Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Stick

The boys went conkering with their granny a couple of weekends ago. The couple of dozen they came back with looked so lovely we put them in a fruit bowl. Now the shine has come off them I've promised Thomas we'll plant some in the garden. It's a typically small London patch so, as we do with the walnut shoots that spring up from the nuts buried by the squirrels, anything that sprouts will have to be transplanted.

I'm very fond of tree-planting and must have planted over a thousand in my time. But one planting - or, more properly, transplanting - gives me particular pleasure. When at Oxford, about fifteen years ago, I had a room in a large, rambling Edwardian villa with only a small back garden, most of what was originally there having been eaten up by the College at the rear. The remainder was a rectangular patch of intensely green lawn.

One spring morning I was out there having a smoke, thinking, taking in the sun, when I noticed on the grass a little horse chestnut shoot. It must have been a seedling from one of the towering pink chestnut trees that marched along the college bounds, just popped up. In a matter of days, though, it would fall beneath the rotor blades of the year's first mowing. This couldn't be tolerated. Using some kitchen implements I dug it up and stuck it in a little plastic pot I found along the passage by the back door.

I watered it and occasionally chatted to it. It seemed happy enough and sat on my windowsill as spring turned to summer, lectures turned to revision then exams into parties and goodbyes. (It was around about this time T and I began to get serious - though serious doesn't really seem the right word when I look back at us satisfying our late night munchies by gorging on Dime Bar Crunch at George and Davis's).

When I moved to London, to a place in the Barbican, the sprout came with me. But almost immediately I was to go off to New York for a few weeks with my new job. Fortunately, people would be staying in the flat and I left no instructions at all apart from 'water my tree!' Naturally, they didn't and by the time I poked my head around the balcony door that September it was brown and stiff in its parched, shrunken soil, papery leaves hanging.

I didn't lose heart and resumed watering. It still seemed unwell, at best, but I took enormous heart from the single sticky bud that emerged from the top. As things turned out I moved flat three times that winter each time taking along what my friends began calling my 'stick'. I ignored their ridicule and kept it close.

That spring I was triumphantly justified: my ugly stick was transformed into a, well, stick with a leaf. But it lived! I nurtured it through the summer and when it went dormant again I transplanted it to the farm.

'Stick' indeed! It now stands about twenty foot high and, although it hasn't yet, I expect it will soon begin to flower and fruit. I feel very fortunate in having a living reminder of some very happy days.

12 comments:

Brit said...

Nice. This has the feel of a homily, but even better a quality of "In your face, doubters, who's laughing now, eh?"

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus...

Gaw said...

Yes, I bet they're all really sore at not having a fifteen-year old horse chestnut. Losers.

I've just read it again and wondered whether in fifteen years time I'll be writing something very similar about a seedling being transplanted from this house. Life's a cycle, innit?

worm said...

cool stuff! I bet your little stick was probably the only piece of greenery in the whole barbican! funny old place...

Nige said...

Lovely stuff. I wonder if the blossom will be pink or white...

Gaw said...

Worm: Certainly not! The Barbican is very green but this is mostly hidden from the outside observer. It even has a sizable tropical glasshouse.

I like the Barbican and would consider living there if it wasn't for the massive service charges (and T divorcing me if we did). It's strangely moving, being one of the last gasps of the Enlightenment vision.

Nige: I would love it to be pink. But I've only ever come across pink ones as grafts on a white trunk. Whether this indicates pinks can't be grown from the nut, I'm not sure.

Anyone: I also can't find out what age they have to be to flower and fruit. As I say, mine hasn't yet - will it? And if so when? Any knowledge gratefully received.

Gaw said...

Bob Flowerdew, eat your heart out.

worm said...

I used to live by smithfield market and went to the barbican centre at least once a week. The most greenery I ever saw was all the algae floating in the lake! :)

Its a great place as you say, but also as you point out, all that concrete is something that only men really seem to like.

Gaw said...

Worm: The large sunken gardens? The rooftop gardens? The bits around the church and roman wall? The balconies? (On reflection even this lot are overwhelmed by the concrete, glorious stuff though it is).

Nige: I just summoned up your post on horse chestnuts earlier this year, which I enjoyed at the time and did again now.

As you're a close observer of the chestnut, I'd recommend walking down the main ride of Cirencester Park, if you're ever in that part of the world. It's a very long avenue of ancient horse chestnuts, presumably planted when the park was laid out with Pope's assistance in the 18th century. If you keep walking you end up in Sapperton, which hangs onto a Cotwolds scarp and is home to a couple of decent pubs.

Nige said...

God that sounds good Gaw - Cirencester is high on the list of places I've never visited and wish I had...
And Gaw, one of the funny things I've noticed about yr common or garden white horse chestnut is that they flower when they're really too small to carry it off - barely 6ft. Perhaps yr stick is planning great, astounding things...

Gaw said...

Mmm. I think I may have learnt why pink ones are grown from grafts. When grown from nuts they don't flower...? Ah well, it'll look handsome enough anyway.

ghostofelberry said...

The first girl i loved gave me an African Violet as a 24th birthday present. i looked after it carefully for several years, leaving it with friends when i went to Italy for 3 months.

Finally, i somehow forgot about it when i moved from living in a friend's spare room to living in my sister's spare room in 2006, when i was between jobs & had nowhere to live. i asked my friend to take care of it till i could pick it up. "No problem," he assured me.

He left it out in his garden and went on a course for a fortnight, and then sounded surprised when he came back to find it had died.

There's a moral here but i'm not sure exactly where.

Gaw said...

Mmm. I would propose:

The most trivial things can be invested with personal meaning and significance. But this is inevitably a private and exclusive feeling so don't expect anyone to share it.

I think in your case Elb, your sentiments were being carried by an unusually fragile craft: I've never had an African violet survive yet - and that's with looking after them. Draw what conclusion you will!