Writer – Many years have passed. His reputation flourishes in the commercial world. Home owners bid for his services. One day he comes by appointment to a gated community where all the houses are castles with stretches of lawn in front and swimming pools in back.
Gardener – Real castles?
Writer – The average upper middle class home where husband and wife work and the children attend private schools. A certain Prince, who is one of the Kings’ men in New Drake, wants the Gardener to create a low maintenance garden.
Gardener – It would have be the lady of the house. Usually it’s the woman who takes interest in the grounds.
Writer – Okay, okay, it’s the Lady.
Gardener – It is possible that both of them are involved. If the Gardener has integrity he will tell her there’s no such thing as a low maintenance garden.
Writer – It’s the Prince who wants a low maintenance garden.
Gardener – But it is the Lady of the manor who has heard of his powers. She will believe the Gardener and protect him from the Prince.
Writer – In the second season of his employment, around mid-March, the dark areas under the red oaks, where english ivy once grew and grew, grew up trees, grew out onto the lawn, now explodes with the bright color of winter aconite. . .
Gardener – Eranthis hyemalis.
Writer – against low evergreen shrubberies producing an illusive sweet scent. . .
Gardener – Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis.
Writer – Sweet box. And little clumps of glossy round leaves. . .
Gardener – Asarum europaeum.
Writer – are unfolding through dead leaves and there against bright carpets of golden grass that shade to green mid summer. . .
Gardener – Carex or Acorus, possibly Acorus gramieus Aureus.
Writer – why not both, with delicate lavender crocus. . .
Gardener – How about Crocus vernus Vanguard?
Writer – Perfect, followed by that other semi-evergreen, with deltoid leaves on foot high stalks that flowers, what in April? after you cut the grey dull leaves to the ground. . .
Gardener – Epimedium! a good choice and a wide world of varieties to choose from.
Writer – Word of the Gardener’s genius gets around to the other castles.
Gardener – You mean a neighbor looks over and sees that her neighbor’s yard is looking good.
Writer – Okay, one day this neighbor sees the Gardener and his crew working in front of the Lady’s house. She walks over and asks him if he can do the same thing for her garden.
Gardener – She hopes the Gardener can solve the problem she’s having with her bare patch of ground in a grove of Liquidamba styraciflua!
Writer – What is Liquidamba?
Gardener – Sweet gum.
Writer – Do you want to finish the story!
Gardener – No, no, continue.
Writer – Well it seems everyone in the land of castles is happy. The clients are happy. The Gardener is happy. And because he is a fair boss, his crew is happy. But what do we overhear in one of the nurseries where he buys plants? The nurseryman is talking to the owner of the big landscaping company, Instant Green LLC. They see the Gardener, walking quickly down the rows, the pines on one side, the yews on the other. “Who is that guy,” Instant Green asks the nurseryman; “He seems to know what he is looking for.” “He specializes in clients who like something special,” the nurseryman tells his biggest client. The Gardener gets into his pickup and drives off, waving at the nurseryman as he passes. “Think he’d want a job,” Instant Green asks; “I’m looking for people like him.” “He’s doing alright.” “Growing? Do I need to worry about him?” “I don’t know about that,” the nurseryman replies, “I think he has what he wants; he’s not looking for more.” “What, ignore all this opportunity,” Instant Green exclaims; “I don’t see how you can’t want more, it’s the nature of the game.”
A month later the Gardener is walking down one of the aisles in the same nursery, when he runs into a competitor he’s known for years. They’ve often run into each other in the land of suburbia, in nurseries just like this. He learns that he’s given up his small company. “I’m working for Instant Green LLC now.” “What do you do?” “I’m a consultant and garden planner. I do the same thing I did before only I get a salary, and none of the headaches.” “Do you get the same satisfaction?” “It’s a job but I just couldn’t keep up as an independent. And forget about the permits and other bureaucratic paper work!” “Yeah, I know what you mean.” I was making good money, I bought a second truck, hired an extra crew. But if one client stiffed me I’d fall behind on my payments. I used my credit cards, but shit that’s when everything got out of hand. The banks kept me floating but I began to see there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Then I discovered my new crew leader was cutting out early. I was paying him and the crew full days but the fuckers were coming back on weekends to do the work as independents, undercutting me. It was bullshit.” “I’m sorry to hear this.” “So what about you?” “I just try to please my clients. I’m grateful for what I have, and I have enough, don’t need more.” “There’s something to getting bigger and putting more people to work, but not if it sacrifices your abilities,” the Gardener’s friend opines. “I figure if there’s plenty of work to go around why can’t that satisfy all of us,” the Gardener adds. “You’d think. But I’m better off on a salary. Instant Green was wiping out my assets anyway! Now if it rains, it’s no sweat off my back; I don’t worry about sending guys home early on a day’s salary.” “Well I wish you the best of luck. They got a good man when they got you.” “I’d like to think so.”
