The trouble is, they could land me in psychiatric evaluation should anyone realize that the person or persons to whom I am speaking, flattering, soothing, cajoling, admonishing, and generally sweet-talking are green, sometimes woody, and without exception physically unable to answer me.
We talk about many things, my plant friends and I. Politics, religion, unreasonable search and seizure, European gas prices – things that might not necessarily occur to one to discuss with a plant. But why not? In these conversations I am always right and there are never any awkward pauses while everyone watches me extract my foot from my mouth.
I have finished arguments with my husband out in my little kingdom, secure in the knowledge that I cannot be answered back by a mouthy hydrangea intent on pushing my buttons. (Although I find it far more satisfying to pair that particular pleasure with the carefree brutality of pulling weeds ‑ particularly the tough ones who think they know everything.) I have chatted over things I need to work out in my head – and a few I need to work out in the heads of others. In short, it’s a therapy patch, without the steep price tag and need for a babysitter.
Most of the time however the conversations are – quite wonderfully – very dull indeed. Extended salutations such as “Haven’t seen you in awhile, you’re looking well – oh look you’ve had a baby” frequently abound, and usually end with the usual, “We really must get together more often etc..etc…” I give them gentle ribbings about places in which they’ve chosen to put down roots or chastise the flagrant promiscuity of loose self-seeders for whose offspring I must now find adoptive homes. But the discussions can also grow serious. Just last week I had to sternly counsel a depressed caryopteris that had seeded himself under the deck and away from the world, and if you had been present for the tongue-lashing I gave four dead arborvitae at the end of the autumn last year, you might have sincerely feared for my sanity.
I stop short of singing to my garden (though I know it’s commonly done). Yet had I an acre and no chance of eavesdropping neighbors, who knows what Handel arias might float through the air and regale the snap peas with tales of romance and intrigue in the key of D. Had I two acres, they might even hear some Jason Mraz or a little James Taylor on a wet afternoon. I’m sure they would relish it either way – because, you see, I think they benefit from the attention.
Two years ago, the Royal Horticultural Society conducted an experiment to determine if people like me are completely mad, or actually onto something; comparing growth patterns between plants that were completely ignored and those who were read to from various bits and pieces of literature. In fact, the study went even further by hurling abuse at some poor tomato plant that never did anybody any harm and found himself on the wrong end of a grumpy researcher with a license to vent.
The result? Plants that were read to by a female voice had the edge in the growth sweepstakes – by as much as two inches. And ironically, the bit of literature used in the experiment was Darwin’s On The Origin of The Species.
Well, what else would you read to a growing tomato bent on world domination, besides, of course, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War? It’s a jungle out there, Keats’ Ode To A Grecian Urn is just not going to cut it.