Monday, September 28, 2009

Good Things Grow

At a time when the only things growing in my life seem to be mold - over my entire apartment and all my belongings - and uninsured health problems, who else but my parents could remind me that good things grow, too. This unsolicited bounty (plus a few items that found my mouth before they found their way into this photo) came from their garden in the fertile soils of Camano Island and it was casually handed to me in a large plastic bag during a family get-together over the weekend.
When I took it home and began washing and inspecting it all, I found myself immersed in the unique and strangely calming beauty of these things that spring up out of the ground and grow ever more appealing as time goes by...
then I began to question the wisdom of mustard-yellow counter tops and wondered if I should maybe sneak all this produce into a Lowe's display kitchenette for a more attractive photo shoot.

Counter tops aside, I realized that even in a storm of worries and problems, there is usually plenty to be grateful for; in this case, loved ones and vegetables.
So here's a special thank you to all my friends, family and... Swiss Chard (it's just so pretty!)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thank You Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Remember to Tip Your Gardeners

OK, you don't have to, but it sure would be nice.
Out of the blue the other day, after a couple hours' work installing some new container plantings, my co-worker and I were each slipped a nice crisp $20 bill by our client and told that we did beautiful work for which he was very grateful and that we should treat ourselves to something cold to drink.

I nearly cried.
And yes, I treated myself to a Grande, Pomegranate something-cold-to-drink on the rocks, no salt.

It just doesn't happen in this business; tipping is something from my high-school days of delivering pizza, when the extra couple of bucks almost made it worth driving around in a perpetually overheating car exposing myself to cracked-door slices of sordid Americana. Back then the tip was an acknowledgment that, while pizza delivery is not rocket science, I still managed to not f*ck it up in an industry rife with f*ck-ups; furthermore I took that spare change as risk reward, knowing that the next cracked-door might reveal a particularly well-armed slice of Americana demanding more than just an extra packet of Parmesan cheese (trust me, it happens).
But gardening is different. If you are a bad gardener, you are not tolerated because at least you showed up with pizza; you are fired. Therefore, the mere ability to maintain regular clients is its own reward and letting me keep 83 cents for not messing up a hedge is more or less redundant. I do not wish gardening to become one of those awkward trades where tipping is sort of half-expected to the point of crippling ambiguity on the patron's behalf to be returned by ready, frosty glares from any slighted worker. While I am not laughing my way from jobsite to the bank every day, I am paid a fair wage for my work (some days I believe this more than others) and do not expect anything beyond an agreed upon price for my services. That being said, gardening can be grueling work and gardeners are known to enjoy a something-cold-to-drink after a long hard day, so I am certainly not going to refuse the $20 out of some noble but vague system of vocational ethics. Nor will I be offended by the social hierarchy implicit in any tipper/tippee relationship, because I choose to interpret a tip as the only available means of expressing superlative gratitude in an increasingly impersonal culture (although I would also be moved to tears if someone slipped me a thank you note or chocolate-chip cookie) rather than as a patronizing reminder of my servitude. If I came to expect a $20 tip after every job, the gesture would rapidly lose its significance and sincerity; as it is, I am moved because it is a completely unexpected act of generosity and kindness. Never underestimate the power of such acts.
Here are some other ways you can thank your gardener:

* Consistently keep your vicious attack dog locked up inside, not just occasionally
* Hire an on-site massage therapist to tackle those charlie-horses, cramps, muscle strains, and general soreness that inevitably arise in the course of the day.
* Speak to him as an equal, not as a servant
* Offer to sharpen his tools
* Offer to give him a straight-razor shave when he starts to look particularly scruffy
* Shout peppy High School cheers out of the window when he clearly cannot get the leaf-blower started
* Remember his name
* Remember that he is human and cannot achieve superhuman feats of gardening merely because you desire it
* "Accidentally" Leave tall frosty glasses of iced-tea, with just a little bit of lemon, scattered around the garden on hot days
*Every once in a while, pretend that plants are something interesting out of which someone besides a complete reject might choose to make a career

That covers most of the bases, but remember as long as it's a sincere gesture of appreciation, it doesn't really matter what you do. And don't limit yourself to gardeners; everyone likes something cold to drink!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To Smash Or Not To Smash

...That is the question for the Karmic Gardener.
Whether 'tis nobler to spare all creatures big and small in the name of compassion or to protect your beloved garden's plants, smashing all creatures big and small underfoot with the fury of a vengeful god and an overprotective mother rolled into one karmicidal death machine (which I'm sure the good people at Scotts/Miracle-Gro/Ortho are scrambling to reproduce in spray form; maybe I should copyright that while I still can: Karmicidal Death Machine©).
Every gardener I have known has established his/her own system for evaluating the rights of garden pests to exist beyond a smear on the bottom of a shoe. For some, there simply are no such rights for anything unfortunate enough to wander into the garden; these types can be found sitting on the front porch, shotgun in hand, waiting for their chance to demonstrate their inalienable sovereign right to blow sh*t up if it crosses that line between not-garden and garden. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who cannot bear to intentionally harm any living thing and will go to great lengths to avoid doing so while generally making every other gardener feel like a heartless, murdering piece of karmic trash, doomed to spend the next several lives as an indentured earwig with asthma and skin problems to pay for that earwig they just accidentally sat on.

Most fall somewhere in between.

The interesting part is how each gardener sets the scales of pragmatism and compassion to balance their usually arbitrary and illogical feelings towards each offending creature. One of the easiest ways to set these scales is to put all "harmful" animals in one pan and all "beneficial" animals in the other; basically, anything that harms your plants gets the firing squad and anything that eats those pests or just minds its own business gets salvation and a blessing. Thus a gardener that I know: sweetly shooting daggers my way anytime I disturb a spider's web ("beneficial"), trying to remedy the situation by sing-songing apologies to the poor little sweetie, and in the next moment snarling "goddamn snails" ("harmful") under her breath, smashing the offending abomination of a creature down on the ground and terminating the infraction with a well-placed, well-stomped heel. The problem is, by this line of thinking, those irksome but beautiful deer that frequent your salad-bar of a garden are as good as venison, and if there existed a garden clog big enough, they should be stomped with all the wrath and snarl due any other garden pest. Now, the idea of smashing a deer underfoot probably sent some shudders around and for this I apologize, but my point is that death and justice are not easily doled out by any logical system we establish because the act of killing is an emotional one and will always be affected by our irrational feelings. Why is the deer spared? Because it is more beautiful and closer to our own size than other pests and thus feels more like killing a fellow creature than does hosing off some aphids. Why do I smash the occasional spider? Because the big ones freak me the hell out and despite my homage to Buddhist tenets such as Karma and compassion, I cannot always shove aside the feeling that this fast, spindly thing in front of me is going to kill me if I do not kill it first. Conversely I feel absolutely no threat from a snail and actually think they are kind of cool; so if they want to munch on some leaves, so be it, I don't consider it a crime punishable by death.

I guess, beyond noble belief systems, what it comes down to is how you feel when you kill something. Are the feelings of guilt outweighed by feelings of justice being served? If not, then you probably won't drop the clog, so to speak. The karmic scale is already tipped against humans because of our size and lumbering, reckless ways; if I were to add up all the spiders I've killed by blundering into webs and then frantically brushing and slapping at my body like a drunken slapstick act, I would probably drop this whole Karma thing as damning beyond salvation. I can only hope that one time I held the elevator door for someone scores me some serious points to make up for this unavoidably murderous profession of gardening (at least I think I held the door...).