The Quiet Ficus

When we first moved into our home a good few years ago, my husband announced his intention of building a large brick bed the length of the fence so he could grow things. I am not a fan of brick flower beds and was also worried that taking a metre off our already compact back patio was going to put even more of a squeeze on our plans for outdoor living.

Besides, what could he grow that was going to be worth it? We had some greenery, afforded by the garden of the house that backed onto ours and which had a couple of big, shady trees near our fence and I could buy salad and vegetables. Knowing how handy my husband is with mortar and a trowel, I resolved to do absolutely nothing and thwart his plans by refusing to hire a brickie.

It worked and today my husband’s brick wall is no closer to being built than Trump’s (for the moment). Instead, we got a number of stand alone tubs that he could plant things in and watch them die in the heat of the Australian sun, or get eaten by the terrifying insects.

Then came the sub dividers, Australia’s latest curse. These are people who take a block where one house stands, knock it down and build three much smaller dwellings on the plot. They knocked down the house behind us and in doing so, also took out the leafy trees which had been offering shade and privacy.

So I bought one of the few plants that I knew would survive the burning heat, the bitter winds and the hungry tiny carnivores that populate our back yard, I bought a ficus.

Ficus trees are remarkably hardy so I figured would be excellent for us. It was a moderate size, so I put it in a nice big terracotta pot, positioned it where it would get sun and I watched it thrive.

It has done well, and grew quite quickly for a while. I hung some coloured paper lanterns that were solar powered around and about its branches, but it did not seem to mind and allowed itself to display its lights in the evening.

But lately, something had been wrong. I could not put my finger on it but something was up with the ficus. The dogs circled it one evening and started barking at it – had a family of mice moved into its leafy domain? The tree looked OK, but it just seemed to have gone, I don’t know … quiet. My husband dismissed my concern, told me I was being paranoid.

So I forgot about worrying over the tree after a while and stopped looking at it. The tree seemed OK but whenever I looked at it, I could not shake the ridiculous impression that it was up to something.

Two days ago, I got home from work. My husband was looking pensive.

‘I tried to move that tree,’ he said.

‘The ficus?’

‘Yeah. I could not move it.’

‘Well it is pretty heavy,’ I sympathized, ‘was you back hurting?’

‘It is not my back,’ he said, ‘I think. I think it has rooted through the pot.’

‘Dammit!’ I said, ‘I knew that tree was up to something.’

‘What?’ he asked.

‘The ficus. It has just been too damn quiet.’

‘I have no idea what you are talking about,’ he said.

I went out to the patio and there it stood, in its pot. I gripped both sides and tried tilting it first one way then the next.

Nothing. I could barely get the base off the ground.

I gritted my teeth and for the next few minutes wrestled with it, tipping it first one way, then the other and finally twisting it.

There was a sickening snap and the pot moved.

Growing into the ground where the centre of the pot had been, was what looked like a huge brown tongue. It was a massive root that the ficus has snuck through the tiny hole at the bottom of the pot and which had widened and thickened once free from constraint and then snuck between two patio tiles and to the earth below.

I have no idea how deep the root goes, only that I can not pull it up by hand and will probably have to lift the patio slabs to clear it. I tried cutting through it, with little success and am now waiting to see if it will die, or sprout.

Meanwhile the ficus has been moved away from its root and I have strongly encouraged it to stay in its pot, but I do not know f I can trust it. It looks OK, but it is still quiet.

I hate a quiet ficus. The first time it was only planning its escape; now I worry it may be planning its revenge.

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