Eye of the Plant-Holder

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    My mother and I like to take strolls through the garden center. We start down at the coffee bar and meander our way through the projects and new products, taking mental note of things that we can start working on. We prefer to do this early in the morning, long before people decide it is time to garden. Most mornings, I have no intention of working in the garden, but rather I become a soundboard for my mother to bounce ideas off before I go to work. Some mornings, if she is particularly lucky, I help out before my shift starts. We do small things — designs, displays, and on occasion a designer planter. Sometimes, we do big things, like planting hanging baskets for the cities or creating fairy garden displays. Things you would never really notice but make a huge difference when we are done. 

    I find the best part of our work is the ability to accomplish these projects before or after the normal rush arrives. As much as I love gardening, I find myself breaking into a nervous sweat anytime I am approached by someone who has questions. Even though, most times, I can struggle through an adequate answer.

    One particular morning last month, I was in a bit of a hurry, I had no time to be taking a stroll through the nursery. I simply needed to get my coffee and be out of the way. There are days where projects start a little later, and my hope is to return home before anyone stops to ask me a question. I find the best way to accomplish this is to walk with a quick passion. My true purpose of hiding must have been clear, as I was approached by a confident customer. She asked to speak to someone who had “an experienced opinion” with so much polite conviction that I had glanced behind my shoulder to make sure she was talking to me. Her request, while nicely stated, make it abundantly clear that I was not the right person to answer her questions (and she was right). She needed a professional gardener. With some relief, I trotted off to find my father. Secretly, I was just a smidge disappointed, but I knew my lack of knowledge would be reflected the minute I opened my mouth. There is a certain reward knowing the answer to someone’s question, and an even greater feeling to provide great customer service, even on a busy day. 

    That evening, I found myself wondering what she needed to know. Was it something I could have helped her with after all? If it had been summer, and she was curious about annuals, I could have given her the same advice as any other garden rebel, yet here, in the blossoming of spring, I was lost. I found myself wondering, what does it take to have an experienced opinion? Was it dependent on success rate, knowledge, or even repetitive mistakes that I could learn from? 

    In my circles, I am the local plant expert. I have had a relative amount of success (although I have also had my fair share of failures). My years of experience with hanging baskets and homegrown gardens have made me the best resource for my friends who are just entering the plant world. All of my experience is due to my parents and their passion for plants. Over time, I concluded that my garden knowledge is simply more expansive than my peers because I have tried and failed more than they have. 

    I buy plants with the expectation that someday, they will die. At that point, I will be able to pick out a new plant and try again. Maybe then, my plant will die slower, and eventually, I will have a happy, thriving plant (at least one). So, if a lack of experience, or a proverbial green thumb, is holding you back from becoming a garden rebel, I encourage you to try again. There is a plant for everyone; you just have to find it. With every plant, you become more experienced than the gardener behind you. I cannot be disheartened when I cannot answer your plant quandaries, and you cannot be discouraged when your orchid dies yet again. Pick something new, and learn a little more. After all, plant experience all depends on the eye of the plant-holder. 

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