The Gardener Returns, A Dialogue, Part Ten C

To everyone’s surprise the curator of the Greenhouse Garden is appointed the Assistant Director of Horticulture. As it turns out he’s a perfect fit. Years ago, long before his move to New Drake, he managed a shoe store in a mall outside Akron for the footwear chain, The Inner Soul. Later he managed a garden center near Columbus for the giant retail chain, The InsideOut Living Corporation. When asked by the Resource Officer if he gardened in his spare time, he told the interviewer he preferred sailing. “Where on earth did you sail in Ohio,” was the startled response of Resource. “On Hoover reservoir outside Columbus,” he answered; “sailing on Long Island Sound was one of the reasons I applied here, that and the benefits.”
In the potting shed the morning after his elevation is announced, the new Assistant can see the gardeners eyeing him skeptically. He tells those who didn’t know the Wizard, “in spite of what you’ve heard about the Wizard’s protégé, the Wizard had no favorites; he treated us all the same. Just because the Wizard liked what I did, doesn’t mean I used his friendship to gain advantages for myself. I stand on my own merits.” The Assistant, feeling an oratory power fill his lungs, winds up and throws another pitch. “The Wizard,” he continues, “told us what to do; what tree to move; what screw to use; don’t believe what someone else might tell you. As your new Assistant, I intend to guide you just the way the Wizard guided me.”
When the President returns from her AAPI retreat at the Spiny Cactus Resort and Spa in Southern California, she can barely contain herself. “It was marvelous,” she exclaims at her managers meeting, walking around the table where her team is seated, handing out souvenir ceramic Joshua Trees with the monogram SCR&S inscribed in gold letters on the base. “Do you know the biblical story of Joshua,” she asks, taking the last Joshua Tree for herself and fondly gazing at it. “I met a priest there and he told me the story of Joshua. Yes, it was a good time. When you wanted something, you went and got it. Apparently Joshua was having some trouble defeating the socialists in Gideon so he raised his hands to heaven – and by the way this is what the Mormons saw when they looked on the Joshua Trees growing near the spa. Joshua implored the almighty god in the bible, this is all in the bible, to grip that sun that was crossing the sky and hold it in place so he could get the job done, finish off the terrorist city-state of Gideon before sundown. I was reminded of an ad I used to see in the National Geographic magazine when I was girl – you’re all too young to remember this. A giant hand is gripping the atom as if it’s a hornets’ nest, taming its fury for our commercial use. Yes, it was a good time. There’s nothing we can’t do if we let the right people do it! Yes, you should have been there,” she says, placing the object on a massive Swedish reproduction of a 19th century commode where she displays mementos from other important meetings. In the mirror above the commode she inspects her tan. “The Kings’ people – and these are people who can control the atom! – sent their legal advisors. They helped us understand who we’re up against. Of course, here, we don’t need help, do we? We know exactly who we’re up against.” Everyone at the table looks around, as if the implied “who” is there with them. “They offered us,” she explains, lifting a parcel of papers in binders, “free enterprise strategies, call them practical formulas if you will, to help our Institution pay for itself. Of course, we’re on target, aren’t we – transforming our Public Institution into a Profitable Non Profit – the very words used by the closing speaker. . . And did I mention that Joshua was also a spy. Apparently Moses sent him into enemy territory to gather intelligence. On the open market, anything goes!”
Gardener – I thought she went to AABGA to attend a seminar for The Elimination of Pests and Weeds.
Writer – I told you already not the Association of Arboretum and Botanical Gardens of America, but the Association of American Public Institutions, AAPI
Gardener – What about The Society For The Elimination of Pests and Weeds?
Writer – Didn’t you tell me once that a weed is anything found in the wrong location.
Gardener – Any plant found in the wrong place.
Writer – As you can see the Kings’ people know how to stretch the metaphor. They pay people a lot of money to do it. But you wouldn’t know that, would you, you don’t watch TV.
Gardener – But what’s her spy story have to do with weeds?
