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 to
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 own garden.
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 demanded.
“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 Winnie.
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 find.
“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
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 lengths.
“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
“Oh my God!” said Edgardo, in amazement.“That’s the largest weed I’ve ever seen in my entire life!”
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 horticultural knowledge.
“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 it.”
“Just dig it up and throw it in the garbage.”
“I’ve already tried that,” said Wilf, taking credit for Winnie’s actions, “but it grew back again.”
“Grew back again?” asked Edgardo, incredulous.
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
“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 bin.
“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,
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 house.
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
But the Farquhars and their hedge were not the only English residents of Eleanor Street 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 Timbo.
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 tiger.
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
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.
© Copyright 2010
© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.