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Torfaen Tales

Flower Power

We were only playing in the road but Nan wasn’t impressed. When she came marching up the path I could see by her face that we were in for a telling off.

“What do you kids think you’re doing, throwing all that paper about!”

“We’re only playing cricket,” said Bryan, waving the stick he was using as a bat. We’d been using scrunched up sheets of newspaper as balls, seeing who could hit one the furthest.

“Littering more like. Stop it now, and pick up all those pieces of paper. And whose Sunday paper have you pinched, I wonder?”

“We found it in somebody’s recycling box,” said Tommy.

“Well make sure you pick it all up and put it back there,” said Nan, turning on her heel.

A bit later Nan came out again. Bryan had gone home, but me and Tommy were sitting on the front path.

“Bored, boys?” she said.

My heart sank. If she thought we were bored she usually found us something even more boring to do, like mowing the lawn or cleaning the car.

“Since you seem to like throwing things about, I’ve had an idea. Come with me,” said Nan with a mysterious smile on her face.

We walked down to the park. As we entered the gates Nan sat on one of the benches and motioned for us to join her. She took a brown paper bag out of her handbag.

“When I was just a bit older than you the hippie culture took the world by storm. Back in the 1960s. Flower power and all that. Peace and love. One of the things we used to do was flower bombing. See those neat beds of begonias over there?”

We nodded. I didn’t know what a begonia was, but I assumed she meant the little green plants with pink flowers lined up in rows in the flower bed opposite.

“We would usually strike at night, or early in the morning when there was no-one about. We’d throw handfuls of seeds among the council’s tidy displays, and wait for them to grow up and flower. We liked to sow sunflowers in a bed like that one. They’d grow to about six feet tall with big yellow flowers the size of your head. The council workers didn’t know what to make of it.

We’d also flower bomb areas of ugly waste ground. I remember how I felt when the poppy seeds I’d thrown around the gypsy camp bloomed in a riot of colours: pink, yellow and white. It made no end of improvement, and we were in fits seeing the gypsies’ puzzled faces.

“So you’ve got a load of seeds in that bag, have you, Nan?”

She nodded and smiled. “Mostly red poppies. I picked the seed heads off mine when they finished flowering. Now I dare you both to walk over and sprinkle some around when no-one’s looking.”

We did as we were bidden. It was a bit lame, but at least Nan was happy. She reminisced about going to festivals as a young woman, and said she’d show us some photos when we got home.

On the way home we stopped in the pet shop and Nan asked for some bird seed.

“But you haven’t got a bird, Nan,” said Tommy while the man was weighing out what Nan wanted.

She tapped her nose knowingly and winked. After we left the shop she explained.

“The best way to get seeds is to pick them from plants that have finished flowering, but bird seed is far cheaper than buying those little packets of seeds in Dentons. You get much more for your money. This is mostly sunflower seeds, and I think we can have some fun with them, don’t you, boys?”

As we walked over the footbridge she chucked a couple of handfuls onto the roundabout below.

When we got home Nan showed us her photos. I wouldn’t have recognised her with her long hair and funny clothes. Nor Bampy, in a leather jacket with fringes hanging off the sleeves, riding a motorbike. It seemed strange to think of Nan and Bampy being young, and what she called ‘with it’.

After dark Nan took us on another walk, down to a new housing estate where most of the houses were still unoccupied. After making sure there was no-one around we scattered the bird seed liberally in the flower beds at the front of the show home, and flung some in each of the gardens for good measure as we walked past.

“You wait, boys,” said Nan. “In a couple of months the fun will start.”

The following week while walking home from school I noticed some nice, fat poppy seed heads hanging over the fence in one of the gardens I passed, the same as the ones Nan had taken to the park. I checked nobody was about before pulling off as many as I could and putting them in my lunchbox. At home I emptied the pods into a bag. The fine black seeds were spilling out already.

That night Tommy and I sneaked out of our bedroom window and went down to the main road. We managed to sprinkle the seeds on four roundabouts and get back in our beds without being discovered.

Then Mum and Dad took us away for two weeks on a camping holiday, and we didn’t think about flower bombing for a while. We were too busy playing on the beach and riding ponies on the farm. Then after we got home it was time to go back to school.

The next time we went round to Nan’s it was late in September. Of course she hadn’t forgotten about our flower bombing mission.

“I’ve been checking on our seeds,” she said. “Want to take a walk?”

We went to the housing estate first. Nan was right. There were loads of sunflower plants coming up everywhere, and the biggest ones were nearly two feet tall.

“They just might flower before the weather turns cold,” said Nan.

We continued on to the roundabout under the footbridge where we could see more sunflower plants waving in the breeze, and down in the park some different plants were growing up between the begonias.

“Definitely poppies,” said Nan with a grin.

To our disappointment the following week we came upon a council employee weeding that flower bed, pulling out all the poppy plants. Stupid idiot probably thought they were weeds. We rushed round and told Nan.

“That’s a shame, boys. Still, the sunflowers are coming along nicely.”

I told Nan about our outing to scatter poppy seeds on the roundabouts.

“That was a silly thing to do, boys. You shouldn’t go out on your own at night, and even worse, you could have been hit by a car crossing that road. Promise me you won’t do that again.”

Unfortunately a few weeks later we noticed all the sunflowers had been taken out of the show home garden. It was some small satisfaction though that the sunflowers growing in the gardens of the other houses on the new estate continued to grow, and some eventually showed cheerful yellow faces over the fences. But the flower bed on the roundabout under the footbridge had been cleared, and was just a circle of bare earth. What a waste!

Whenever Dad drove us down the main road Tommy and I would look closely at the four roundabouts, but nothing seemed to be growing.

Christmas came and went. We had quite a lot of snow that winter, but finally the weather grew warmer and spring arrived. And, to our amazement, some green plants started growing up on the roundabouts on the main road. Imagine my delight when a host of red poppies burst forth from the fat buds!

That spring there was no stopping us. Tommy and I got all our mates involved in flower bombing. True to our promise to Nan, we didn’t go near the main road or sneak out at night, and for a couple of years flowers kept popping up in all sorts of strange places and lots of grown-ups were puzzled.

By Karenne Griffin


Last Modified on: 05-11-2015

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