Writer – Let’s go on. Following her preamble she describes the keynote speaker. “You all know who he is,” she claims, taking her seat, “the host of the national TV garden show, Whose Garden?” She waits for recognition to brighten their faces. Seeing none, she goes on. “InsideOut carries his brand name clothes and garden accessories. That’s right, Captain Morning Glory. You’ve seen his signature stitched across the breast pockets of shirts and jerseys and diagonally across the back pockets of pants and shorts. If you haven’t, you will soon. When our shop finally opens, we’ll carry his full line from rakes to socks. And Horticulture, I want his outdoor work apparel to be the standard uniform worn by the gardeners. And to get the ball rolling, Horticulture, I want Morning Glory to design a theme garden for us. Call his agent immediately – my secretary will give you his contact information – make the arrangements before anyone else gets hold of him; I’m sure our brother and sister institutions at the seminar are thinking the same thing. Yes, the world is moving quickly,” she affirms, tapping her fingers on the Kings’ stack of legal advice; “we don’t want to be at the bottom of the heap implementing innovation, do we? And donors give money to projects like this, isn’t that right, Development?” “As long as their names are in lights,” agrees Development.
Later, with the new Assistant present, the President reviews her strategy with Horticulture. The Assistant quickly applauds the idea. “I worked for InsideOut. The Captain’s merchandise sold like hotcakes. Don’t you think we should give Morning Glory the greenhouse garden beds?” “My sentiments, exactly,” the President agrees, “I want his installation to be prominent. And it would add some oomph to that area,” she adds, not wanting the Assistant to get too carried away with himself. But he bounces back and cheerfully replies, “and we can sell the plants varieties he uses in his installation.” “Horticulture,” cries the President gleefully, “I told you the Assistant was our man.” Horticulture nods instantly, reminding them that “tweeting will serve us well among the social network.” “I’ll have PR look into it,” she promises. “Now is the time,” she adds, walking them to the door; “The Institution encourages this kind of strategic dynamism.” Horticulture, still wanting to recapture his glow, quickly adds, “and if our garden hero actually used his own personnel to install the garden, we could reduce our staff.”
Energized by her stay at the Spiny Cactus, the President forges ahead on her plans for economic independence. “We don’t want future generations to suffer the decisions we must make now,” she exhorts her managers; “living in the red has no place in the public domain.” The first two positions eliminated by the Institution belong to the two janitors, both employed there since the early days. Among their many responsibilities was cleaning the bathrooms. The new provider is a large maintenance company who takes full responsibility for the health care benefits of its own employees. When this change goes down without comment, the Institution moves quickly. Lawn maintenance is eliminated from the payroll. Bids are accepted from local landscaping companies. The largest company, coming in with the lowest bid, gets the contract. To financially accommodate the cost of hiring the new company, the President tells Horticulture it’s time reduce staff size; he must “release” the last hired gardener. Having not understood at the time the repercussions of his off-the-cuff idea to the President, he puts up a last minute defense. “But we just hired him,” pleads Horticulture; “he’s still on his twelve month probation.” This makes him feel better. “Precisely,” she replies; “I don’t want you to tell him or anyone until two weeks before his probation is up. We save the Institution a whopping 12,000 dollars since the man’s not yet vested nor entitled to any benefits.” “It’s a shame,” bemoans Horticulture, “he’s so pliable.” “It will do the young man good,” she counters, “we don’t want to see him corrupted by entitlements.” And finally he adds, “I overhead he’s newly married.” “Horticulture,” she says acerbically, “we, the managers of the public sector, must always struggle against the inefficiency of the public sector. It’s endemic in our line of work. Whatever good, whether salary or security this gardener may derive from the Institution is beside the point. We’re not here to help him. We’re here to help the Institution. We’ve been chosen to walk through this alien environment, each his or her own Joshua, in search of government inefficiency. Remember, without this Institution the children will lose their jobs.”
