Potplants, red in tooth and claw

Yesterday I had to catch the train home from work with a Venus Fly Trap plant in my handbag. I’m blaming Sir David Attenborough. His voice may be soft, but his enthusiasm is contagious, and after watching the epic documentary Earth recently and re-reading my copy of the Life of Mammals, I was filled with wonder and fascination for all things for all things natural.

So, when I wandered by a gardening centre and discovered they had a special on carnivorous plants, I just couldn’t resist the tiny Venus Fly Trap, with its fringed green and red maws open and begging for treats. But in my enthusiasm I had forgotten I was catching the train home. I wasn’t sure what to do with the plant. Taking a bunch of flowers on the train is one thing, but a carnivorous plant? People would think I was nuts. Perhaps I should play to the crowd. I considered glaring at nearby passengers while stroking the plant saying “soon, my pretty, soon.”

Common sense triumphed, however, and I managed to stash it in my huge handbag (all the better to carry books with, my dear) and get it home, where it now has pride of place on the top of the bookcase. It likes heat and humidity and plenty of light, and I’ll need to catch flies for it to keep it happy and grow it. I’m quite looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

It will, unfortunately, probably end up in the potplant graveyard on the balcony. Along with the geraniums, some big leafy things and the apparently “indestructible” ivy that I killed in a record three weeks.

My love for pretty houseplants is completely unrequited. I don’t so much have green fingers as black thumbs. Need to defeat the Triffids? Make my living room the first stop on their world conquering itinerary and they’ll be dead in a week. I alternate between utterly ignoring my plants for weeks on end and then deciding to lavish them with enthused, but ineffective, love.

My Mum, who has just arrived over from Ireland, is horrified by the potplant graveyard and asked how I’ve been treating the plants. On hearing I never fed them and they’ve been in the same pot for the last three years she looked at me like I had said I keep small children in the attic and feed them buckets of fish heads once a week. She thrust half a bottle of fertiliser and some pots at me and made “I’m going to call the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Plants” noises until I started to pay them attention. So my plants have been potted and composted and fed and watered and are currently getting lots of attention. They’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

Plants rarely survive in our house. We have bought several, but the only one to survive is some sort of potted stalky bamboo-y type thingy. (That’s the common name for it, of course. The Latin would be as Nescio Quis Abyssus, or the I Dunno What plant.) We ignore it apart from sporadic watering and occasional de-leaving when it goes brown, the tenacious thing continues to grow ever taller. Every few months it sprouts up another inch, and in the process puts out two improbably big leaves that quiver gently in the wind. All the leaves lower down have fallen off and now it resembles nothing so much as a tall skinny man wearing an absurdly large toupee. It hates attention. When we tried to move it to a better spot, it shed all its leaves. When we tried to repot it, it died for a few months. Basically, it finds my ministrations so abhorrent that it feigns death rather than put up with them.

Of course, if I don’t treat the Venus Flytrap right (Dionaea muscipula, which is actually its correct name), it is carnivorous. You have to wonder why they are having a special on these plants. Perhaps they eat the people who get it wrong. Perhaps the plants have sent something to extract vengeance for all their fallen kin on the balcony.

Or perhaps, this time, I should just pay the darn thing some attention and feed it before it eats me.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.

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