My passion for growing things (something inherited genetically from my grandparents) has begun landing me into bits of unwanted situations. Take for instance the time, when I was caught taking cuttings from a rare flowering creeper cascading down the exterior of a compound wall in Islamabad. Although I was not trespassing, but the fact that a white haired individual brandishing a rose cutter and leaping up and down to reach an elusive member of the flora family was irately accosted by a distinguished looking lady was nothing short of embarrassing. Then there was the occasion, when on an uncontrollable impulse, I rang the doorbell of a strange house surrounded by a beautiful garden, only to find myself running for my life (and my car) seconds ahead of a ferocious looking German Shepherd.

My friends began telling me that one day my luck was likely to run out and my love of plants would be my undoing. One ‘wise guy’ even suggested a solution that (according to him) would place me in a win-win situation. His suggested strategy was based on two factors. One that I was a senior citizen with (hopefully) respectable looks and two that ‘dogs hated cats’. The huge question mark that appeared on my face brought forth the explanation that while my age and social skills would take care of ‘human kind’, I would need to arm myself with a weapon to get rid of any four footed menace that might threaten me and there could be no better weapon to accomplish this than a cat. The idea being that on being confronted by an angry canine, I would release the feline to effectively divert hostile intentions. I think I must have hurt the well-meaning individual, when I told him that I would be glad to take up his advice if he could catch me a dozen stray cats, lodge and feed them and last but not the least become an accessory in my forays since I alone could not hunt for plants and carry a cat at the same time.

While my quest for botanical species has its hazards, there is a flip side too. Nine times out of ten, I have met interesting strangers, who have become very good and cherished friends. My interaction with these ‘green thumbs’ has led me to conclude that people with a real passion for growing things are generally happy and stress free, which in turn makes them immune to hypertension and ulcers. I have also found that the secret of happy and harmonious marriages rests in the fact that both husband and wife are amateur horticulturists.

One of my late friends, who retired as a senior bureaucrat and stayed single for one reason or another, took up horticulture as a post retirement occupation. I made it a point to visit him especially when under professional pressure and we had tea sitting in his front lawn, overshadowed by palm fronds and flowering creepers. I returned from these visits totally refreshed. Whenever I brought up the subject of his being single, he replied that loneliness was alien to him since he was surrounded by his family of plants, which were living breathing creations of nature.

For the past many years, I am a regular visitor to a nursery in suburban Islamabad. The place is run by an individual, who has taught me all I know about gardening and it is for reason that I call him ‘Guru’. It is during the winters that these visits take on a special significance. We sit around a small bonfire, under a roughly thatched verandah, sipping delicious ‘doodh patti’ and discussing everything from politics to plants. I have never seen the man frowning or angry and for I know the answer. The man is surrounded by flora that he plants and nurtures with loving care.

I believe, the world of medicine has now come to realise the effects plants have on people from rehabilitation and therapy point of view. That is the reason that hospitals in the west have begun to create roof top conservatories, where seriously ill patients are exposed to the therapeutic effect of nature and some I believe show miraculous recovery.

So dear readers, plant a seed and watch it grow. For who knows, you may have in fact planted the seed of happiness.