“You mean he’s fired,” says the Gardener, when the decision is finally announced. “No, released,” replies Horticulture; “in other words he’s free to find other work.” This comment is followed by astonished silence. “Wow,” exclaims the Old Timer with a sigh, “just married and a mortgage.” “Just married and a mortgage,” mimics the Assistant with a shrug of his shoulders. “Just married and a mortgage,” is parroted throughout the Institution; “just married and a mortgage,” resonates like the notes of an organ, through the rooms on the second floor of the former home of Total Power’s man. “Why do you look so upset, Horticulture,” the President queries; “we made him no promises. Change is good, Horticulture, both for us and for him. I don’t see your Assistant mourning, do you? Besides, you’re still here.”
At her next meeting with the Board of Directors, the President flashes a “V” sign, which reminds her fondly of her college days at UCLA when she and the other students sat outside the Administration building, demanding an end to the war, hands raised, flashing the “V” symbolizing Peace. But here, she muses, it means Victory. It reminds her of the historical connectivity in a world of change. It gives her a cozy, warm feeling. She tells the Kings’ men, a gardener’s position, for the first time, has finally been eliminated. “That leaves a total of three unfilled slots, saving the Institution three salaries plus the entitlements. In short, a potential threat with all its attending ulcers like pension and health benefits has been avoided, a financial wound staunched.” The only member of the Board who does not applaud is the Treasurer, who asks if the hiring of new management positions hasn’t offset the gain made in reducing Horticulture. “I promised efficiency and innovation and that can only be achieved,” she says archly, “by insuring we can hire the best personnel in the field to help streamline the Institution.” “Let’s hope so,” the Treasurer remarks, observing the others, who see no difficulty in the evolution of management.
She fumes into the office of Development, bypassing the secretary. Development hears her, then assuages her fury by reminding her that terminating the position of the new gardener, not only saved the Institution from needless bleeding but rerouted these resources to better serve it, by implementing improvements in communication here in the upper hierarchy. But more importantly we’ve increased the resentment among the younger gardeners toward the older gardeners, since the last to be hired not only receive less to start with, but also have no job security. “You’re right, of course” says the President; “only that lousy Treasurer was waving his red cape at me.” Development goes on to advise, “we quietly spread the word that the older gardeners hired by the Wizard have been granted immunity.” The Board, with only one vote to the contrary, acknowledges the President’s accomplishments by giving her a bonus. She, in turn approves a merit raise for Development as reward for her insightful comments.
With the walls of Horticulture breached for the first time since the Garden’s inception, members of staff begin to whisper among themselves that if they can layoff one of the gardeners, then none of us are safe. Feeling no future here, Security and Maintenance are the first to jump ship. In a formal report to the Board, the President states that “with employee turnover increasing after two years, at last reasonable salaries can be maintained.” She writes, “during the Wizard’s time low turnover was considered a sign of contentment, contentment a sign of prosperity. The Wizard,” she emphasizes, pounding the keys emphatically, “considered himself. . .” and here she uses the now extirpated word “. . . the Garden. As a result his power over the Institution was immense. It was detrimental to the progress of the Institution.” “There were other Presidents,” the Chairman gently reminds her at the next meeting. “But as you will obviously concede,” she responds, “they were powerless against the immense strength of his supporters.” “His supporters,” the Treasurer emphasizes, “helped fund the Garden. Since his banishment. . .” “He wasn’t banished,” says the President, “he vanished of his own accord.” “And with him,” the Treasurer continues, “the financial support that he garnered.” “But,” she adds, reclaiming the discussion, “he favored entitlements. Entitlements feed worker dependency and foster systems of inert staticity and,” she says with arched brows, remembering what one lawyer emphasized at the Spiny Cactus, “without anchoring worker loyalty. This is counter to the strategic dynamism we now seek. I’m proposing that by eliminating these costly policies our savings match our losses, without our having to tax the public any further with gate increases. At long last,” she concludes, “our public institution can compete in the market reality of today.” The treasurer, who made his fortune in his own private investment company in the old days before bankers became investors with public money, is about to ask her why, instead of a garden, she isn’t running a business, when the Chairman, who is a banker after all and no longer intimidated by the Treasurer’s former successes, raises his hand to remind those sitting there of their role, “let’s allow our dear Institution to pursue the policies she has already initiated with success so far.” Excepting the Treasurer whose reservations limit his gaiety, the other members of the Board nod their heads cheerfully.
