This week I was disturbed to receive an email from my office's Plant Support Department.
Firstly, because I didn't know there was one, but worse ... the email informed me that the potted maidenhair fern next to my desk had been confiscated due to neglect.
The email conceded that I was generally well-meaning and kindhearted, but that my neglect of the potted greenery had caused it dehydration and leaf death and was paramount to cruelty.
The sender had therefore confiscated said plant and replaced it. With a thistle in a plant pot.
I was informed that the thistle was far more suited to my plant-nurturing style and would probably fare better, and at least I wouldn't have the death of the fern on my conscience.
I was, I have to admit, a tad offended.
I have after all managed to grow 19 pumpkins this summer. Okay they were self-sown and pretty much grew themselves, but I feel I can still claim gardenership of them.
I've also managed a pretty good line in sweet corn and tomatoes.
If pressed though, I'll admit that flowers and pot plants are not a strong point.
I did grow a very impressive bed of purpley-blue flowers once, which was a great source of pride to me until someone quietly explained to me they were convolulus. Which is a weed.
Over the years I've planted poppies and primulas and violas and dahlias in my flower beds. In return for my planting and watering all that grows are calendula, oxalis and agapanthus. The oxalis grows in the gardens, while the calendula and aggies spring up in the gravel on the driveway, which presumably they find more hospitable than my garden beds.
Still, at least they are growing. Meanwhile, out behind the shed, slightly hidden by a clump of weeds, is my Potplant Hall of Shame.
There, brown and crispy, are piled my indoor plant failures. Last year's Christmas poinsettia lies there, huddled next to the Mother's Day chrysanthemum of 2018. There you'll find the birthday cyclamen of 2017, 2016 and 2015. And the row of tiny houseplants purchased to decorate the bathroom. All doomed as soon as they came into my possession.
The cactus the cat took a bite out of is there too, but shortly after I consigned it to Mount Potplant Doom it revived and seems to be flourishing. I left it there as it seems happy.
One thing that lives on in my possession is my aloe vera plant. It's been eaten by the cat too, and tipped on the floor by at least two toddling grandchildren.
It's had its leaves decimated to soothe many minor injuries. It's in a pot that's far too small and I think I last watered it in November.
Maybe that's the secret? Neglect may cause my houseplants to go limp and turn an unattractive murky brown, but actively ill-treating that aloe vera seems to have done it the world of good.
I should email the office Plant Support Department and tell them I have worked it out. Return my maidenhair fern and I will rip its leaves off, drop it on the floor and repot it in an eggcup.
In the meantime, while they have my fern in protective custody, I am being careful to keep its replacement alive.
I've trimmed the dead leaves from the potted thistle, dosed it with plant food and purchased a little spray bottle to spritz it with water each day. I've put a decorative faux-grass mat under its pot, encircled it with garden edging and installed a solar light for night-time.
The plant shop had shiny glass stones too, so I brought some and arranged them in the pot. They go quite nicely with the ceramic frog I also purchased.
I think it might need a colourful windmill as well though. Maybe the Plant Support Department could advise me.
Or it could precipitate another email ...
"We regret to inform you we have had to uplift your thistle as you are embarrassing it. In its place please find a plastic cactus. We hope this will suffice/survive."