Recently I ventured into new territory: retail! One might wonder why, after years of avoiding the commercial side of life, I might chose to immerse myself in the melee?
The answer is simple: need!
Although I have been living in London, Ontario for 16 months, and am making inroads towards establishing my various business ventures, they are not, as yet, self-supporting. These things take time. I am a patient person, but sometimes I get hungry! Not hungry for food, mind you, my beloved and our gardens provide ample sustenance. I get hungry for connecting people with this good, green earth and her plants! I LOVE my work: outside with the plants and their people in the gardening times of the year, sitting at the loom in winter, and the spiritual connections that weave it all together.
When the opportunity to become the staff horticulturalist at one of the temporary garden centres that mysteriously mushrooms up here in London appeared, I jumped on it. After all, next to getting dirty, what could be more fun that talking with people about plants all day?
The plants at this particular garden centre are robust and vibrant. Thanks to the massive amounts of rain, they are well watered. And, in addition to chatting, I tend the plants, a favourite pastime!
I have met the some fascinating people! It’s not totally surprising, who else would be interested in plants. But I’ve been so busy creating landscapes of small, understory trees and shrubs, interplanting ornamentals with food crops, and sprinkling cutting flowers in with vegetables, I never even considered the pros and cons of matching hanging baskets. I had, in fact, never met the hanging planter set!
I’ll never forget that first day. “Where are the white falling stars? I get them here EVERY year! No, the blue ones won’t do. They don’t go with my patio furniture!” Then there was the requests for “spikes”. It took a few tries before I understood that these were the tall, annual grasses for the middle of planters! My eyes grew wide and wider. The learning curve has been steep. There are calls for the new-this-year “black” petunias! The plea, “well I got it here last year…..” And the ever-present, “I don’t remember what it was called, but I liked it…..” became a challenge of 20 questions.
Periodically I take refuge in the roses, amazed at the varieties we carry, I could talk about them all day.
I also get to show people how to evaluate plant stock. “Look for the the strongest branching or the most buds, they’ll give you a longer-lasting *show*.”
There are the families in new houses; or those ripping out overgrown foundation plantings, or planting after building an addition. Some arrive with diagrams of their yards, seeking small trees and shrubs to fill them. I walk them through the garden centre and talk about the sturdy assortment of shrubs, their needs and desires, their like or dislike of gardening and help to match them up.
Especially rewarding are those who are stumped by the question “what do you like?” This opens the possibility of self-discovery. We walk through the tables and racks, discussing the various options as they open to what they actually DO like. And what are they willing to take care of. Gardening is a journey of self-discovery.
I loved talking with the woman looking for specialised plants that thrive in specific places. We traded sources and growing tips. Several people despair of gardening in the shade, just needing a bit of information about shade-loving perennials, a personal favourite!
Many people are joyous to discover the selection of Ontario Native plants. They also enjoy the nesting ducks who call the garden centre home. Some come back just to check on the duck’s progress. The ducks come, I am told, every year. When the eggs hatch, the staff makes a ramp as the ducklings emerge from their roosts to be escorted across the busy parking lot and roadway to the bog.
Recently I noticed a mother and daughter with a plant problem. They were carrying a couple of large planters and wanted something to put in them. By now I was an old hand, so I offered to help.
The daughter has a North-facing balcony that required privacy. She didn’t care about flowers, she said. Perhaps hangingBostonferns would work, but she seemed doubtful. I showed them coleus, and then hanging ivy. I was gesturing towards the display of shade-loving annual flowers when the young woman spoke up, “they’re not big enough!”
I looked at her hard and said something like, “They’ll grow!”
“Not fast enough!”
I considered explaining that the nature of plants, like other living things, is to start small and grow larger when she spoke up, “I want something to keep people from looking at my balcony when I run around naked!”
The situation became clear. I assured her that when I had bought and cleared my land we left 100+ feet of woods between us and the road precisely so I could garden naked. I understand the desire.
We had considered several options when I turned to the mother, “do you have a yard? If your daughter used evergreen shrubs for privacy, could you winter them over when she wants to put her clothes back on? That way you could use this investment for several years”
A smothered giggle from the mother made me turn to notice a gentleman behind me smirking. Laughing, we moved aside and continued discussing the situation. I was charmed both by the daughter’s desire and by the mother’s support. After a while the daughter turned to her mother and asked, “Well, what should I do?”
The mother’s quick response made my day, “You expect ME to make up your mind?” With a pang of delight and nostalgia for my own daughter, I took this as my cue to exit.
When I saw them again they were moving towards the cash register, planters and plants in hand, chatting amiably, clearly comfortable with their decisions. When asked, they agreed that I could write their story.
Heart full, I moved along to the next people, each with their own particular question or need. Working retail at this busy season has been quite the teacher, responding to each customer in their turn, meeting the urgency or desire of the moment, treasuring their individuality and stretching to hold it sacred.