One day the Prince invites a rep from Instant Green LLC to the gated community where the Gardener works. The Prince, relying on his experience in the buy and bust Kingdoms of New Drake, has argued with his wife. “Why are you afraid to use the competitive market,” he asks her. “I’m not afraid,” she pounces back, “I’m satisfied. The Gardener does great work.” “How do you know other people don’t do even better. Or at least as good but for less. That’s the whole point of the free market.” She counters with, “would I take that lovely vase your mother gave us for a wedding gift and see if I could replace it with a cheaper version just as lovely.” “That’s silly,” he says, exasperated, “you don’t understand capitalism.” “Maybe, maybe not but I know what I like. Even you’ve been satisfied.” “I’m never satisfied until I get the best product for the best price and I’m not sure anyone couldn’t so what the Gardener does for cheaper. You’ve seen the Instant Green fleet out beyond the gate. When I see success in a growing firm I want to be a part of it.”
When the Rep from Instant Green arrives at the door she is surprised to see a pleasant looking young man. She had expected someone entirely different, someone she could easily have refused. Her prejudice gives way to guilt. He gives her his card and she asks for his credentials. She tells the Lady of the castle that he’s a college graduate.
Gardener – So what! The Gardener went to college!
Writer – Don’t get excited. The Rep doesn’t know this is the Gardener’s client.
Gardener – Why would he brag about something so unimportant?
Writer – The Gardener attended a two year program in a local community college. Gardener – That’s right!
Writer – But the Rep tells the princess he has a four year degree in horticulture and in landscape design. When he names a famous ivy league college as his alma mater she set aside her reservations and accepts him as the Gardener’s equal.
Gardener – Even though he’s done nothing to prove it?
Writer –Why are you getting touchy? This isn’t your story. This is a fairy tale. You didn’t even go to college! Besides you prefer working for nothing. You’re a freelance rogue in the competitive market.
Gardener – I work without charge for my community! I live here, okay?
Writer – I forgot to mention that the Rep is wearing a tie and a light, casual, suede leather coat that zippers up the front?
Gardener – I know, I know, the woman is impressed. She doesn’t even know that as a private contractor he was a failure. His degree didn’t help him there!
Writer – I didn’t say he was a private contractor or a failure.
Gardener – You said this was a fairy tale. That’s why you brought in the Gardener’s friend. His friend is the Rep.
Writer – The Rep tells her he likes to begin every job with pencil and paper. He likes to think out all the details. When he inspects the yard, the intruder tells her that her gardener to date has planted all the wrong plants.
Gardener – Actually he’s thinking her garden is magnificent. But he works on commission. He needs to sell the job and sell the company plants.
Writer – He advises a complete remake of the back yard. He says, “Everything’s too crowded, too overgrown. And where are the flowers?” Not wanting to feel the fool, she tries to explain the Gardener’s intentions. She has the same uncomfortable feeling when she brings her car down to her mechanic in the village because of a rattling noise, only to have him turn the engine over and find it purring gently without fault. She knows all kinds of color are about to appear in her garden but she can’t remember exactly what. Her mind has gone blank. The garden does seem a little dull under the critical eyes of the Rep. He opens up his laptop and shows her pictures to emphasize his pitch. Her doubts persist but the presentation is impressive, all the latest devices.
Gardener – He sells the same company inventory to everyone.
Writer – Without telling the Gardener, the Lady of the castle brings in Instant Green. They redo her backyard as if they were redecorating the living room. She is a bit startled by the changes. She misses the Gardener’s personal touches, his non-invasive methods whereby the yard changed subtly, but it’s too late now. When the bill arrives the Prince, is shocked. But it’s new and the grounds look magazine-picture-perfect. And he had been the one to encourage this. Still he can’t help asking her if she’s ever said “no.” “Is that what you ask your customers,” she replies bitingly. Anyway the Rep is often there and he takes many pictures telling her they will go into the company year-end catalogue.
