Anyone who has sat on my sofa recently, perhaps with the curtains drawn and the lights off, may have had their sights drawn briefly away from the glow of the television to touch on the ominous silhouette of our most recently deceased houseplant. The houseplant arrived at some point after Christmas. Or maybe it was before. Some time about half a year ago anyway. Neither of us have watered it since. I remarked on its closeness to death some time in March, and it has possibly had the dregs of a beer can tipped in from time to time. It is now irrevocably dead. It has been for a few weeks. I have mentioned we should maybe move it. I have pointed out it’s in a nice pot. Neither of us have made any moves to find it a more organic resting place.
I think the cacti know. The cacti came to us under duress. I do not like the cacti. They are obscene. I don’t like the way they leer at me, they know they weren’t invited into my home. They will not die. Since the houseplant has passed there have been repeated instances of wrist scratching when I reach behind them to pull down the blinds. I find their spikes lurking in my socks after laundry day, or lodged into my knuckle when I take off the washing up gloves.
I have never much thought about plants. I don’t dislike them, I just rarely notice them. I like them in a general surrounding way. I like the occasion of being given flowers. I like sitting outside in gardens. When I was little we had a yucca plant in our living room, and one day my mum said it was dying because it hadn’t enough sun. I collected everything yellow I could find in the house: the yellow pages, a sunhat and my tricycle and built them into a shrine, trying to coax it back to life, but alas, that’s not how plants work. I do know that now.
Since then I have been little affected by the life and times of plant life, assuming it to be something beyond my reach. That is until we came to be in charge of an allotment by our house shortly after we moved. I liked the idea of an allotment, somewhere to have bonfires and keep chickens, and while the parish council waiting list for one sounds like the kind of document a Midsommer murderer would kill for, we were asked if we would help an elderly neighbour look after hers. She rarely makes it outside, and her one request was that we grow some beetroot. Fair deal, we thought.
At first, work in the garden was face-saving. We needed to be seen to be doing something. We sheared down the grass and weeds that had grown to waist height. We uncovered paving slabs and cut away low hanging branches. That was enough for winter. Then spring began to creep. We discovered a bench. We laid out our plans for a fire pit and a lawn and a flowerbed and a compost heap and a vegetable patch. My aspirations were purely aesthetic. To lie in the sun and read on the grass. To have a bonfire at solstice. Floral pattern gardening gloves and a tin watering can. But we had promised beetroot, so beetroot must be delivered. We dug out a bed and trailed to B&Q and bought fancy soil that is apparently better than the dirt we already have. We bought seeds and we sowed them. Except, actually, you’ll find that beetroot seeds are little pods filled with seeds, rather than themselves being seeds. Anyway, we did our planting and that was that. As we came down from the garden, flushed with our success on a warm April day our neighbour asked us if we were prepared for next week’s snow. We laughed. Three days later I sat glumly on the bus, watching the sleet that had followed the hail and snow. Poor little baby seeds.
I didn’t go up to the garden much after that. A couple of times a week I would cart up the watering can and slosh its contents across the bed, with no sign of life. I started to forget about it. Then one night, as the evenings got longer and I prepared to settle in for night, I paused as I drew the curtains to stop the light glare on the telly and thought I might just go for a walk instead. And as I got to the top of the drive, I thought I might just poke my head into the allotment as I passed. And behold! just look! Life itself! Things were growing. Little baby carrots and onions and beetroot… a miracle.
They are not so little as they were, though I have no idea if the right things are happening under the soil, if a single edible thing will be pulled up this year. If not, I hope our neighbour will forgive us. And nonetheless the plants are leafy, growing and vivacious and most importantly they are there. Looking at them makes me happy. Just looking at all the things we haven’t killed.
I was planning to write about this as a larger metaphor for life, and changing my outlook as spring turns to summer, but I think I can leave that to you, dear reader. As for myself, all I really want to say now is that things I planted – literally, in my garden – are growing, and it’s making me happy.