The apprentice - Part 1

“Din Din! Your garden looks wonderful!” complimented Burrow the rabbit one afternoon. The rabbit was an accomplished gardener and he had an admirable vegetable garden near the lakeside. He was visiting Din Din’s garden with its profusion of colourful flowers and exotic scents.

“Thank you, Burrow, Sir!” replied Din Din blushing.

“Have you heard about Flame the flamingo, Din Din?” asked Burrow as the two strolled around Din Din’s vibrant flower beds.

“No. Who is he?” Din Din replied curiously.

“He is a horticulturist — you see gardening is not just about planting seeds and tending to plants. It’s the art or practice of garden cultivation and management. Flame is a very old and seasoned gardener. He has a large natural nursery in the coastal jungle. I have heard that he is giving a workshop for all those interested in gardening. I am very excited to attend,” explained Burrow.

“I thought you were the most experienced gardener in D’Land, Burrow sir,” said Din Din in amazement. “I am stunned to find out there is someone better than you?”

Burrow smiled, his whiskers quivering in merriment, “There is no such thing as ‘the best’, Din Din. There is always someone better than you. That’s why we should always be eager to learn.”

“I would love to be part of this workshop. Please, give me more details,” said Din Din eagerly.

“It’s a two-week workshop at Flame’s nursery. It’s far from here, Din Din. Will you be able to manage? Also, you will have to excuse yourself from school. Will your school and parents agree?” Burrow inquired.

“I hope so! Gardening is my passion and I would love to learn new techniques I can apply,” Din Din said trying to control his exhilaration.

Luckily, Din Din’s parents were in favour of encouraging him to do anything he loved.

“I will go to your principal and convince him to give you a two-week leave, Din Din,” Mr. D said. He knew there was great scope in gardening and Flame’s workshop might be a chance of a lifetime.

“You must make sure that you make up for all the school work you miss,” Mrs. Dee emphasised.

Din Din eagerly agreed to all the terms and conditions. The next day he went to the lakeside to meet his best friends Dazel and Delma. “I want to join the workshop too,” Dazel exclaimed flapping her bright wings happily. She was always on a look out for new adventures.

“Your company would be ideal for me,” said Din Din grinning at his animated friend.

“I may not be a great gardener but I am eager to learn new things,” said Dazel.

“Burrow told me that the workshop will begin this Sunday. I will meet you at the edge of the beach an hour after dawn,” Din Din stated.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny and Din Din set off to the coastal forest. It was a long trek and it took him an hour to reach the lush green foliage which began just as the sandy beach ended. Dazel met him at the edge of the forest.

“Do you know the way to Flame’s nursery?” asked Dazel after they had exchanged greetings.

“Burrow the rabbit said that there is a dirt track which leads inside Flame’s nursery. We’ll have to find it,” Din Din replied. Just then they saw Burrow the rabbit scampering into the forest.

“Let’es follow him,” Din Din cried. The two friends, one on foot and the other flapping her wings, entered the forest. They could spot the rabbit’s fluffy tail scampering ahead of them.

Before long, Din Din and Dazel found themselves in a clearing surrounded by neatly planted coconut and palm trees. The huge area was divided into carefully distributed flower beds, vegetable beds and herb patches. Four fountains tinkled softly in strategic corners of the garden. Topiaries in the shape of different animals were scattered. There was a small waterfall which fell from a rockery into a sparkling pond.

Din Din and Dazel gaped in amazement at the sheer beauty of the surrounding. They were broken out of their reverie by a gentle voice.

“Welcome, nature lovers,” spoke a tall, elegant, bright-pink flamingo emerging from behind a fountain.

Din Din was entranced at once.

“I had no idea so many gardeners lived in D’Land,” continued the flamingo. “My name is Flame. Many of you might not have met me because I like to keep to myself.”

Din Din looked around at the dozen or so creatures gathered there. Apart from himself, Dazel and Burrow, Din Din could see Dell, the beaver.

“Look there’s Oti the ostrich and Davy the dove, my classmates,” whispered Dazel.

“I can see Sandra the stork, our librarian at Terrestrial school,” pointed Din Din. They could also see Snell the snail, Chipper the chipmunk, a peacock and two monkeys.

“I am curious Sir, what made you invite us to your garden?” asked Burrow the rabbit respectfully. “I know you like your privacy!”

“Burrow, my dear friend. It is a pleasure to have you in this group. That is a good question. Why did a recluse like myself invite so many gardeners here?” Flame replied.

“Well, the truth is that I need an apprentice. Someone who can assist me in maintaining this huge nursery and also carry it forward for I am getting old.”

There was a gasp of wonder. Flame was actually looking for an apprentice!

“What a life it would be to live here in the heaven-like garden,” wondered Din Din dreamily.

“Of course, my primary aim is to share the skill and knowledge I have acquired over the years!” admitted Flame. “There is a lot to horticulture that you all might not know. Horticulture is much more than growing fruits, vegetables and flowers. It includes plant conservation, landscape restoration, soil management, landscape and garden design, construction, and maintenance, and arboriculture, all on a small scale,” said Flame in his soft musical voice.

“It is horticulturists who try to improve plant growth, yield and quality and we can make D’Land an even better place to live,” he finished in an impassioned voice. “But my ulterior motive is to hunt for the perfect apprentice!”

The group of twelve who were listening seemed enthralled by Flame’s words. “And I have a feeling one of you might be the one!” Flame finished softly.

Din Din’s heart was beating loudly! He felt he had finally come home. “I want to be Flame’s apprentice more than anything else in the world!” he thought to himself. “I will give it everything I have got!” he vowed silently.

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