Everyone entering the small house could immediately see that Mrs. Wintersmith was immensely proud of her plants. This was not so much due to the medals, certificates and polished cups on shelves and cupboards - no, the trophies could hardly be seen behind all the leaves, branches, flower petals and air roots. The cachepots gleamed as if they had just been polished (which was not alltogether improbable), and you could instantly see that they were nothing cheap.
Between all this twinkling and gleaming and all the green living beings, Mrs. Wintersmith was just a tiny black spot, silver-grey hair tied in a tight bun at the back of her head. Ever since her first husband Oswald had died, she had mainly worn black and only abandoned the colour scheme for the short periods of time that she had shared with her next two husbands Martin and Ross, both of whom had died and given way to even more black clothes. When Mrs. Wintersmith had been a young woman, black silk and lace had complimented her porcellain skin and gold hair beautifully, but with age nothing of that female beauty had lasted. She had shrunk in on herself, grown ever smaller and tinier with the weight of the years, and now she was just one of many strange old women roaming the streets on weekdays when every sensible person was working or trying to get some more sleep at school.
People had always whispered about how unfortunate that poor woman was, with three husbands gone before their time. There had been no children, not the usual dogs or cats to keep her company, only the beautiful flowers which she bred in the hothouse in the backyard - the first thing she had bought after poor Oswald had had that terrible accident in the basement. The basement had been sealed ever after, because, as Mrs. Wintersmith put it, she couldn't stand to be with her "beloved husband down there". She had given all her love and attention to the plants - not roses, that would have been too simple, but irises, dipladenias, ficus trees, ... - simply everything that caught her fancy.
When she had married Martin, she had notgiven up on her plants, as many had expected, and the happy couple had been seen many times in the garden together, obviously happy. Martin had been captain of a cruise ship, and from his voyages he brought her even more exotic plants for her collection. It must have been at this time that Mrs. Wintersmith - Wintersmith was her maiden name, actually, to which she returned every time she lost a husband - started breeding Bonsai. Soon her tiny trees became famous all over the country.
It looked as if finally the woman had caught a bit of good luck. But then Martin retired, and only three weeks later had disappeared. His car had been found, engine still running, high on the cliffs, and after some investigation the police had been sure thatthe old man had committed suicide, not being able to bear life without his beloved sea. People had condoled the grieving widow, secretly feeling that she had lost her man to his first love.
The collection of plants grew and grew, and Mrs. Wintersmith started collecting prizes for them. With the years she became more and more peculiar, talking to her plants, carrying them with her in a shopping bag and referring to them as her "children". The people in the village liked her even better for this behaviour, and they were wuite suspicious when a new man turned up at Mrs. Wintersmith's doorstep. But they wouldn't have to worry long... the old people (Ross was a gardener and had been asked to redecorate the Wintersmith garden at first, but he had stayed for more redecorating, it seemed) behaved like teenagers, madly in love. But they were not young anymore, and maybe it had been a bit too much for the husband, for only a few days after the marriage (very small, very stylish - and with Mrs. Wintersmith all in white, once more, wearing the very same dress she had worn twice before already, ignoring all talk about bad luck, omens and fate) he had been dead. Simply lying there, not breathing, when his loving wife went upstairs to bring him his tea. Heart attack, the doctor had said.
The widow had behaved very guardedly, obviously keeping back her tears. She had returned to wearing black and talking to her plants. Surely there were no more marriage plans now.
Little Timmy, from the neighbours, insisted there were sounds coming from the Wintersmiths' basement, but his parents didn't believe him. "You have been reading to many horror stories. What do you think you heard in there? The rooms have been sealed for many years!"
Timmy's mother, Mrs. Gullet, nevertheless decided to talk to the old woman. Maybe there was something nefarious going on in the house without the old lady knowing about it? She went over and invited herself in on a cup of tea. At first Mrs. Wintersmith seemed not so happy about the prospect of having foreigners in her home, but dutifully she went and put the kettle on the stove. A few moments later the delicious smell of really good tea filled the room.
Mrs. Gullet stood in the living room and admired the plants. "You really have the green thumb, you know."
"Oh, I am just an old woman with too much time on her hands", replied Mrs. Wintersmith. She was balancing china cups on a small tray and managed to move gracefully despite her age. Mrs. Gullet could see why the men kept falling in love with that tiny old woman.
"Are you not afraid of dangers for your health? You know, chemistry and all that."
"Surely not." Mrs. Wintersmith sat down. She seemed offended at the idea of using chemistry on her precious children. "I don't use all that modern stuff you can buy. You see, Ross", she paused for a moment, "he tried to persuade me to try them, but I will stick with the old recipes."
"You won't go ahead and tell me they're growing this gorgeously on water and love alone?" Mrs. Gullet smiled. "Go ahead, tell me your secret!"
Mrs. Wintersmith thought about that for a while. "Well, you know what they say... blood makes the crops grow."
And Mrs. Gullet thought she understood. "So you're using the old-fashioned oxen blood fertilizer?"