Spine Tingling: The Cactus Calls

I have it on good authority that once they’ve seen my Frilly Echeveria, people won’t stop talking about it. Captivated by its crinkly edges and entranced by its pink blush it is the stuff of which certain dreams are made of.

Horticultural dreams, largely.

My Frilly Echeveria is a succulent and succulents right now are the plant du jour.

At the weekend my older son returns to university for the start of the new academic year. This year, he will be sharing a flat with a couple of his student friends.

Naturally, I’ve asked if we need to replace any of the items he took away with him last year. I know glasses have been smashed and at least one kitchen knife was broken when it was brought into service as a screwdriver.

(I have bought him a screwdriver.)

At the top of his list of essential items are the words, ‘Cacti’ and ‘Succulents.’

No mention of replacement glasses (who uses glasses when you can drink straight from the bottle, right?).

No mention of new bed sheets, mattress protectors, shower curtains or any of the things I would definitely prioritise myself were I living in a student house and wanting to limit bacterial exchange with others.

To say nothing of attracting somebody who might want to, you know, actually get in the bed or the shower with me.

It turns out I am behind the times.

The only thing that Young People want is decorative, spiny succulents to place in their windows and on their desks in the sort of arrangements they’ve seen on Insta.

My son clearly aims to impress with his fleshy Euphorbia Grandicornis.

Obviously, succulents are the ideal houseplants for students, being almost totally resilient to neglect. But it still strikes me as peculiar. I mean, TOP of the list of essentials?

If you’re going to do the houseplant thing, why not buy one which reflects traditional student choices down the ages, namely the spider plant or, more exotically, the cheeseplant?

I have happy memories of the messy spider plants I’d bought at jumble sales which sat atop the wardrobe gathering dust in my student flat.

Of course they’d started in more obviously decorative places – the window sill, my desk, the bedside table – but had proven inconvenient.

We’d sit on the sill by the open window smoking. The pot plant became a supersize ashtray. Fag ash and pot ash are quite different things, it turns out.

Leaning back in the chair at my desk I was given to dramatic gesture when writing (or, more commonly, procrastinating) and over would go the spider plant. Wouldn’t be so bad if it had been watered regularly, but the parched soil spread to the far corners, covering Keats, Proust and Ibsen in a thin layer of filth.

Like I didn’t already have enough chaos and disorder on that desk.

As for the plant on the bedside table, well, anyone who’s ever gone to bed drunk know that’s a stupid place to put anything vulnerable.

So, the top of the wardrobe was where the plants went to die. Although some did defy the odds and make it to the end of the year when they’d be quietly left by back door to take their chances in the wild.

The film Green Card was out while I was a student. Featuring the beautiful Andie McDowell as a guerrilla gardener it briefly renewed our interest in bringing a little nature into our student flat.

But again, there are only so many times you’re prepared to trip over the Dragon Tree by the front door before you’re ready to admit you are no Bronte Parrish.

I am a good mother. I’ve been to Urban Outfitters and handed over an insane amount of my hard-earned for two cacti and a succulent to gift to my son.

I can only hope he’s lucky enough to meet a girl who can match his woody tissue with her fleshy tips.

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1 comment

  1. My daughter’s cacti and succulents have an annual few weeks visit between Easter and Ascension Days in Church when I use them in one half of the Easter Garden to depict Good Friday, she thinks their annual blessing helps them survive the rest of the year! Good to know we have ‘plant du jour’ and our usual life is ‘in’! LOL

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