Many years ago I was given a present for doing very well in my degree exam at university. It was a return air ticket, Lagos-New York-Lagos. Up until that time, a foreign holiday was given as a gift when one graduated. It was the tradition in my family and I had looked forward to it for years. And so of course I was terribly excited when the time came. However, things did not go quite as expected. Those were the days when you applied for a passport in Nigeria and waited for several months for your passport to be issued, if at all. My passport had expired years previously and for one reason or the other, I had failed to do anything about it. The fact that I was busy studying at university too might have had something to do with my inertia. But anyway, there had been no reason to suspect that the couple of months between the day when I wrote my final exam and the date when I was due to commence my studies at Law School would not be sufficient time within which to obtain this vital document, go on holiday to New York, return home and still have enough time to tell everybody about all the things that I'd seen and done in America.
But as the days went by, I slowly began to realise that perhaps this passport would not be issued in time for me to make this trip after all. And that perhaps I was destined to spend the whole of those two months sitting at home, praying and hoping each day that as the folks returned home from work in the evening, they would bring with them the good news that the passport had arrived. The days were long as I sat at home alone, sad, reading, watching television and it was at this time that I noticed that the garden in front of the house needed to be worked on, as if it had not been there all along staring me in the face..In my despair the garden presented itself as an escape, a place where I could literally bury in the soil all of my anxiety and my disappointment; forgetting all of the pain that I was feeling. So I dug into it and found that I was actually enjoying watching the plants gradually respond to the endless hours of careful pruning and tending that I gave them. And this provided for me a sense that I would have missed out on something really beautiful had I gone off to New York.. Needless to say then that New York did not happen and I didn't feel too bad about it in the end, because I'd gained something in my life eminently more satisfying, valuable, meaningful and long lasting, than a mere few weeks of shopping and pounding the pavements of a strange city..
Thus my love of gardening was born. Within a few weeks of starting work on the garden I even turned a bush of wild lemon grass into a magnificent topiary plant, something I'd never seen anyone do.. Although the plants were already present in the garden when I'd started working on it, they were turning feral, as the garden had been neglected for all those years since the day when the gardener inexplicably failed to turn up for work. For the entire one year of Law School then, I would return from school in the afternoons and immediately roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in the garden. Nothing else seemed to matter to me as much as the plants. And even though it was only a small front garden, I would spend hours and hours working in it alone, to the point where I became familiar with every single flower, every leaf and branch. It was like an obsession..
Now, many years later, I'm still looking after plants. I like the way they communicate their state of health, the way they shine and look healthy when they're happy, and droop and sag when you've neglected them a little. They're forthright and honest and they don't play games, which is more than can be said for many of us.. :)