Based on a legal agreement signed by all parties the company sends in its army of maintenance people to cut lawns and apply an arsenal of chemicals to kill weeds, destroy insects and encourage rapid plant growth. One day the housekeeper tells the Lady of the manor that the Gardener had come by that afternoon. “He stood on the back lawn looking at everything..” she tells the Lady. “Did he come to the door,” the Lady asks. “No, he just shook his head and left.” By the third year, the only thing growing under the shrubs is moss. Instead of the quaint garden she once envisioned when she first moved into the house, she possesses shrub borders that burst into color in spring then recede into anonymity for the rest of the year. Instead of congregations of intimate small and varied perennials mixed with bulbs and annuals she sees only mulched beds where little grows. And all along the street where the Gardener had once worked his magic, she sees the same plantings, all bursting forth into the same pink, red and yellow as her own azaleas and forsythias.
Gardener – Naturally the Prince doesn’t notice this.
Writer – When she calls the company to complain she learns the Rep has moved on.
Gardener – The Rep that replaces the original salesman, knows less than the actual employees doing the real work.
Writer – Maybe not, maybe this rep knows a lot but having weathered years of servitude is apathetic.
Gardener – The results are the same. He counts on his crew leaders to make decisions on their own.
Writer – If they make good ones, then he looks good.
Gardener – These crew leaders should be the reps.
Writer – Not likely to happen since they often can’t speak English very well. Many are undocumented.
Gardener – They’d benefit greatly if they were educated, far more than the pencil and paper reps who have wasted their education. The gardens they work in would benefit as well.
Writer – Even so the big outfits can still can underbid the smaller players. The Prince always like a deal.
Gardener – What’s become of the Gardener?
Writer – He’s still around. He’ll always be around.
Gardener – Don’t take him for granted, or he might stop doing what he’s doing.
Writer – You mean he’s coming down with a case of Atlas Shrugged?
Gardener – Point well taken.
Writer – All I meant was that you’re still around.
Gardener – I told you I’m retired.
Writer – Yes, you’re the Gardener who works for nothing.
Gardener – Right and he’s the Gardener who works for a living. Does the Lady bring him back?
Writer – You can afford to work for nothing because you have a pension.
Gardener – Right, but thanks to the Old Woman and the Wizard, the Gardener has magical powers which gives him the cutting edge in the competitive market. Does the Gardener return?
Writer – Only a fool works for nothing anymore.
Gardener – Like Keith Stuart?
Writer – Well he was rewarded.
Gardener – Like the baker’s apprentice. Not all of us work for money. As a gardener I can see profit in the beauty I’ve created with my hands and with the help of my friends in the plant world. You never answer my question.
Writer – Everything comes back to the beginning, where we first placed our efforts, our labor is as valuable as the product of our labor. One day, years later, the Gardener, on his way home to New Drake, is driving his pickup down a highway lined with shopping malls and car lots. Some of the buildings are shuttered with plywood. Weeds are poking up through the cracks along the curbs. He passes a used car lot which he vaguely recognizes. It’s enough to make him turn off and drive back. An old man is leaning against an Oldsmobile convertible, talking on his phone. He realizes he was here once as a boy before his father left the family. The old man latches on to him with surprising vigor and begins asking him what kind of a car he wants. The salesman talks fast and the Gardener can see there might have been a time when he could have sold anyone anything. But now he looks like he has seen better days. There’s even an egg stain on his wrinkled striped shirt which he can see every time the man moves and his tie shifts. They go through the showroom which is empty. A revolving carousal in the center of the room is out of alignment and the paint is peeling from the walls. In the back there is an office cluttered with car parts, fenders and head lamps, even a door to a Cadillac. Against one wall is a desk that is lost under piles of yellowing papers, many of them copies of The New Drake Post. Another desk and chair are set against a part of the show window. The window is streaked and stained in the stark sunlight. Through an open door in the back of the office he can see a cot where the sheets and bedspread lay crumpled on the mattress. Coffee mugs and empty beer bottles line the counter. An aluminum frying pan with spatula poking out beneath a lid sit on an electric hot plate. Through another door further in there’s a toilet and a sink crammed together in a room the size of a closet. Through a small narrow window sunlight highlights a mop behind the toilet reminding the Gardener oddly of Vermeer. The Gardener asks the old man if he’s always been at this location. “Oh yes,” says the man; “but in the old days I came across classics. The used cars of today don’t have the style and weight of the old ones. Nothing like the old T-birds and caddies.” The Gardener thanks the salesman. He tells him he’ll think about that but now he’s sure he doesn’t need what the man has to offer. And with that he turns and walks away. “In those days,” the old man shouts, “anyone could live like a king. . .”
A case of Atlas Shrugged
Like Keith Stuart?