………..But they don’t listen to me, …. – Alan Jay Lerner / Frederick Loewe

Sitting alone in the far corner of my small garden, on the old worn-out garden bench, I look at my trees and wonder if they can hear my thoughts. Some times I even talk to them softly in my mind. Can they hear me? Do they listen to what I am saying? Then the old song, sung by the unlikely Clint Eastwood in Paint your Wagon, comes to mind.

Not so long ago I read a most beautiful novel –

In this brilliant novel of Elif Shafak one of the central characters is a fig tree (Ficus carica). What we humans do not understand is that plants communicate. Yes, not as we do, but in a way we cannot or do not want to understand.

When young Ada Kazantzakis listens to her father, Kostas, talking to the fig tree he brought with him to England from Cyprus, she says:”Honestly , Dad, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but your fig gives me the creeps. There’s something strange about it, I can tell. Sometimes I feel like it – she – is listening to us. Spying on us. Crazy, I know, but that’s how I feel. I mean, is that even possible? Can trees listen to what we are saying?”

The fig’s response:

“Humans! After observing them for so long, I have arrived at a bleak conclusion: they do not really want to know more about plants. They do not want to ascertain whether we may be capable of volition, altruism and kinship. Interesting as they consider these questions at some abstract level, they’d rather leave them unexplored, unanswered. They find it easier, I guess, to assume that trees, having no brain in the conventional sense, can only experience the most rudimentary existence. “

Now back to my trees – let me begin with, ……hmm, the ‘Sculptor’

Fern tree – Cyatheales

Here I sit with my whiskey in the little secret garden at the back, the ice cubes merrily clinking, looking at the fern tree. Quite impressive, I thought – must be happy. Perhaps planted too close to the sliding door.

I know old man, it pains you when you finally decide to sever a branch – the one that has been intruding into your space, making it difficult to close the door at night. You have been patient and gently moved my branch away every time you closed the door. When it becomes tricky and  my leaf starts to hurt, you have to do what you have to do. I am grateful for the gentle way you go about cutting my intruding branch. Although it is painful at that moment, rolling out my newly sculptured branch makes up a thousand times for the loss. It excites you – my new creation – and I know you care.

The Pecan- Carya illinoinensis

“Flirter” – the Pecan nut tree is a matter of third time lucky as previous attempts to raise a good-looking tree here failed. The Pecan seems to have taken this position happily – most likely because of the presence of the slightly older Pecan lady on the neighbour’s side. There is just something about more mature ladies.  Sitting here on the old bench under the Pomegranate (with a whiskey, off course), I seem not to be able to take my eyes off this young boy.

“I have found my place here and must say I love it, old man! When I was still small you tied me gently to these sturdy posts and cushioned my trunk so that I could not get hurt. As you can see my happiness transcended into  a strong trunk and I have gained quite a number of good-looking branches. I think I have, sort of, become the envy of the girl next door! She really loves me being so close. We are almost touching leaves! Soon we will be giving you the most delicious pecans.

I want you to know I’m happy here and love the special moments when you sit here.

PS. I know your favourites are the old Paperbark thorn and the Pomegranate, but I can live with that.

Having listened to my Pecan, I naturally looked up from where I sat and realised that my Pomegranate was strangely quiet, nonetheless content.

The Pomegranate (Punica granatum).


By what name shall I call you? You are so complex in your fruit and your symbolism. Some have even referred to you as the true apple of Eve instead of the apple or fig. You are engraved in all religions of man. Your beauty is beyond words. You are indeed the symbol of fruitfulness, fertility and sexuality. I will call you ‘Aphrodite’.



“I know what you are thinking and it pleases me. My truth is universal and everlasting. There is no need for a waterfall of words – presence is all that man and plant need. I am blessed by the Creator. My metamorphosis from bare stems to sunreflecting shining leaves, buds bursting with expectation, Valentine blooms and secret ruby filled fruit can only be magic.

You are indeed my pride and I care for you deeply.

Reflecting on my trees and  communicating with them, I realise that there are so many of my precious plants that are deserving of mention and dialogue, but that would require another chapter.

One however remains that requires honouring here, the one that I have left for last as he is my oldest and most precious friend: my Paperbark acacia or Paperbark thorn. (Acacia sieberiana, now Vachellia sieberiana)

“The Protector”

I must admit that as it is with us humans, I do have my favourites. It is not as if I do not care that much for the others, but my relationship with the old Acacia is just different and in a way extra special. Maybe it is in his history:

We planted the rather fragile little tree some fifteen years ago. But a terrible and wicked winter storm raged and on one dreadful morning an ill wind totally uprooted him. He was toppled over completely and most of his young roots ripped from the soil. This was a life short-lived, I thought looking at the pathetic little being.

Contemplating what to do as the storm died down, a neighbour came by. Old Keith was a wise and caring gentleman: “It’s not the end! He is a tough lad. He is from our soil. He will get through this ordeal with your love and care.”

I carefully went about uprighting the young tree and secured the fragile trunk with ropes anchored to the ground. As with us humans nurturing and nourishing stimulates life. And – here we are today: “the Protector”.

An entire habitat established itself in and around the old man’s trunk and branches. He became a safe haven to many a bird. The sharp thorns protecting against many a foe. The canopy of branches and foliage screening off a burning sun, providing shade and shelter to man, beast and the greatful plants underneath – the ultimate Protector.

“You know I am not one for many words – deeds, that is what counts.

Thank you, old man, for believing in me, for not giving up. I care for you and the many seeking my shelter. I realise that you are at this moment concerned about my roots. They are too close to man’s structures. You dread to think what would happen should these structures start giving way. I am also a bit worried about this, but believe me, I am really trying hard to navigate my roots as carefully as possible through the soil. It is just the clay which makes things so difficult. Here and there I managed to break through. If my strong roots can penetrate the clay, we are ok.

For the occasional wound my thorns inflicted while you tried to keep me in shape, I apologise. It hurts me every time it happens.

I promise I will be here long after you have departed and my stories will carry on from generation to generation. I am grateful for your love and care. Our bond is Africa, our place of sun and suffering, longing and belonging, hope and despair- where nature and man can be at peace with one another – understanding and acceptance of our inter-dependance.



I talk to my trees…..

…….and I listen to them….

One thought on “I TALK TO THE TREES…

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