Elena Fer­rante

I love my plants but they scare me, too

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents - Trans­lated by Ann Gold­stein

I love plants. Maybe even more than an­i­mals, more than cats, which I adore. I like ev­ery­thing about plants, but I al­ways feel as though I know noth­ing. I buy them at the nurs­ery, I distribute them on bal­conies and in ev­ery room, I plant them in the ground in the gar­den. I learn their names, in­clud­ing the sci­en­tific ones, and I write down in a notebook how much to wa­ter them, when to give them hor­mones, whether they need a lot of sun or a lit­tle.

And not only that: I study the types of soil, the time for prun­ing and the tech­niques. I worry about late freezes as if they were earth­quakes or tidal waves.

I take such care of my plants that I be­come fond of them. I check them con­tin­u­ously, I feel the soil with my fin­gers to see if it’s still damp or dry. Out of love for them, I tol­er­ate the un­pleas­ant smell of or­ganic fer­tilis­ers and the crowds of flies. I pa­tiently res­cue leaves at­tacked by par­a­sites. And when I re­alise that one is mor­tally ill, I dis­cover that I love it more than all the oth­ers and turn to trusted ex­perts to find out what to do.

But while I have taught my­self so much, I con­tinue to think I am shame­fully ig­no­rant and that my ig­no­rance will be pun­ished.

I feel that plants are alive, very alive, and yet pris­on­ers. They can’t move, they can’t seek shel­ter, they can’t escape clip­pers, hatch­ets, saws. They in­spire pity and so I feel they are des­ig­nated vic­tims – an em­blem, per­haps, of all the vic­tims on this planet.

But a pre­cisely op­po­site feel­ing is grafted on to my sense of pity. Their ex­pan­sion wor­ries me. They are pris­on­ers and yet they ex­tend, twist, creep their way in, break the stone. Their roots grow deeper and deeper; they try to send them else­where. Maybe it’s that con­trast that dis­ori­ents me; they have in them­selves a blind force that doesn’t fit with their cheer­ful colours, their pleas­ing scents.

At the first op­por­tu­nity, they man­age to get back ev­ery­thing that was taken from them, dis­solv­ing the shapes that we have im­posed by do­mes­ti­cat­ing them.

At the movies, on tele­vi­sion, images of burn­ing forests cause me as much suf­fer­ing – I feel the life that’s evap­o­rat­ing, hiss­ing, writhing amid the flames – as the speeded-up images of tree sap, that like a can­cer slides past ev­ery pos­si­ble ob­sta­cle, frighten me.

At times I sus­pect that I de­vote my­self to plants in this way be­cause I’m afraid of them. But then I should ad­mit I’ve as­signed to veg­e­ta­tion a sym­bol­ism that ap­plies to any form of life. We ap­pre­ci­ate it, we love it – un­til, burst­ing the bound­aries that our au­thor­ity has set, it over­flows

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