‘I wonder what temperature grass grows at?’ Mr Litlove said the other day. ‘I must check on the internet.’
I am quite used to my husband starting a conversation in the middle of a thought, out of the sweet but perplexing notion that I have been reading his mind for the five minutes of inner monologue leading up to it, but this one seemed just out of left field. Literally.
‘What temperature grass grows at?’ I repeated.
‘Well have you noticed the fuchsias in their tubs?’
I confessed I had not.
‘They’re covered in buds. The mild weather has confused them. But I don’t think I need to cut the grass yet. It’s sort of depressing, really, as you expect fuchsias to be a bit more intelligent than grass.’
‘You expect fuchsias to be intelligent?’
I looked at my husband: tall, strong, blond, handsome, charmingly insane.
‘I hadn’t considered the secret life of the garden before,’ I said. ‘So what’s the most intelligent plant out there?’
Mr Litlove thought about this. ‘Trees,’ he said. ‘You know, they’re good at enduring. Plenty of individuality. They spend a lot of time watching what goes on.’
‘And the stupidest?’
‘That would have to be the grass.’
‘Grass is stupider than moss or lichen?’
‘What, because they have parasitical tendencies – they’re sort of cunning?’
‘No it’s not that. There’s very little chance for individuality in grass.’
‘Oh, so it’s a groupmind thing,’ I said. ‘No freedom of self-expression.’
‘Well hardly,’ said Mr Litlove. ‘Are you laughing at me?’
‘No, no,’ I said, ‘ I’m learning all sorts of things I never knew before. What else should I know about the personalities of the garden plants?’
Mr Litlove had another little think. ‘The climbing plants are garrulous,’ he said.
‘What about the shrubs? Salt of the earth?’
‘Loyal. They know their place.’ He gave me a grin. ‘You know I’m making this up as I go along.’
‘It’s all right, love,’ he said. ‘Everyone knows you’re an orchid.’
Well, the garden went back to living its secret life in secret, although every time I walked through it to get to my car, I did regard the plants with a new eye and wonder whether the grass was being particularly silly that day, or whether the rain-battered honeysuckle was carrying on a long, whispered conversation with the sudden, surprising new shoots of the roses concerning the arrival of spring. And then I had almost forgotten our conversation entirely when Mr Litlove, quite out of the blue, began talking about jelly babies. ‘It’s only when I’ve eaten four or five and I realise I’m not going to be able to stop that… well,’ he paused, ‘jelly babies are not exactly noble sweets, are they?’
‘Oh no,’ I said, ‘Let’s not start this again. I’ve barely got the garden back under control. I can’t start looking at jelly babies and thinking that they’re not noble.’
‘Ignoble,’ Mr Litlove corrected, gently. ‘Jelly babies are ignoble.’
Of all the surprising secret lives out there, the secret lives of husbands are perhaps the most surprising of all.