Wilfred Farquhar had always
been obsessed with flowers. Even as a child in
England, while other boys were off playing cricket or
soccer or rugby, young Wilf would be helping out around the
school's extensive gardens. (Which were maintained by the
Horticulture tutor, Leonard Sherlock, and any boys not addicted
Although enthusiastic, Wilf was
never very talented as a gardener. Despite this, however,
shortly after migrating to Australia in his early twenties, Farquhar managed to
convince the Footscray City Council that he was a horticultural expert and
was quickly employed by the FCC gardening unit. Which not only
allowed Farquhar to work full-time out in the sunshine and fresh
air with the flowers that he loved, but also provided him with an
endless free supply of flowers, tools, and fertilisers for his
To the constant chagrin of his
wife, Winifred, who would say, "You old fool, Wilf, one day
they'll catch you stealing all of that, then you'll be out of
your nice, cushy job!"
"It's not stealing, Winnie!"
he'd protest, indignant at the mere suggestion.
"Then what do you call it?" she
"Borrowing on ninety-nine-year
loan," he answered. "Besides the others help themselves to a
lot more than I do." Which was true. Whereas Farquhar had
never risked "borrowing" anything larger than small gardening
tools, other FCC workers took full-sized picks and shovels,
rakes, brooms, and even wheelbarrows. To the point where there
had even been a small enquiry by the council after a worker had
stolen three brand new barrows on the same day. Then the roof
had almost caved in on all of them, as Wilf's closest friend at
works Edgardo Malkovic, liked to say.
Seeing Winnie's sceptical look,
Wilf would pout and say, "Anyway, I'll return it all, when I'm
finished with it...Someday."
"Yes, but someday never comes,"
Winnie would point out.
Yet despite his wife's sarcasm,
Wilf did sometimes return tools to the tool shed at the FCC
depot. Although it was usually after the handle had broken, or
the metal rusted after being left outside in the rain. And, of
course, having returned the damaged tool, he would always
"borrow" a replacement.
As already mentioned, although
Farquhar loved flowers, he was never the horticultural expert he
fancied himself to be. His wife, and their friends, often gave
him books, or videos, on gardening, for birthday or Christmas
presents (to the point where he had built up a very respectable
horticultural library). But the truth was Farquhar had trouble
concentrating on books. He found the pictures of flowers
pretty, although not as pretty as the real thing, but he simply
couldn't be bothered reading through the text. And, although he
watched hours of gardening shows on television, he had a very
poor memory. So although he enjoyed such shows, he learnt very
little about gardening.
Farquhar's great goal in life
had always been to grow a special flower. One that would make
him the envy of his friends and win trophies from the local
horticultural societies (of which he was a member of over a
dozen). However, despite "borrowing" dozens of different
varieties of seeds and bulbs from the FCC, and growing them
throughout his large front yard, Wilf never managed to find that
special flower. Until one day he was convinced that at last his
luck had changed:
He had been down in an obscure
corner of the FootscrayGardens, tinkering among the flower beds, when there
it was: his prize flower. It was nearly a foot tall, with a
hard, woody stalk, almost as thick as his index finger, and was
covered in large, green, shield-shaped leaves, and -- "Ouch!"
cried Wilf as he touched one of the leaves -- half-centimetre
long, needle-sharp prickles.
Careful to avoid the offending
prickles, he managed to dig around the roots of the flower with a
gardening spade. Then he carried his prize back to the depot,
where he was forced to conceal it beneath his T-shirt, to get the
flower past the watchful eyes of their foreman, somehow
suppressing the urge to "Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" as the prickles
stung at the flesh of his chest.
Finally he managed to get his
precious flower home. And, after some thought on the matter,
decided to pot it first, before springing it as a surprise on
Farquhar kept a large supply of
plastic flower pots, along with a forty kilo bag (or two) of
potting mix, borrowed from work, in a small gardening shed in the
back yard. So it was the work of only minutes to pot his
treasure, then lead a bemused Winnie outside to look at his great
"Ta-da!" said Wilf, waving his
hands toward his precious flower.
"Oh my God," said Winnie, "how
did that weed get into that pot?"
"Weed indeed!" said Wilf,
irritated by his wife's ignorance. "I'll have you know I'm
going to win a shelf full of trophies with this..." He paused
for a moment, thinking, not having a clue what the plant really
was. "Er, with this flower."
"Not with that weed, you
won't!" insisted Winnie. She headed back into the house,
leaving Wilf alone with his "treasure".
Despite his wife's cynicism,
Farquhar was confident he had at last found a prize-winner. He
nurtured his beloved plant for weeks, until it outgrew the small
pot, then carefully transplanted it into a 200-litre drum, filled
to within six inches of the brim with potting mix borrowed from
the FootscrayCity Council.
In this rich mix the flower
thrived, and soon grew to almost sunflower-like proportions: the
stalk was now as thick as a bamboo reed, towering above the top
of the drum.
It almost seemed as though the
plant grew before their very eyes. Each night when Farquhar
hurried home from work, his special flower seemed larger than the
night before. Until one evening he raced home and found his
flower had vanished.
Under close interrogation
Winnie finally broke down and confessed, "I was tired of seeing
you making a fool of yourself, over that weed."
"So?" demanded Wilf.
"So I dug it up."
"Dug it up?"
At first Winnie refused to
elaborate. But finally she confessed that she had thrown his
beloved flower into the rubbish bin.
"But it would never fit,"
protested Wilf. Although their bin was a heavy volume bin on
wheels, it stood barely a metre and a half tall, whereas the
flower had reached two full metres by that time.
Winnie refused to answer.
