Ça pousse – janvier: Crimes against horticulture

Book of the day: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I confess I am a monster. My inner Hyde has overpowered my outer Jekyll and I am, at last, awake to extent of my addiction. I am a pathological killer of plants. Despite beginning with honourable (and strictly scientific) intentions, my attempts at nurturing are always thwarted, and, after a perfectly acceptable level of disillusioned neglect (nothing of any interest having happened thus far), weeks later I am unfailingly roused, as if from a trance, by the sight of some poor, withered specimen, and I can only ‘wonder at my vicarious depravity’. I dispose of all evidence linking me to my crimes and stealthily transport my victims to their final resting place in the compost bin. Then I begin again, with a new plant, and again witness the results of my demon’s revelry. I have now amassed quite a collection of empty pots, each the former coffin of a plant who met a tragically premature end. ‘The veil of self-indulgence was rent from head to foot’ and the seriousness of my illness was finally made apparent to me after one particularly obscene display of destruction, when, ‘tortured with throes and longings’ I abandoned myself to Hyde. ‘With a transport of glee, I mauled the unresisting body’, my helpless victim an ill-fated peace lily (an unwanted hand-me-down thrust upon my husband several years ago by an unloved one*). Luckily, I have never yet been brought to justice for my crimes against horticulture.

I would love to have been born with naturally green fingers, but sadly I inherited my parents’ pink digits. Attempts to remedy this with science, and to colour them artificially, have produced some pleasant temporary hues over the years, but within three to six washes they have nearly always returned to their original, bland state (and with the unfortunate side-effect of an unwanted doppelgänger). I would, undoubtedly, have guaranteed success were I to consult a stylist, but that would be cheating, and I would still have to return every few months to touch up the tips (besides, my husband would never notice in any case). No, I would far rather save my money and continue my reckless dabbling until I get it just right by myself.

Whilst living in Geneva I managed, during one particularly experimental year, to fit twenty-one window boxes onto our tiny balcony, squeezing them into every available space: crammed onto the railing, the floor and our Summer apéro table (a brilliant investment, vital for the slurping of kir during long child-free Summer evenings); perched on the rungs of a little step-ladder; and mounted onto the shutters, probably violating all health and safety regulations, given that we lived on the fourth floor, and the boxes were tied on with bits of string. The season’s endeavours ended with our return from our Summer holiday, when I found a barren desert awaiting me. In the three years that I was sole custodian of the balcony only one plant has survived.

Now that we are in France, with thirty years or so of untamed jungle to our names, my gardening ambitions have reached new heights, and I am determined to control, once and for all, my homicidal urges. My resident gardeners, however, became a little over-enthusiastic in their desire to help last year and unwittingly launched a two-pronged attack on my hard work – the cats dug up nearly every seedling within a couple of days and the coos are now making short work of any survivors. I will, therefore, resume my outside plans in Spring, and focus, yet again, on the plants indoors. With a bit of luck and a great deal of self-restraint they may (possibly) survive to adulthood.

Les victimes:


My avocado plant was in the peak of health from the day when it finally sprouted (some months ago) until about a week ago when I resolved to nurture it. I had planted the pit, not by following the water and tooth-pick method, but rather according to the simpler instructions passed on by my Mum – it was pushed into a pot of soil and forgotten about for some weeks. Today it has developed lots of brown spots. Clearly it has heard of my intention, has no desire to be experimented upon by a crazed novice, and so picked up the gauntlet, intending to cut short the meddling as soon as possible rather than enduring until the year ends and I am released from my bond. I am too competitive to let it win and so took steps immediately. Armed with the internet and my willing side kick we assessed the damage. Conveniently, someone else on planet Earth had had a similar problem some years earlier, and there was consequently a wealth of (conflicting) advice from the obviously concerned reading public for us to sift through and appropriate. There was even a picture! General advice appeared to suggest that I needed a larger pot, some fertiliser and to stop watering it from the tap. I followed these suggestions virtually to the letter (substituting specialised fertiliser for an unopened box of generic engrais that I happened to find in the shed).

