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Creating our botanical paradise

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As spring continues its trot towards shorter nights and kennel cough season you might, like me, start to dine alfresco. What better way to relax after a long day of consultations than a late-spring evening sipping wine in your back garden? This is all very well if your garden boasts well-planted borders and oozes calming vibes. If your garden was in the same state as ours when we moved in (similar to an English Civil War battlefield) then perhaps you should follow my lead.

To improve ours, we took a trip to the local garden centre. During the week it serves me as a pit-stop for a slice of millionaire’s shortbread between calvings. At the weekends though, its raison d’être comes into play; improving our battlefield to something that Capability Brown would be proud of. These days it’s hard to find an actual living plant in a garden centre. They seem to be buzzing metropolises for people to buy large candles with questionable fragrance names. But, if you can see the wood for the mug trees and overpriced bags of crisps, you can pick up a bargain.

Our first port of call on our pilgrimage is nearly always the discounted section, or as we call it the ‘plant sick-bay’. My wife teases that I never buy full-priced plants on our trips. The reasons for this are many; the main one being than I’m as tight as a drum. But, searching out a clump of brown, wilted and unlabelled plant on a Saturday morning gives me a kick. It also leads to comparisons between our furry patients and our ‘firry’ botanicals.

I bring the sick patient home. This is often challenge number one. It looks like it should fit in the box and sit snugly on the back seat; only the box is too small. I still cram the plant in though. Then one side of the box falls off in the car park, the plant falls out. If you replace ‘plant’ with 5 kg tortoiseshell cat, does this sound familiar?

Once safely home, the next step is to work out the species of the plant and choose the correct environment for it. This is equivalent to every exotic consultation I do. Once installed in an appropriate place, I need to work out the fluid rate it requires. This is where the team becomes important; it’s always wise to ask a nurse to work this out, as they are much better at this than vets. Too much and you’ll send the plant into a downward spiral of leaves falling off. Too little and it will become shrivelled up like the contents of the fruit basket that your practice manager thought would promote healthy eating in the practice. Finally, it will need some food. Again, it’s best to take advice on this. Choosing which NPK fertiliser to use is similar to debating which veterinary diet.

Hopefully, after all this, new life sprouts from the pot. Inevitably not all my attempts end in success. Did I give it too much fluid or too little? Is it a carnivore, when I had thought it could survive as a vegetarian? Can I improve it or, as is more likely, was this always a lost cause?

This reflection is much like those we have in our role as veterinarians. We can’t win every fight, but when you do win one, it’s a good excuse to pour another glass and stretch out on the sun lounger.

If you would like to contribute to ‘A practitioner ponders’, please e-mail vet.inpractice@bmj.com for further information. We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.

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