The Accidental Gardener

Flash Fiction | Literary | 520 words

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Content warning: Mental Health, Depression.

He bought a new houseplant every time he had a bad day. The habit started innocuously enough—a general sense of helplessness led to him buy a hardy shrub. Another blue day made him acquire a fragrant lavender. Realising he ‘wasn’t quite coping’ led to the purchase of a cascade of English ivy. On his darkest day he bought a succulent—one thing he could never kill.

The poisonous days ripened into tangled weeks, and his houseplant habit truly took root. You couldn’t move in his apartment for terracotta pots, and watering his collection took up most of the morning. The girl on the cash desk at the garden centre came to recognise him. She looked forward to the days when the funny young man came to relieve them of an anaemic specimen. He turned up at her counter one day with a tall cheese plant, and she summoned up the courage to engage.

“How are we today sir?”

He answered truthfully: “I am buying a house plant.”

“Your house must be amazing—all leafy and green with all them plants what you buy!”

He smiled but didn’t answer. When he returned home he saw the tiny apartment for what it had become—a jungle of potted shrubs and bushes. There were orchids of every colour, herbs of every taste. Luscious ferns enjoyed the steamy heat of the bathroom. Cacti guarded his bookcase. The meagre rooms of his flat had been transformed day by day into a beautiful garden—a verdant paradise of sadness.

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Had these plants made him happier? He wasn’t sure. Self-care is different from therapy, although houseplants are good listeners. Now he had a herbaceous monument to his own melancholy, but what to do with it?

In a moment of wild clarity he grabbed his wallet and vaulted back down the stairs. He jogged the ten minutes to the garden centre and slammed his cash down at the till.

“Soil. Enough to fill a wheelbarrow. And I’ll take a wheelbarrow.”

The cashier was thrilled to see the usually-droopy gentleman buzzing like an excited insect. She gave him her staff discount on the bagged earth and waved him off, finding herself close to tears.

He squeaked home with his precious dirt and manoeuvred it all up the lift and into his living room. He ripped open a bag with his bare hands and emptied it on the floor. He wiped his sweating brow, smearing honest earth on his gleaming face. He covered the floor with the stuff, getting mulch all over his waistcoat and skinny jeans. Then he repotted the plants, one by one, thanking them for the memory they carried. The succulent, the ivy, the lavender—all went into the loam immediately below where their pots had been. He was releasing these living vessels of his sadness, not to rid himself of them, but to be truly accepting of each one. He unpotted the first hardy shrub he had ever bought and held its roots to his face. Planting it again in the very floor of his apartment, he curled up next to it, and fell asleep.

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