Thursday, 29 May 2014

Lessons in Horticulture by Rachael Dunlop

Don’t plant things in the wrong place. For example:

Don’t plant a Japanese maple tree just outside the back door where you can see its heart-red, flame-red, blood-red leaves in the low autumn light, just because he said he loves maple trees. One day he’ll leave you, and you’ll grow to hate that tree in its heedless insistence on being beautiful.

And when he does leave, don’t cut down the maple tree with a rusty saw that tears its juicy flesh, heaping fallen branches on the overgrown lawn, the red and the green, complementary colours singing to each other until you bundle it all into a black bag.

Don’t think that just because you’ve cut the tree down, just because all that remains is a small stump, its spongy surface hardening to a callous even as you watch, that the tree is dead. It is not.

Don’t be surprised when you see tiny clones of the felled tree appearing in the grass, and when you dig and pull you find a rope-like root, suckers thrown up along its length, all the way back to the stump. You’ll start to dream about that tree pressing against your bedroom window, tap, tap, let me in. You’ll scan the garden every morning for new suckers, pulling them up, pinching them out, for weeks, before you realise the error of your ways. Hydra-like, the stump pumps out three new suckers for every one you pull.

Don’t panic when the first sucker, a soft, fleshy stem with lime-green spiked palmate leaves, appears through one of the cracks in the kitchen floor, followed by another, and another, a new one every day. You’ll soon find out you’ve bought a house with no foundations, just brick on mud, and underneath the kitchen lino the earth is dark and damp. There is nothing under your feet.

Learn from your mistakes. Pack his things into boxes and send them back to him. Call the insurance company and get the house - the sagging, bulging house - pinned, strapped and stitched back together, after new foundations have been poured and pumped under it. Buy a box of poison from the garden centre and paint it carefully onto the stump of the tree on a cool, still day and cover it with a clear plastic bag, secured with a red-rubber band. Watch as the stump breathes and bleeds moisture into the bag until the wood is cracked and yellow and the suckers in the grass flop and retreat.

Consider the consequences before you plant another tree.

Winner of Flash 500 First Quarter 2014.


  1. So original, clever and funny. I enjoyed this very much.

  2. I loved this! Though I do hope that maple fights back...