I’ve been away for one day and I’ve found my walking route: a breezy seafront path with the choppy Atlantic Ocean on one side and a hedge of bougainvillea providing privacy for the ocean front hotels and villas on the other. Its papery flowers are in bloom: confetti showers in pink, purple and orange sections. They look pretty, fragile and delicate, in contrast to the thorny branches upon which they grow. I wonder if a plant so charming is hard to cultivate, but then, seeing its profusion on this island (I’m in the Canaries) I decide that it must what gorse bushes are to Scotland and Ireland – irrepressible. I read up on them. Bougainvillea, I discover, grow best in dry soil, in very bright full sun and with frequent fertilization; but they require little water once established, and will not flourish if over-watered.
Which gets me thinking about my wilting greenery back at home. I am killing a houseplant in my Edinburgh flat. I’m doing it effortlessly, with great efficacy, and without any strategy. My comments are facetious though, as, in reality, my disappointment is acute. This plant was a gift from M. when I moved to Scotland almost one year ago and my symbolic moving companion had been doing so well. What could I have done wrong? I googled ‘umbrella plant’ last week in a last ditch attempt at resuscitating it. “The umbrella plant is normally undemanding and, providing you water at least a few times each month, you can have a beautiful looking plant to brighten up your home.” My diagnosis: I’ve drowned it. You never know, maybe a week of being ignored and left to its own devices to dry out and it will rise again like Lazarus. If not, maybe M. will give me another cutting along with some care and responsibility training – the kind they give to new puppy owners. After all, it’s nice to have a bit of greenery in a house, although I know not everyone agrees with me on that. I once knew a man who had an aversion to houseplants, hornpipes (he was a fiddle player) and holidays (beware anyone who tells you they ‘travel’, but don’t holiday). Each to their own!
E. loves plants, I think he has some in the house, but he favours them outside. Last year he liberated a Rowan sapling that was struggling for space and air in amongst the bamboo (this bamboo is more tenacious than a 17 year old with fake ID determined to get into the local disco). Anyway, the Rowan now has pride of place in a large pot at the back door where, E. tells me, in keeping with Scottish folklore, it wards off witches. He took me to his local garden centre last summer and I suggested he buy some cut-price begonias for his borders. “Don’t be ranunculus!” he told me, “Nobody plants begonias ever since Monty Don called them ‘repulsively ugly’ at Chelsea last year.” The borrowing of ‘ranunculus’ for ridiculous was E.’s nod to his new favourite plant. He’s got the touch though: ranunculus, rowan, his new apple and witch hazel trees – for him, everything seems to bloom where it’s planted.
Ah! Doesn’t that phrase take me back to my school days when a certain nun, a Sister L., would tell us all that we should bloom where we’re planted. That whatever life throws at us, what circumstances befall us, what less than desirable place we might find ourselves in, we can still grow, succeed, bloom. She used to tell us, too, that seeds when planted need time to germinate; don’t mess with them, poke at them, dig into them to see if there is any sign of life – just let them be. You might think that nothing is going to happen, maybe you have sewn old, dud seeds with no life in them, you’ve lost heart in them ever sprouting, and then eventually…. shoots spring. I’m glad I have remembered what Sister L. used to teach me. As someone who has recently re-planted herself (along with my umbrella plant) I am impatient for a time to bloom. Hopefully, somewhere I can’t see those seeds are germinating. And hopefully my plant might have sprung back to life when I get home.