It was on the 19th of April 2013 when I roared into the house to tell Margreet the great news. What great news?
Earlier I had been watering the garden and, in the kitchen, planting Gardeners’ Delight tomato seedlings into individual pots for summer growing outside.
But I had just witnessed something outside that, as a keen gardener, I had tried to do, but never – ever – managed before – something that I had been attempting for most of my life.
I was crying with joy. And as I entered the house, Margreet was astounded to see this grown man cry so copiously – with joy. I had done it at last. I had grown mistletoe.
I am not sure that one grows mistletoe at all. One plants the berries acquired from Christmas decoration in the junction of apple tree spur and stem – in the vain hope of success.
Either the seeds in their berries fall off, or are eaten by birds – which is rather strange because the berry juice is so sticky that it has been used on branches to catch birds for the pot.
Anyhow, for quite a few years now I have tried to get this mythical parasite to take hold in a host apple tree, growing in a pot, and given to me by my son, Pete – with no success.
Over those years I have tried just pressing the sticky berries into the joint of trunk and spur. I have tried fresh berries and berries dried out over the Christmas holiday (found shrivelled up on a rubbish skip). I have tried binding them in with string. String, being unsightly, I have painted over it to match the apple tree bark, and I have tied in berries and covered the unsuitable-looking light-coloured string with rubber solution (Copydex) and rubbed soil over it before it had set. The string binding for these experiments had, over time, either rotted away or been cut off to prevent strangulation of the tree.
For the last two years I had not taken up the challenge, firstly by forgetting to try, and secondly because of the unavailability of the berries in the market. That was it – failure and lost enthusiasm.
Then, about to enter the house on that fateful day, and passing my two fruit trees in their early flowering state, I looked at where I had sown berries on the potted pear tree (no success) and then the pillar-shaped, Italian apple tree. And there, pointing straight out of the apple’s bark, and several inches away from where I had placed the seed, were three green sprouts – firm, erect, and one with two typical mistletoe leaves (quite unlike apple leaves) at its point.
Having recovered from the initial shock, and still with tears in my eyes, I telephoned my gardening expert sister, who was as excited as I was to hear the news.
I would dearly like to recall exactly which of my planting methods succeeded. But as I had not tried for two years, at least it is now known that the gestation period must be at least 2 1/3 years.
How will this evergreen parasite progress while feeding on a deciduous apple tree in a pot? We shall see.
Ancient lore tells that the crop should be harvested at midnight on Christmas Eve and the result kept for a year. But I am already thinking too far in advance.
The whole aura of this fascinating Eurasian parasite is shrouded in myth and primitive lore.
How will it affect our lives?
What portents lie in store?
What magic will ensue?
What ancient rites does it now need?
What life-changing spell will descend on us with this given sign from ancient gods?