Just over a month ago, a fellow translator gave me a lovely granadilla (passion fruit) plant, which is actually a vine, but commonly called a creeper by many. I was delighted with this thoughtful gift not least because I left three such vines in the soil of the extensive vegetable garden I toiled over in Zimbabwe, from which we had harvested the paltry total of four fruit. My grandmother used to say – without ever giving an explanation, that things change every seven years. I see it not so much as change, but a process of renewal happening every seven years. In honour of my grandmother, I shall remain equally vague on that point.
While you are probably disappointed by now that this is not some poetic, if not downright risqué, account of some love story or other, I felt I had to refer in passing to the very great fun translators with a dirty mind (and a large vocabulary of smutty words with which to complement it) have with acronyms in foreign languages which leave us rolling in the aisles even more when such words are writ large in public places and there is no other visual stimulation (by which I mean works of art or bright splashes of colour to relieve boredom) to distract us, to help us avert our eyes and pretend that such things do not exist.
This post is actually about ignoring instructions. When cooking, I never follow a recipe. My mother taught us from a young age how to cook, and I have learned a few things since. When baking, I sometimes forget the precise quantity of ingredients for cakes and biscuits, but invariably do not refer to the only recipe book I have, which was typed by my mother, and contains all the sweet and savoury family favourites. In a letter received today, she tells me that she and my sister have picked green figs from a friend’s tree and tomorrow will be making green fig preserve. I can just see the figs being weighted down in big basins of water overnight, and the donning of rubber gloves for the soaking process, to protect their skin from the white milk oozing from the stems.
I did look at the planting instructions on the reverse of the above label. But that was only after the plant was well and truly in the ground. I had a good laugh. I did not know that there were eight steps involved in plonking a plant into the ground. Here they are (translated), with what I did in square brackets afterwards:
- Remove the plant from the sleeve/pot. [I carefully cut and then tore the plastic sleeve from the soil and roots so as not to damage the very healthy, well-developed root system thus revealed.]
- Submerse the roots and surrounding soil in water for 15 minutes. [I have never ever done this; besides, the soil was moist.]
- Dig a hole 40 cm x 40 cm. [My hole was 25 cm x 25 cm x 25 cm – and would have been deeper, just to loosen the soil below, but the grapevine root posed a problem for my spade – which is, by the way, the kind used specifically for planting fruit trees.]
- Mix half the soil with peat [What? A Brazilian Portuguese word, turba. I have never heard of it. I think they mean either compost or humus. The Spanish says turfa, which sounds like an anglicism – or, it may be a spelling error for trufa – truffles, an idea which appeals to me. What I did do was mix all of the rather clay soil with some river sand to increase its porosity]
- Fill the hole. [Oops! the instructions forgot to tell us to put the plant in the hole, taking care not to plant it too deeply! I put a bit of my freshly mixed soil back in the hole, and set my plant on top of it. I filled the hole with the rest of the soil.]
- Press down the soil around the plant.[Ditto!]
- Cut the tips of the branches. [You must be kidding: sap’s rising! I removed the plastic tape securing the three main branches to the doweling stake and gently wove them around the wire of the fence. I put all the non biodegradable stuff in a non biodegradable bucket and took it to the back door, where I emptied the contents into a biodegradable plastic bag destined for the trash sooner or later. I placed the above label on the kitchen table to read when I had my glasses on.]
- Water the plant. [No need – it is our rainy season. All the soil was moist enough.]
So, do you think my passion fruit will grow? Of course it will. I checked today, two days after planting. New tendrils have sprouted and are busy curling themselves around the wire on the fence. The gladioli bulbs (pink, I believe) I pushed into the flower bed soil all over the place months ago are now about three inches high. They will clash fabulously with the bring yellow and orange marigolds already persistently in flower and the zinnia of similar hues in due course. The rose bush I pruned to a stub over a year ago is about nine feet high; I staked it and tied the unruly parts. New shoots are forming. I hope when its deep red roses flower that they do indeed form the umbrella shape I imagine. There are many more arum lilies this year, and they are much taller than last year, because I know a bit about compost (and a friend told me to collect up all the old yellow stamens and push them into the ground, which I did last year). Spring is in the air, and will soon be in my garden. Among the weeds under the olive tree there are a few “flowers of the field” and a host of nasturtiums. I mention this because one reader of my blog gave me the seeds to scatter there. I shall be transplanting some of those in the front flower beds. I know. I will never be able to get rid of them if I do that. Good. That is precisely my intention!
How do I know so much about compost? Partly because my father showed me, partly because of experience, and partly because I was a bookworm and a child, and spent a good deal of time reading “The Gardening Book of Southern Africa”, or some such, when I had nothing to read, and needed a change from reading all those dictionaries – which is precisely the reason I garden these days.
©2016 Allison Wright