Next day update: My meddling appears to have made it worse. The ends of the leaves have now turned brown too. The internet reckons that this may be salt burn as a result of fertiliser, which, according to today’s forum, avocados apparently do not need. There is no reasoning with the internet.


Two days ago I was pleasantly surprised to find that now have not one, but two tiny lemon seedlings. I splurged on bio lemons after reading that chemically lemons are often bred not to be able to reproduce, and planted them towards the end of last year as per more internet advice – I sucked the pips until pot was full of soil, and then spittooned them into their new home. They remained covered with clingfilm until they sprouted.


Two small pomegranate seedlings are growing nicely and have still not been ‘accidentally’ knocked over by my lawn-loving husband, whose treacherous colleague told him how large pomegranates can grow, and who is now distrustful of my true intentions. To plant them I washed the flesh off the seeds, lay them on kitchen paper near to the fire to dry them off a little, then poked them into a pot with a sprinkling of wood ash (as I had read that they like a bit of whatever it is that ash encourages – is it acidic soil or alkaline? I have completely forgotten), which I then also kept covered with clingfilm.


Two of my three chilli seeds have now woken up and are just poking their heads out in their little propagator. These came as a kit with dehydrated soil disks, a lovely Christmas present from my brother, and I am attempting to grow Cherry Bomb, Padron and Firecracker varieties (I am still waiting on the Firecracker).


*Happily, the feeling is entirely mutual.

Mots du jour:

Ça pousse – it is growing/sprouting apéro – short for apéritif, a pre-dinner drink engrais – fertiliser bio – organic

22 thoughts on “Ça pousse – janvier: Crimes against horticulture

  1. You should know better with your immediate background. Sadly you inherited you mother’s inability to prolong the life of indoor plants – or probably total lack of interest in keeping anything that doesn’t look after itself. I recommend orchids, having successfully got one to flower two years after being given it as a present by an unsuspecting friend – they clearly don’t need any special skill or attention, just the (very) occasional drop of water….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too have black fingers – although I succeeded to my surprise in growing an asparagus fern and a ficus! We no longer have these or any other house plants, due to the fact the cats insist on eating them. The ficus got given to someone when we moved to France and the asparagusd plany, nurtured since my days at Uni, 30 years and more ago, was given to a friend when I discovered that they are poisonous to cats.
    Since then, every year I try to grow stuff on the balcony and the cats foil my plans by eating every available shoot, and the slugs who colonise the courtyard decimate the plants we try to grow there. One courgette got eaten overnight by slugs – plant and fruit. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No probably not! I don’t like them either, and am nervous of the cats and birds eating them. It doesn’t sound like you have very much of a choice though. It is so lovely to have a courtyard full of colourful flowers!


  3. I have managed to kill a cactus before. That should tell you everything you need to know about me and plants. However, we had chilli plants last year (a gift from a friend) and they seemed to do quite well in the living room right next to the window. We’ve saved the last few chillies so we can use their seeds to replant them this year.

    The parsley on our balcony did well, but the thyme dried out and shrivelled up before it got to the stage that we could have actually eaten any.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops, that is clearly a gift! I can only buy basic green chillies oncevin a blue moon at the local Carrefour so I’m really hoping the planks take. Good idea to save the seeds for next time. I’ve had mixed results with thyme, especially with pots, but parsley has always died before being useful.


  4. My mom kills every plant in sight. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. I too, seem to be able to kill plants. My plants always die of disease, most recently an aloe plant. Perhaps try one of them as they are really hard to kill.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this. I too am the grim reaper to plants! We have two house plants that have managed to escape, mostly because they are of a hardy variety and my husband seems to remember to water them. Our puppy has made friends with one and seems to convey this comraderie by grabbing a bite of a leaf each time he runs by it.
    Anyway. Great story. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good luck with the lemons. I tried to grow a lemon tree once as Oprah magazine had an article about them. So I bought a plant about a two feet high and when it flowered the smell was lovely, and by fall it was eventually covered in little tiny green lemons the size of grapes which one by one fell off on the floor….not sure what I did wrong….maybe Oprah had the magic touch.

    Liked by 1 person

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