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An Urban Gardener Up In Arms

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Jul 20, 2016

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PROBLEM: A friend longingly admires my “lovely” garden (nothing more than a few pots of plants outside my flat’s windows) every time he visits. But recently, he refused my little gift of a bougainvillea cutting because he says his apartment complex’s rules don’t allow a window garden for the fear of soil-spattered walls.

This makes my blood boil. In a city starved of green spaces, what harm could waking up to some foliage do? It’s not my place perhaps, but I feel like doing something about this. Am I overreacting?


LG: Dear Angry Urban Gardener: Yes.

Look, I’m like your friend: I love greenery, have a widow’s-poison-black thumb, and hate conflict. What that adds up to is me admiring everyone’s gardens in glowing tones, sticking my nose deep into flowers whose tenders probably prefer I admire from afar, and back-pedaling posthaste as soon as a gardener-friend offers me a cutting, as gardener-friends are wont to do.

Because I don’t want to come across as insincere (I’m sincere! I love plants!) and because home gardeners are among the most difficult people to convince that what they have is a freakishly rare gift to humanity that the rest of us mere mortals will never share, I tend to pin my inability to accept their twig on something other than my extreme reluctance to exacerbate to my plant-related PTSD.

In other words, your friend loves your plants because they’re not his. His complex would probably allow a freaking forest. But then he would probably kill all the trees through overwatering, or underwatering, or too little sunshine, or too much, or God knows, I followed your directions I swear but they still die they all die.

Ahem. Sorry.

Anyway, he’s trying to avoid disappointing you. And himself. Because there’s something about plants that makes hope spring eternal.

KB: Dear Boiling Blood, I gotta agree with LG here. Newsflash: your friend is being polite; it’s actually entirely possible he invented that building prohibition just to get out of having to take your plant home.  It’s like when you meet an adorable baby: Just because you think it’s cute when it’s someone else’s problem doesn’t mean you’re willing to adopt it!

Your friend is being nice by articulating his appreciation for something you care about, while also gently and discreetly making it clear that he doesn’t quite share your same passion for hot pink flowers. He sounds like a good friend.

Finally, I applaud your sense of civic duty. It’s great that a ban on houseplants could make you so upset that you want to storm his building compound, petition in hand. Imagine what you could do for world hunger!

SH: I’m assuming your friend lives in a major metro, where housing societies do have such ridiculous rules. While only you know which battles to pick, don’t lose sight of the fact that, own or rented, real estate is a Pandora’s box you wouldn’t want to open for a twig of bougainvillea.

Instead, if your friend has explicitly expressed the desire to have a garden of his own more than once, twiddle your green fingers and come up with an assortment of indoor plants he can realistically maintain. You can even have a layout plan for which corners of the apartment they’d occupy.

But before you gather any more cuttings or visit the neighbourhood nursery, tell your friend about your indoor plant idea. If his eyes light up, great. If not, your patch of green still has an ardent admirer.

MM: I think SH has a point here — there is a tiny possibility that your friend is being truthful about his housing society’s crazy rules. But if I were you, I’d do some fact checking before I let my blood boil.

Get yourself an invitation to tea or walk past his apartment complex on your way to work. If you see plants, it means your friend is just being polite, and you should keep the bougainvillea to yourself. If the story does check out and the complex is devoid of greenery, I suggest you simply congratulate yourself on having found a house that allows your mini garden to flourish but keep walking; plant haters aren’t likely to be welcoming of outsider advice.

First World Problems is a funny advice column wherein The Swaddle Team weighs in on their own and others’ ‘problems.’ Write to us at contact@theswaddle.com or tweet @The_Swaddle with a #firstworldproblems hashtag if you’ve broken a nail, felt a little blue, yellow or green lately, or had a strange encounter of the any-numbered kind. We’ll help you sort it out.

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