Instead she turned to walk into the house. From where she heard
her husband's scream of horror, as he opened the plastic bin and
found his precious flower sawn into two one-metre
"Murderer!" shrieked Wilfred
Farquhar, carrying the two halves of his treasure into the house.
He waved them accusingly under his wife's nose.
"Oh my God, you're trailing
dirt all through the house!" protested Winifred.
"Murderer!" repeated Wilf,
refusing to be side-tracked by trivialities.
Despite Farquhar's accusations,
however, the plant was far from dead. After a lot of brooding,
Wilf decided to try to replant the bottom half, in the hope the
roots would retake. For the next week he raced home every lunch
time and spent most of his evenings outside nurturing his
precious patient. But he need not have worried. As soon as it
was replanted the flower began to grow again, and was soon back
to its former sunflower-like glory.
That was when the crunch
finally came. Certain that it was time to put his special
flower on display, Wilf invited his close friend and workmate
Edgardo Malkovic home for the first showing.
"Oh my God!" said Edgardo, in
amazement. "That's the largest weed I've ever seen in my entire
Although not wanting to admit
the dreadful truth, Wilf had no choice: Edgardo was the head
gardener at the Footscray City Council. He had won dozens of awards and
plaques at local gardening contests, so there was no denying his
"Is this what you wanted to
show me?" asked Edgardo.
"Er...yes," said Wilf, trying
to think quickly. "I wanted your advice on howto get rid of
"Just dig it up and throw it in
"I've already tried that," said
Wilf, taking credit for Winnie's actions, "but it grew back
"Grew back again?" asked
When pressed to explain how the
gigantic weed had grown back after being uprooted, Farquhar spun
a vague tale, suggesting it might be one of the mythical "walking
plants". (A type of flower which for over a century the
horticultural world as a whole believed could uproot itself and
replant itself a few centimetres further forward. They are now
known to be rapid-growing-and-.rapid-dying plants: the plant
drops a seed a few inches in front of itself, then as the new
plant grows, the parent plant quickly dies away, leaving the
impression it is the same plant, which has "walked" forward a few
centimetres. Over a number of generations, in a matter of
months, walking plants can move back and forth from one end of
the garden to the other.)
"Then let me give you a hand
with it," volunteered Edgardo. Poor Wilf was left with no
choice but to help to uproot his beloved "flower", then saw it
into four pieces, so it would fit easily into the garbage
"There, there love," said
Winnie, seeing how crestfallen her husband was as he entered
their bedroom that night.
"I don't want to talk about
it!" insisted Wilf, sulkily, turning his back on her.
Despite Farquhar's ambition to
raise a prize-winning flower, the one time he did win honours, it
wasn't for a flower at all, but rather a hedge.
After fifteen years
in Australia, Winifred Farquhar began to feel homesick
for England. Realising her husband would never agree to
return to his native soil, she suggested he try his dubious
gardening skills at growing a large English hedge. "To remind
us both of home, love."
Wilf didn't share his wife's
homesickness (since the pleasant Australian climate allowed him
to grow an infinitely greater range of flowers than had ever been
possible in the frigid English climes). However, he readily
agreed to her suggestion.
Unlike his other gardening
efforts, which rapidly produced noticeable results, the English
hedge took more than a full decade of careful nurturing to grow
to complete size. However, it was time well spent: After ten
years the hedge had reached near record proportions:
two-and-a-half metres tall, spanning the length of the front
yard, as well as extending all the way down one side of the
At last Farquhar started to win
his first horticultural awards. For two years (and two years
only!) the magnificent hedge pulled in plaques and trophies by
the dozen from local gardening societies.
But the Farquhars and their
hedge were not the only English residents of
Footscray. A short time after
the Farquhars started to win their first awards for the hedge,
the house next-door was sold, and their new neighbours included a
huge orange and black English tabby tomcat, named
At first the Farquhars were
both delighted to discover Timbo. However, they soon discovered
that the tomcat had (at least) one major failing: he wasn't aware
that he was a tabby cat; he thought that he was a
Like all tigers, Timbo needed a
jungle to stalk through. After trying out the neighbours'
flower beds on the other side of the house, Timbo soon discovered
the Farquhars' English hedge. Although it was a tight squeeze,
the large tabby managed to manoeuvre his way between the boughs
of the hedge to stalk his way through the "forestland"
Of course it was hard going at
first, but soon Timbo's large body broke away limbs right, left,
and centre, until he had burrowed out a series of tunnels beneath
the prize-winning hedge.
Although this was ideal for
Timbo, allowing him to stalk his way beneath the hedge to his
heart's content, it was far from ideal for the plant itself.
Although of hardy English stock, it was not hardy enough to stand
up to Timbo's tunnelling. Within two years of Timbo's arrival
next-door, the Farquhar's beloved hedge had withered and died
Away. Much to the disappointment of Timbo, who then had to find
himself another jungle to stalk through.
Equally disappointing was the
attitude of the Farquhars. At first they had been affectionate
to their new neighbour, petting him and feeding him scraps of
fish or meat from their own meals. But after the death of their
hedge, they both did a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like transformation, and
took to shooing Timbo out of their yard (in the case of Winnie),
or throwing brick batts and empty potting baskets at him (in the
case of Wilf).
Although Farquhar was normally
a fairly easy going man, he never forgave Timbo for murdering his
beloved hedge. And in fact, half a dozen years later, when
there was a hedge vandal stalking the Footscray area, slashing up
and destroying local hedges, Farquhar's comment (after seeing
film of the latest victim on the TV news) was, "It's probably
that black and orange gopher next-door burrowing his way through
the roots systems, killing them!"
"Black and orange gopher
indeed!" Timbo would have said if he had been in the room at the
time, if only he could speak.
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