Humour: A brown thumb’s guide to gardening
Despite your best intentions, you’re often left with chlorophyll on your handsUpdated: Aug 18, 2019 00:29 IST
I’ve struck another item off my bucket list: planting a tree on a Himalayan hillside. Well, not so much planted as patted the soil encouragingly while more resourceful people procured the saplings, surveyed the mountain for a spot and ploughed the soil. But even this slightest of contributions towards nature conservation is making me feel positively pastoral. It’s also an occasion to look back on my chequered career as a plant enthusiast with all the nurturing skills of a chick-abandoning cuckoo.
Curse of the bonsai jade
It all began with a beautiful bonsai jade in my misspent teens. A friendly gift, it was my introduction to the world of leaf and soil. I found a place for it in my grandmother’s bustling balcony, where plants and mosquitoes cohabited in laboratory conditions for dengue. I was ready to be earthified. Ready to feel that ineffable connection with the planet and all its living things. And I did, briefly. Except, a terrible burden of guilt descended on me each time I forgot to water it, which was often. I was soon beset by the inescapable questions faced by every gardener worth their manure: Is all the trouble worth it? Do the rewards of regular nurturing outweigh the guilt of occasional neglect? Can my fragile heart take the sight of yet another prematurely yellowing leaf? And so on.
The questions did not linger long. The plant, in all its miniature perfection, was not long for the world. As the other plants in the balcony thrived in their malarial bliss, my sweet little jade shed, withered and crumbled. Despite all good intentions, I had chlorophyll on my hands and there was nothing to be done about it.
The joys of herbology
I recently spent some time catching up on the Harry Potter movies. Of all the Hogwarts subjects, I have a special interest in herbology. Mandrake root and gillyweed. Bubotubers and wolfsbane. A weed for every need, from treating acne to choking one’s enemy. I have friends who make similar claims about their gardens. While I pop pills for sundry ailments, they look at me with Hermione’s admonishing glare and produce shoots and roots that they swear will cure me of every malaise, no matter if it’s physiological or existential. Aloe sap for skin irritations. Tulsi for the throat. Garlic for the stomach. (Mint for the breath.) And all produced from their little balconies. I accept the offered remedies humbly and think about the block of cheese quietly gathering fungus in my fridge. Surely it has some medicinal properties, too.
A withering stem of moneyplant, creeping out of a beer bottle, reflects the finances of its home. Gardening is such fertile ground for metaphors, even for a brown thumb.
My herbology moment came when I was offered the solution (literally) to fungus-ridden walls by a knowledgeable homemaker. “Cheap white vinegar,” she said channelling her inner Professor Sprout. Avada Kedavra. Gone in a flash, almost as swiftly as an avocado turns from ready-to-eat to overripe. Gardening is such fertile ground for metaphors, even for a brown thumb.
I’ve often read about the special affinity millennials have with their house plants. In a world gone chillingly digital, where natural resources are depleting and the prospect of raising children is prohibitively expensive to many, pots and planters are increasingly providing a sense of warmth, comfort and security. Here’s an ecosystem that one can pretty much be in control of. Unlike two or four-legged mammals, there’s neither the bother of toilet-training nor table etiquette, behavioural psychology nor political instruction. Yes, there’s the question of soil and nutrients, water and sunlight. But overall, it’s doable. Professional plant sitters are taking over from parents, siblings and friends in many cities (Drew Barrymore in Music and Lyrics, anyone?). And Instagram is a permanent flower show, with photogenic plants and blooms that proud planters spray with hashtags.
Which brings me to my own little spot of greenery looking at me imploringly from the window ledge. A withering stem of moneyplant, creeping out of a beer bottle, reflecting the finances of its home. Beside it grows a grass-like plant, also a gift. Despite leaving it unattended for long periods, it surprises me with its resilience. Gardening is such fertile ground for metaphors, even for a brown thumb.
From HT Brunch, August 18, 2019
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