‘I bought 20 Venus flytraps at one point. But they need prey and I forgot to water the flies’


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The Independent Online

This week my cactus died because I didn’t look after it well enough. I’d had it for four, maybe five weeks, but couldn’t find a pulse on it on Tuesday morning at 08:30 hours and after pressing it and kissing it tons, said a prayer and wanged it in a bin bag and got rid.

I’ve got a depressing track record with keeping flora alive. I always go into it with such optimism. I waltz round Homebase like a champion, stroking their verdant offerings, tickling stems and weeping at their beauty.

Then I shovel them on to my trolley and trundle to the till, talking to them with great positivity. “I know where I’m putting you, you green bastard” and “You’ll look pretty fit by my telly, son” and “I’m going to water the shit out of you, mate, don’t you worry”. But even as my Barclays debit card is settling up, I feel a certain anemia wafting from the pots.

My parents are keen gardeners, of course. Bill will think nothing of slipping into his brown shorts and spending 10 straight hours out back on a Sunday.

He’ll waddle round, bare-chested, lavishly swinging his scythe or pumping life-giving fluids at the apple tree. He’ll talk to the plants, lick their petals, cut them at their base and walk them around the village, anything to make them feel special, to let them thrive. Mum will make up jugs of homemade lemonade or weedkiller, and he’ll knock the one back and sprinkle the other, before ransacking the shed and mowing the roses.

But I’m cut from a more forgetful cloth. I’ll buy shitloads of plants and bed them into my flat in pots. I’ll then water them, stand back from them and rub my hands together. Then I’ll maybe photograph them or try to climb them or bury my face in them. Then I’ll leave them for three to four weeks and then bin them. Even reading that back I know it sounds wrong. I know I need to spray more water on them. “Keep them wet, son!” That’s what my dad keeps texting, but I have my life, too. I can’t spend all my time hovering over these arseholes with my jug. And so they die. And then I grieve. And then I go back to Homebase.

Recently I’ve thought about buying a cat, or whatever the little one is that turns into a cat. I’ve been on websites and sourced pictures of the kind of thing I want. Small, grey, guileless. And I’ve seen a beautiful cat flap online. Expensive, but so, so sweet. But then I look at my record with the plants and I wonder whether I have it in me to keep her alive. If I can’t remember to pour water down a plant’s leg, what hope do I have of feeding chunks of beef into a cat’s mouth? And the social stigma of overseeing a succession of cat starvations feels like it’s going to lose me more phone contacts than my current plant-whacking. My brow is knitted; it’s hard.

The cactus was a low-point. Shaken by the shear quantities of green blood on my hands I had tried other things. I thought planting stuff outside might be the answer. You hear so much about rain these days. I got a bunch of elm bulbs and plunged them into pots full of mud on my outside bit, but no elms were forthcoming and I’ve stopped even checking their progress.

I bought 20 Venus flytraps at one point. At least they meet you halfway and hunt down their own stuff, I thought. But they still need prey, I forgot to water the flies, and the Veni perished. And so I bought the cactus. And I slung Highland Spring down her gullet. And I willed her to flourish. I was tender with her, warm. I cuddled her and kissed her. I tore my lips apart so that she could prosper. And still she fell.

And as she died, so did my dreams of getting a young cat. I have no hope of meeting her needs. It would be selfish. I have decided, instead, to pour all of my money into the cat flap. And then see if I can maintain that. And if I can, then I will start to look at low-maintenance plants once more.