Prince Charles, apparently, talks to his rhododendrons on a daily basis.
It isn’t clear if it had to do with impatience or anything to do with the interminable wait to become King. It didn’t have much to do with the health of the said orchids either: they were reportedly in rude health before he initiated the dialogue.
The prince isn’t alone. Some people even sing to their plants or have music played to them. But it might be all wishful thinking on our part. Whether it’s Tchaikovsky or Twisted Sister, one suspects the plants couldn’t care less. For all you know, they have Van Gogh’s ear for music.
My wife has no such pretensions although she loves gardening with the best of them. Despite being confined now to a service apartment in Singapore, there is, nevertheless, a neat row of pots along the window- sill facing Orange Grove Road, nurturing, among others, basil, rosemary, aloe vera and chillies.
I’m happy to say they’re in the pink as it were and have been occasionally used in Rebecca’s cooking. And while they’ve not been talked or sung to, they’ve been kept informed courtesy of CNN or CNA through the television that shares their accommodations in the living room.
In the early 1990s, we lived in a semi-detached house which had a reasonable amount of land where Rebecca planted Asoka pillars, a kafir-lime and palm trees and a weeping willow out back. A herb garden was slowly added and heliconia of various colours did much to brighten up an evolving garden.
All these developments took place in the six years leading up to 1997 when Rebecca decided to do her doctorate in the United States.
She took Raisa, then 5, with her as well which left me pretty much alone in the house.
That is to say I was seldom there. It also meant that the Asoka pillars began reaching for the sky and the weeping willow all but wept at its wild and woolly state.
I began with good intentions of course and, in the beginning, watered the orchids, the herbs, the trees, even a vase in the study that, I found out later, contained artificial flowers.
But the road to hell is, you know, and I figured out that Malaysia’s equatorial climate worked in my favour. A climate that was hot and wet all year around was what all gardens demanded, surely?
There were occasional lapses of course. There was a time when I forgot to cut the grass to an extent that it led to a pointed, and anonymous, note in the letter-box.
It was, doubtless, the neighbour from hell, but it could have been anyone. The state of the lawn did leave much to be desired.
My friends all thought I would get hell when Rebecca returned. I wasn’t worried at all.
I knew that I had created an original, the neighbourhood’s first, and only, Darwinian garden.
By letting nature take its course over the space of three years, only the fittest plants had survived, and natural selection had once again been restored to its place of primacy.
Raisa seemed delighted by my explanation, but I felt Rebecca’s laugh had grim overtones.