the prettiest weed

Sep 09 2012

to the inner-city home owner, the tiny square of earth on which their abode is planted can seem like an immense park, a carefully planned and self contained world of its own, with the assistance of only a few potplants out the back or a herb garden in a windowbox. but these tiny landholdings may once have been part of some sprawling estate in the hands of a wealthier ownership. in some places, usually in more recently invaded and colonised countries, the original houses of these estates have somehow resisted demolition and remained on their own slightly more significant plot, rising above the typical semi-detached dwellings or small apartment blocks of the metropolitan suburb.

one such mansion had become available for sale in the early stages of its decay, and had been immediately purchased. as it was a proud feature of local history, and a landmark frequently noticed with pleasure on leisurely afternoon strolls, residents of the neighbourhood hoped that the new owner might restore the house to something of its former stately beauty. they had heard of such things happening, or had known of new owners of other large houses that had taken on such tasks themselves, even in some cases learning carpentry to restore fittings approximating earlier styles.

the appearance of a young gardener in the front yard seemed to confirm favourable expectations. continual toil promised the impending appearance of further workers, who would crawl up some scaffolding and paint casements or replace broken panels and tiles. but all that crawled up the house were haphazard trellises, the only other visible external change being the apparent suggestion of some disorganised vegetable garden on the widow’s walk. there was some concern, shared over nearby fences and kitchen tables, about the progress of the garden, particularly its lack of any formal plan. in the absence of any other person on or around the property, it was soon understood that the individual who had been observed was not a professional gardener, but the current owner of the house, and neighbourly envoys were deployed.

these guests were received by the newcomer with quiet attention, but very little responsive conversation. the absence of furniture in the house was arresting, with the rooms for the most part clean and bare, the only relieving features found in a giant fern or lily or other barely tamed houseplant. as no arrangements were available for seating, further hospitality was not eagerly sought by any of the visitors. it was very sad, but the owner was a sort of simpleton, and it could only be wished that the current situation would not progress much further.

the area around the house filled with vegetation, and a dense screen of very large trees quickly took root at the perimeter, so that the whole became completely impermeable to the curious eye. it was an assault on the aspect of the area, and the council became involved. but there was money entailed in the ownership, and official knowledge of the property became available only through a coterie of legal representatives hovering at the front gate. it was asserted that the building was sound inside and out; the owner presented a clean and tidy personal appearance; there were no indications of rodents or wildlife or of any other threats to the neighbours outside the complaints of their highly subjective offended tastes, and the resident, a very private person by all accounts, must be left in peace.

the neighbourhood effectively forgot the house and its occupant, in the way that we have of refusing to think of things that do not accommodate our perspectives. in time the place was not remembered so much as a lost treasure, as it was treated as a renewed object of interest, a sort of small scale jungle, perhaps even of exotic appeal. children did not trespass on it because they were afraid, while adults referred to the internalised social reserve dictated by our culture. teenagers, those liminal beings so eminently capable of breaching boundaries, boasted that they had smoked in the yard, or destroyed some part of the property – but the truth was that they simply could not get in there; it was an impenetrable world.

one day the solicitors appeared with a team of workmen and a doctor. it was said that the owner had not communicated according to an agreed schedule, and directions were being carried out in response to probable decease. the money was no more, it had gone back to where it had come from, apart from the land value, which was to pay current expenses. the gate was unlocked, and a pathway was cut to the entrance of the house. inside, the floors were carpeted and the walls were padded with a lush carpeting of tendrils, soaking up the sunlight that filtered through fractured walls held in place by trunks and boughs. parts of the original structure had become indistinct and could be apprehended only as living timber. there was no evidence of any human being, but everywhere bloomed a strange small orchid, in a great variety of form and colour combinations, but all recognisably of the same species. the orchid had not been observed before, and specimens were sent to experts to examine for inclusion in reference books.

the house was not easy to demolish and the land was not easy to clear. it took a long time and was expensive. everything that was removed was taken to an open air garbage dump, from where the orchids crawled up trees and scattered themselves everywhere. soon, they became so pervasive that now, we rarely notice them, but only some of us, and only sometimes, if we’re in the right frame of mind.

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