Monday, October 16, 2006

Meeting Venus

Reflections on a visit to a nursery

I haven’t gone to nursery with the purpose of buying green leafy lifeforms ever, I think. Have you? I’ve tended to think of nurseries as places for old retired people, and whacko sociopathic gardeners who have too many cats and a TV from the 60’s.

I think people like us can be forgiven for avoiding these overgrown supermarkets. It’s bewildering from the outside. All these strange lifeforms and what are we supposed to do with them? Where are we supposed to put them, and how to take care of them?

Well, if you go to a good nursery like Bloem’s Pretty Gardens (conveniently situated a few hundred metres downhill from the N1, in the opposite direction to the city centre) everything is made so simple a small child could understand what is happening.

If you buy seeds (for carrots, tomatoes or summer flowers) the hermetically sealed packets have simple cartoons overleaf showing when to plant, depth, when they’re ready to harvest, etc. Nothing could be simpler.

My requirements were simple. I had a paved driveway that looked a little sterile, and I wanted to give it a little life. So I needed leafy life forms that could stand full day, full sun exposure. Guess what: they exist! Geraniums (Pelargonium exotica) at R32 each. I also wanted something to crawl up the wall. I found a lovely creeper (Topiary Ivy, R257) that had already wound its way around a circular wire mesh construction, creating an elaborate green donut. Nice!

What about indoors? Can plants survive in almost dungeon like darkness? No problem, a tall Schefflera Kalahari (R268) doesn’t like any direct light, but open the curtains in the morning or it might get a little depressed.

Although Pretty Gardens has a lot more than just plants for sale (plenty of coffee shops, arts and craft markets, plenty of exotic animals for sale, horserides and so on), it was in the foyer while waiting to pay that I came across a bunch of Venus Flytraps (Dionaea muscipula).

The edges of the Flytrap are equipped with teeth-like serrations, and as the name suggests, this is a carnivorous plant. The ones I saw were tiny, but were selling for over R500. Interestingly, the Flytrap is found in nitrogen poor environments, like bogs. It’s indigenous to North and South Carolina in the United States, and is especially common in North Carolina’s Green Swamp.

Even when you buy soil for seeds there are various "types" of soil to choose from. There’s potting soil, seedling soil (for flowers and vegetable growing), bark chips (to prevent soil from drying out (only R15). The point is there’s plenty of obvious information to help you get exactly what you need for your garden and home.

When you’ve put your plants to bed, remember the simple things: water and light in appropriate amounts. Today I saw a lizard scuttling into a flower pot. Last night I watched some new flowers closing as night fell. Adding color to your environment adds life to otherwise empty spaces, and seems to imbue you with a fresh sense of wonder for the world. There is something to be said for the quiet wisdom of trees and flowers that nod and bob their heads, their small sensitive fingers plucking at the air like children.

There is something wonderfully symbolic about buying plants. It’s an act not only of investing in the world, but also of putting organic systems into our environment. Plants are good for us human beings. In a world of hard metal and dead plastic, we need to sink vigorous roots into the Earth and allow the soft petals to erupt. When they finally unfold they tickle the air and touch us, resurrecting and refreshing everything around them.

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