In life there are various indications that one is becoming old.
Such indications include forgetting and muddling the names of nearest and dearest (“Claire – er, Kate – Jesus! Karen, can you pass the milk?”) and frantically looking for one’s glasses when they are perched on top of one’s head. Though, luckily, I haven’t yet reached either of these stages, as I approach the dawn of my 24th year I have noticed one specific change in myself which does indicate a certain maturity, despite my eternal incapacity to clean up after myself and my penchant for buying cuddly toys. And that change, friends, is a recent significant increase in my interest for cultivating plants; a feature usually associated, I’m sure you’ll agree, with middle-aged women in straw hats and portly fathers brandishing trowels and scattering slug pellets about their vegetable patches (like – ahem – my own dad.)
This new hobby – which, living in an apartment in the city, doesn’t really have the means to flourish – began after a next-door neighbour presented me with a potted tomato plant as a gift, and my grandfather, a tomato enthusiast, taught me how to best look after it under my particular circumstances. “Take a blade of grass,” he said, delicately rearranging his own immense vines, heavy with almost-ripe fruit, in the greenhouse of his West Cork cottage, “and just give a little tap-tap-tap – like that – on each of the flowers of the plant. Helps pollinate them when the bees can’t.” Well, I so enjoyed my little planty sitting in front of the bay window in my bedroom that the next time I was in Lidl (a bustling metropolis of gardening novices) I decided to buy a sunflower plant with a great big flower bursting colourfully out the top of the stem. The little sign stuck into the pot said to cut off dying flowers in order to let the light and water feed the newly emerging buds. “Simple,” I thought. I potted the flower up in a beautiful ceramic pot and stuck it next to the window that receives the most sunlight in our little cave-like apartment. I have since chopped off the main flower as it began to dry out, only to find two more buds hiding beneath it and four more flowers beginning to bloom around the stem. It is a constant source of delight and something I am always telling people about, unfortunately for them.
Last week I spent a few days at home, happily helping Dad to re-pot some rosemary clippings he’d taken and then preparing some Pelargonium cuttings of my own (if you haven’t smelt that plant you haven’t lived – it is like a lemon heaven). When I came back to the city and to work, one of my colleagues, Natalia*, announced that there were nine or so “almost dead” sunflower plants on the terrace which she hoped to revive for her front garden.
“Do you think they’re too far gone, or could they come back to life?” she asked, gesturing to the little collection of lifeless pots. I excitedly began to tell her all about my own Sunflower Experience and what I’d learnt about helping them bloom, and off she merrily went with tray of dry little yellow-headed stalks. Inside, our boss approached the tray of miserable remains and said, “Good luck with these. They’re all dead.” Natalia retorted that they surely could be revived and she was going to do her best, ending with, “I’ve already spoken to Kiera about it.”
Now, if noticing an increased interest in plant-keeping isn’t enough of an indication that one is getting old, then the fact that one’s advice on plant-keeping is taken seriously by another definitely is.
Today when my mum visited us, she admired my tomato plant’s myriad of little white flowers and complained that hers had none. “What did you do to bring them up?” She inquired. I told her that I water him whenever I think he needs it and in between times I tell him he’s beautiful and doing a great job. She admitted that she doesn’t do that but that she’ll give it a try. And I think that even though that particular advice possibly isn’t as scientifically sound as what was written on Lidl’s sunflower leaflets, it is good to try things out and find your own way when it comes to rearing tomatoes. And it is also good, as many of us old folk will tell you, to age gracefully, surrounded by wildly blooming flowers and shiny home-grown snacks.
*This name is not being used in order to conceal identity. My colleague is really called Natalia. I’m sure she’d be proud to be known to all as a Nearly-Dead-Plant Rescuer.