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  • Writer's picturefergus church.

green fingers.

I’ve never been very good at keeping plants alive.

At the start of every year at uni, they would have these plant sales – mostly cacti and succulents and little deserty spiney things that are easy to not kill and don’t need much attention, but I’ve always been way more drawn to the high-maintenance plants. The ones that the person manning the stall gives you a bit of an up-down before selling to you, just assessing whether you’ll be a good plant dad before they hand it over.

I usually trick them into thinking I’m a good plant dad, even though I’m not. But isn’t for lack of effort. Usually my kids die from overwatering, which feels weirdly queer. (I’ll get to that in a bit.)

There was some sort of ivy plant that I draped over the edge of my chest of drawers. Then the next year, two maiden ferns I put either side of this antique bird cage I dug up in some charity shop when I was feeling especially chic and adventurous. They all eventually turned yellow and drowned in the stagnant water pooling at the bottom of their pots.

I’m pretty sure I never had such problems growing things as a kid. I remember going to Homebase and picking out seed packets with my sisters that we’d grow in these plastic trays in the back garden. I remember always picking pansy seeds – very fitting – probably because of the little choir of them in the 1951 Disney animated Alice in Wonderland, which I was a bit obsessed with. My sister had this strawberry plant that flourished for a bit, then eventually dried up before the fruit got big enough to eat, but my tray of pansies bloomed for months. Little smiley lion heads. Purple and yellow and white. I kept a troupe of snails in the tray when the pansies eventually died; I’d always be surprised to see they had snuck off overnight when I came back to play with them the next morning. I collected conkers in it that Autumn and secretly planted one in the garden even after my mum told me not to.

No tree ever grew, but I never gave up on trying to grow things, keep green things alive. And I never really knew why.

Nowadays I’m looking a lot at my relationship with plants, growth, nature, etc. because a) I’m a pretentious twat and b) I’m writing a dumb play about nature and its relationship with queerness. It’s been a challenge, but a fun one and an interesting one; every time I think I’m nearly finished, I realise that I’m actually only halfway through. Like I haven’t managed to answer all the questions I have yet.

So recently I went to the British Library, which is the place I usually go when I want to figure something out. Mostly because usually some lovely academic somewhere will have already figured it out for me and I can just copy them. I sat down – surrounded by people doing real proper legit academic work – and read a lot about queer ecology, a field that, up until that moment, I had fully assumed I had invented entirely by myself in my unprecedented brilliance. Turns out, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands is the real genius (and I really recommend anyone even vaguely interested in this check out her work!)

And I read about Nikki Smith, the trans climber who feels a responsibility to represent lgbtq+ people in Nature (capitalisation intentional), which has been so rooted in our minds as white, cis, able-bodied, colonising, male, heterosexual.

And that led me to this brilliant list of lgbtq+ adventurers, who are reclaiming the outdoors as our space. (Including one mountaineering drag queen!)

When we aren’t and weren’t free to explore ourselves and our relationships, we go to nature: the woods, the mountains, even parks, because they offered seclusion and privacy, yes, but perhaps also because they allowed us to feel natural when we’d been told so often that we were unnatural.

And there’s no such thing as unnatural.

Which I think is sort of what my play is about. Pls don’t steal my ideas.

In my current room, I have framed prints of greenhouses and jungles and Amélie with her garden gnome. There’s now a fake parrot in the charity shop birdcage. Above my desk is an antique painting of the towers of York Minster, over a nestle of oak trees, that used to hang in my nan’s downstairs loo.

And in the last few weeks, I’ve got this great big new fern behind me on my chest of drawers. Don't ask me what kind it is because I have no idea. I’m soaking it in the sink once a week – every Monday – and leaving it to drain for a couple of hours before bringing it back upstairs, as per the instructions of my literal botanist mum who I probably should’ve asked for help years ago.

It’s been three weeks. So far, it is very green and alive.

Illustrated by my marvellous friend, Jem Venn.

You can find her on Instagram or her website.


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