Going to pot!

It’s been some time since I launched STAN (Stop Those Acronyms Now) and today I am launching CACTUS (Campaign Against Cruelty To Urban Shrubbery).

Walk any ordinary street and glance into gardens. Without doubt, some will be decorated by plants gasping for water – or worse, long since parched beyond recovery. Bought with enthusiasm and goodwill to demonstrate green credentials to the neighbourhood and add a little colour to the front of the house, they will have been blighted by neglect.

Check out the hanging baskets, window boxes, tubs and pots, and tell me I’m not wrong. Some will be newly planted or thriving. But there will be at least as many with leafless stems and lifeless stumps. Perhaps the instructions supplied by the garden centre failed to include ‘needs water’.

What makes it all seem so strange is that the owners will have laid out not inconsiderable amounts of hard-earned cash to buy them. People are busy, but how have they not seen their investments failing as they wilt? Are they too reliant on the disclaimer they will have read when saving up to obtain a mortgage – the ones that warn ‘investments can go down as well as up.’ Once plant stocks go down, there is only one direction. Rather like shares went in Debenhams.

Perhaps plant watering awareness should be added to the National Curriculum. Or perhaps they should issue warnings as they do on cigarette packs. ‘Parching kills. Water now.’

Yet is not the evidence clear enough when a plant is drooping? It’s not because the plant is fatigued or resting, it’s because rainwater is insufficient for life support.

Of course, plants needing water don’t just stop at the garden wall. There are some that are just as thirsty, growing in the pavement. As bowls of water are tipped down the sink, a few seconds away, saplings are left to gasp their last. Planted by local councils for public enjoyment, the public seems to choose to look the other way.

Not that the councils themselves can be completely exonerated from accusations of neglect. In the council chambers, elected representatives will have vowed their dedication to greening their streets, accompanied by pious grunts and head nodding.

But when the work is done, what happens? The reality seems to be that keeping them green is a stretch too far, interest moving on to something new, more eye-catching – and vote-winning. Maybe they think the locals should do more – and we know how that turns out.

Inevitably, there is a downside to all this plant growing. Too much watering might lead to growth that falls foul of the neighbourhood and powers-that-be. An 84 year-old widow in Essex has been ordered to cut back her shrubs because (according to the Daily Mirror, June 11, 2022) ‘they are blocking the pavement, despite there being a three-foot gap between them and the road.’

Elsewhere, local authorities are reportedly looking to punish householders whose garden greenery is deemed excessive, sending out threatening letters, warning of fines and costs for remedial pruning. Daylight shrubbery, people might cry.

In truth, it will take much watering and many growing seasons of care and attention before the average garden plant is at risk of offending Health and Safety sensibilities. And the evidence suggests that’s more than most people are prepared to give. For all the good, initial intentions, the trend is towards neglect and abandonment.

Is there an answer? Perhaps the challenge is to set up Neighbourhood Water Schemes alongside Neighhood Watch to keep an eye out for suspiciously drooping plants. Or vigilante groups, who, instead of glueing themselves to trains and roads, roam the streets with watering cans.

But here’s a thought. Instead of fuchias, coleus, busy lizzies and lemon trees, might the answer for window boxes and garden planters be a plant that barely needs water?


And at the same time avoiding another unnecessary acronym.

Author: Richard Smith

I'm a writer and storyteller and for much if my life produced sponsored films and commercials. Subjects were as varied as bananas in Cameroon, oil from the North Sea, fighting organised crime and caring for older people. Their aim was always to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials I worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.

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