, and what flowers to plant if you want squashy bumblebees buzzing around your plants in the Summer. I, on the other hand, am not good at plants at all.
Lovely guests will often generously gift me lovely plants in lovely pots completely unaware that they are condemning this beautiful thing to a slow and painful demise, parched of water, shade-lovers in direct sunlight, sun-seekers stuck in the gloom. Soil hardens like concrete. Leaves shrivel. Too late I remember the thing needs water, but as I rush it to the sink for emergency hydration, the leaves fall off in a dramatic death-throe, it gives me a final withering look and mutters something unintelligible – as you’ve guessed I speak no Plantish whatsoever – and then it pops its roots. I’ve been responsible for so many deaths that I’ve now introduced a blanket-ban on all houseplants entering my home. I just can’t take the guilt any longer.
I’ve given a bit of thought as to the root cause of my ineptitude with flora, and this morning I think I put my not-at-all green finger on it. The culprit is a Venus Fly Trap I once saw on Blue Peter. It was awesome. A miracle of Nature. A glorious spokesplant for the wonders of evolution. Using some birthday money, I bought myself a baby one. I happily took it home, placed it on the side-table next to my bed, and spent the next few hours, I have to confess, teasing my new pet by gently brushing my pencil against it to trick it into thinking its lunch had arrived. The plant would clamp shut, I’d smile and go back to my reading, only to prod it again when the thing reopened, still hungry. Eventually, like all bullies, I got bored and went downstairs for supper. When I returned I stumbled upon one of the most gruesome sights I’d ever encountered. Despite the pencil-prodding, I was a gentle soul, a principled vegetarian from the age of fourteen to twenty-four (and yes, I was turned by a bacon sandwich), and a passionate lover of all animals, so to discover a desperate house fly trapped in the jaws of this botanical monster, struggling for life, its legs scrabbling against the iron-like clutch of this Angel of Death was horrific. I tried to prize the Venus Fly Trap’s mouth open, but to no avail. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking: But surely you knew these plants ate flies? The clue is in the name, after all. Yes, I knew, it’s just the reality of witnessing the act was too much to take. I ran out of my room, tears streaming down my face, returning every ten minutes to see if the tragic insect’s ordeal was finally over. The death took hours. I was mortified. I sat on my bed eyeing the Fly Trap, hating it but at the same time feeling some sort of responsibility for it. It seemed to have a life itself; I couldn’t kill it, however much I wanted to, however much I disagreed with its digestional methods. When I could bare it no longer I tentatively reached out and picked it up. Holding The Thing at arm’s length and trying not to look it directly in the, um, leaf, I marched it down to the bottom of the garden, and left it by the compost heap where it could continue its murderous ways, whilst I turned a blind eye. I never visited it again. As far as I know, for my parents have long-since moved away from that house, it’s still there, grown to the size of a Triffid, devouring flies and beetles and unsuspecting birds with ravenous glee.
You might think, considering my lack of affinity with plants, that giving my husband an olive tree for our first wedding anniversary was an odd thing to do. You might also think that writing: ‘As long as this tree lives so will our marriage…’ in the accompanying card, was asking for trouble. You would be correct. Oh My Goodness – THE PRESSURE! Every year, around late November, the temperatures drop and the leaves fall off our spindly tree like tiny green kamikazes. We nervously glance at each other, wondering if this is the final Winter of Discontent, if this is the year our union will crumble. Thankfully, new leaves have sprouted for eleven consecutive Springs, and therefore we’ve had no excuse to part ways. Not yet anyway.
This year my sister is redesigning our garden for us. Between you and I, and despite her reassurances, I’m petrified of killing her carefully placed plants. A few days ago she asked me to give some thought to the types of plants I wanted in the garden. What plants in our garden? Um, plastic ones please.