Bonding with plants

Today someone asked us to water his chilli plants while he’s away. A fairly unexceptional request until you consider the rest of the plants that he did not initially ask us to water. He has a beautifully kept garden with various hanging baskets and containers, but it was the little chilli plants on the kitchen window-sill that spurred him to ask us to come over and water. As it happens we’re happy to water the lot, but it got me thinking about favouritism in the garden.

I think the plants I’m most attached to at the moment are my aubergines. They have not actually produced any aubergines yet but the flowers are decidedly attractive and I can see signs of the fruit beginning to develop. The leaves are pleasingly furled and furred and there is the added attraction that I haven’t grown them before. They don’t seem to take too much water or space, unlike the spectacularly sprawling butternut squash plants and the decidedly horizontal courgettes. Also, they appear to be a viable plant in evolutionary terms. By this I mean that they seem (so far at least) to be able to grow without the support of stakes or other artificial aids in a strong and well structured shape. I cannot truly respect any plant so overbred that it cannot hold up its flower head or fruit without help. (Exceptions to this are climbing plants, assuming they will climb without human interference, and the likes of cornflowers and harebells which have evolved among supporting grasses.)

Despite the untidy flailing limbs, I am rather fond of the butternut squash plants because of their vigor and the huge round leaves. I did some reading on the internet and there seem to be those who think you should let them sprawl and those who think you should train them up as climbers. I decided to do a bit of both with the result that one shoot, trained up the pear tree, now reaches as high as I can stretch and shows no signs of stopping. It’s most impressive. The flowers aren’t opening yet so there won’t be anything produced anytime soon but I am a little concerned that one day a butternut squash may fall on my head!

The trouble with horticultural favouritism, however, is that there will be some unpopular plants at the bottom of the pile. At present the leafy rejects are the african violets on my desk at work. They have been hanging on in a state of advanced neglect for at least a year now and it is really time that I did something about them. I have been looking at them too long and have lost interest but cannot quite bring myself to throw them away yet because of the admirable way they’ve clung on to life despite my disinterest. They deserve better. But we don’t always get what we deserve…

Of course it’s only natural to have a plant hierarchy in our hearts – how else could any gardener decide which plant gets the coveted sunny corner? How else could we even chose what to plant? My partner reduced his planting this year to very little other than his favourite (tomatoes), but I’m not ready to abandon the variety of planting a few more crops than I have space or time for. It looks like I’ll be picking my favourites for some time to come.


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