the SPROUTIST

From an Eggshell womb, sprouts Chili Padi (Birdseye Chili). Baby Pandan that was salvaged from a chopped up plant a few weeks ago is standing up ok.

“So you like plants?”, the first date states with a frown of suspicion. I am intrigued why someone could be so circumspect about plants. “I have black fingers. Plants always die when I touch them”, follows the original question. What to do with this less than encouraging perspective, especially when we barely know each other. She is talking to a person who has a life long passion for plants. Leaf, botanical Latin, flower scents, their colours and shapes, bark textures and dirt pervade every pore of my being. Yet here I am talking to someone who with much certainty states that she kills them! How long can this new relationship possibly last? Not much longer than the introductory coffee we are having by the looks of it. “I love plants though, plants just don’t love me”, with the head slightly angled, rueful smile with a hint of cheekiness floating on the edges.

Lucky there was much more discussed at that first coffee date. The Conversation warmed up with our love of a good read, surprisingly strong love of sport, startling similar political views and music commonality. She discussed her fathers love of plants and his midnight gardening capers. Many more questions were asked and answered. Time became seamless and endless, until we were forced to stop as it was toss out time at the Cafe.

My place with its tiny balcony potted garden is finally visited by this woman of deep fascination. “Oooh, you have Curry plant and Chili”, and gets closer, extending a hand to touch the plants and stops. “Go ahead”, I say. “Noooo, cannot, I will kill them”. Mind does insta throwback to the first meeting – “I have black fingers”. This woman that I have affection for has convinced herself that if she touches my lovingly nurtured plants, that they will shrivel to blackness, be beset by the plague and die! So much irrationality from my perspective. Growing and touching plants is wonderful therapy, yet this highly intelligent person believes she is the Plant Voodoo Death bringer. “OK, maybe next time”, I state while trying unsuccessfully to conceal my slight head shake and resigned smile of defeat. A measure of offence, however brief crosses her face and then is gone. As per usual our conversation wonders off into bold new non-stop directions.

Not long after, my first visit to her place. Going through the front gate I am greeted by an almost desert like front yard. A lone indestructible Bougainvillea that has burst out of its Pot is rioting with roots now in mother earth and equally indestructible Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Dracaena trifasciata) in a corner by the front fence are the only in ground plants. Half dead weeds contribute to the almost apocalyptic nature. An aged Japanese Bamboo with much dead wood survives barely in a Pot not far from the front door. The desert sprouts a loose ring of disparate rocks that were ‘artfully’ arranged by her daughters previous boyfriend. Dead hanging pot plants up on the balcony add to the ‘Black fingered’ doom that she was so adamant about.

Smell of cat pervades the air. I notice many cat scratchings in this desert. I remark on this and a story of a graveyard seeps out. This is a cat family and most that did not last are buried throughout. I remark, “no wonder you can’t get anything to grow as it appears every cat in the neighborhood comes here to toss its scent about”. An unbelievable number of cats live in this street. They are everywhere – snoozing on top of parked cars, lazing in the middle of the road and just cruising about. Every one of them I see as Feral. My eco-sensitive brain is working overtime thinking of all the lizards and small birds that have been decimated over the years. I remark about this cat paradise and confess ” Part of my old job was to kill Feral Cats, with a decent annual budget to deal with them.” Deathly silence and stare of equal measure greet my confession. I blurt out quickly, “But I love cats, I grew up with cats, domestic ones though, not Feral”.

From the facial expression coming back, I had certainly not redeemed myself, and more than likely sparked the death knell of our relationship. So unexpected, but this relationship had ignited parts of me unseen and unfeeling for many years and was not going to let damn Cats stuff this up! “I would love to get stuck into this front yard and do some landscape work. Living in the Condo is driving me nuts that I cannot be in touch with the soil”. Tacit permission was granted to give it my best shot. “Phew”, I mumbled under my breath. She noticed, but reserved any comment. We went inside and met the resident cat – “Shades”. I cannot say we hit it off, but it was noticed how I talked to and patted the cat in my comfortable animal loving manner. Negative thoughts to my past genocidal tendencies were put to one side.

We married less than a year later.

Time heals many things, even though my previous (small part of my job) Cat killing occupation to this day has not been forgiven by wife Shakirah and her children. Many conversation later it was realised that ‘Black fingers” was more from too much plant love. Many of her potted plants going black were due to over fertilising and watering, which is a common mistake. Combine this with the neighborhood cats spraying everywhere and death most certainly occurs.

A Condo apartment four floors up, with lovely balcony became the Happy marital abode. Ornamental Pot plants multiplied. The Curry plant in prime position. One early morning, sitting out reading the news with coffee in hand, I spotted what appeared to be a sprouting tomato seedling saying Hi to the World at large. Past experience with composting it was always noticed that tomato and pumpkin popped up in the vege patch after aged compost was worked in. I did not have the space to compost or recycle the vegetable scraps, so where did it come from?

Shakirah sits with me, and I point out the immaculate tomato conception. “Oh, … that may have been me. I spotted some seeds in that tomato that was going off, so rescued them and put them in the pot”. “The Black fingers are going green”, I half laughed back. “ Don’t be so sure”, give me time and it surely will die!” A few days later I potted up the seedling which went on to produce mini Roma tomatoes for many months.

“…potted up the seedling which went on to produce mini Roma tomatoes for many months”.

From then on, immaculate conception sprouting exploded throughout the balcony Pots. Capsicum seedlings first, then what appeared to be a Citrus popped up not long after which was confirmed as Lemon. Spring Onions popping up between Sunflowers and somehow beans sprouted. All done without my knowledge. The phantom sprouter was at her best tricks. The Beans intrigued me most as Kuala Lumpur is certainly not a bean growing climate. When asked, I was was happily advised – ” Oh, just thought I would try the beans I found in the French beans from the supermarket”. My established horticultural sense was gobsmacked. The beans in question were tiny, seriously anemic green and way too young for germination, yet proof stated otherwise. This Black fingered sproutist challenged me to suspend long held beliefs. Crispy French beans were harvested.

” Capsicum seedlings first,….”

Now? I never question anything that pops out. I wait till there is a couple of sets of leaves , prick out, pot up and nurture the plants to production maturity. The balcony has become a kitchen garden that keeps on giving. Currently the harvest is lush from a Chili Padi (Birdseye Chili), that started life in a tiny amount of soil in an eggshell (see photo at top), with the seeds from a store bought Chili. So far this one potted plant has produced well over 200 Chili Padi’s, with around 50 more still ripening. Standard Chili and more Capsicums have just been potted up. On a side note, I had bought packet Chili Padi of a reputable seed brand and not even one germinated. Maybe my sprouting days are over!

A new batch of Chili Padi awaits in its Eggshell womb. I am running out of Pots and space, but does that matter to the Sproutist? No. Does it matter to me? Not at all apart from mild panic of what to do with the fresh batches. So much fun in nurturing these sprouts to what they will eventually become. We have achieved balance. Shakirah, the Sproutist. Me, the Nurturist. The ‘Black Fingers’? They are now redundant. The result? See below.

The first batch during Covid 19 times. We packaged them up, trip to Post Office and mailed out to family and friends around Kuala Lumpur. We have received repeat orders for this hot, hot, hot product!

PS: I make no apology for this new addition to the English language – “Sproutist”. The human enabler of sprouting. Just don’t let the Sproutist anywhere near the plant after their initial effort. The Black Fingers of death will surely have their way!

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