But Horticulture is worried. He’s come to realize the gardeners who worked under the Wizard are not only more experienced, but masters when it comes to composing color and texture with living material. Nonetheless, a new order is evolving and he must step aboard or be run down. As per signed agreement, once a week, five or six men disembark from a large green flatbed truck, the name of the vendor printed across the doors. They unload in front of the garage a fleet of mowers, large and small, and with an explosion of sound begin mowing the lawns. After their first visit it’s obvious to management that the need for the Institution’s huge sit-down mower, as well as the push mowers and edge trimmers is at an end. The President asks Horticulture to dispose of them. He hesitates. He wonders “if we shouldn’t keep them until absolutely sure.” “I am absolutely sure,” replies the President; “and if you’re so fond of them, take the fucking things home with you.” Shocked by her tone he apologizes. But taking no prisoners she says, “I’m sure the Assistant wouldn’t have any problems getting rid of them!” After the mowers are discarded, the President wants to know what’s left. Horticulture reports that three Cushmans, one so old it’s a miracle it still runs and the tractor with its front end-loader and the backhoe remain in the large room of the garage. In former days Total Power’s executive housed several cars and a mechanic who kept the cars running. In those days the garage had its own gas pump and air compressor and a pit in the small room between the parking area and the storage room in back for changing oil and washing cars. “Do we need a tractor,” asks the President incredulously. “We do,” replies Horticulture firmly. He doesn’t admit that he enjoys driving the tractor, now and then, his baseball cap pulled around visor backward. “How much do they cost to maintain,” she asks. “The greatest expense was maintaining the mowers, especially the rider. But now that those have been eliminated, the only cost, aside from parts, mainly for the Cushmans, comes to nothing. The Pruner of Yews keeps them all running.” In his next pay envelope, the Pruner of Yews receives a memo notifying him that because the elimination of the mowing machines have reduced his responsibilities, his salary has been adjusted.
The next area of improvement has to do with the Nursery where the Wizard and his gardeners had grown-on hard-to-find plants. Many of these plants had been germinated from seed or propagated from cuttings or bought as potted specimens from small mail order specialty houses. This area had been the primary source of the Garden’s diversity. Back in the day, now being referred to by management as “another time” or “medieval,” the Wizard, at the suggestion of the Porcelain Man, had placed the Old Timer in charge of this area. With the help of seasonal workers, generally high school students working summers, the Old Timer kept it weed free by first spreading the leaf mulch, stored nearby, between the rows, then weeding around the bases of the plantings. The mulch also helped reduce the watering and preserved the soil from compaction. One day the Assistant tells Horticulture in hearing of the President, “the public wants to buy what’s popular. They like flowers, big bright flowers! They like the flowers they see in someone else’s garden. When they see them in a nursery, that’s what they remember and buy. So why wait until Morning Glory arrives next year? Let’s expand the sales area for the next fund raiser.” Horticulture is annoyed with the Assistant’s loud, insistent voice. Ever since he became Assistant, Horticulture has noticed that instead of working in the Greenhouse beds, the Assistant spends his day taking pictures with his mobile and posting them on his MyFace page entitled “From The Ground Up.” Nonetheless “you’re right,” he says. The two men understand how important it is to agree on everything. “But our first order of business,” continues Horticulture, “is finding a wholesale nursery who’ll grow our material and deliver it in time.”
Gardener – Wait a minute. What’s the improvement for the nursery?
Writer – This all happened long ago after the Wizard vanished.
Gardener – But what about the nursery?
Writer – At the end of the next pay period the Old Timer discovers a personal memo in his pay envelope pointing out that since he will no longer be riding the mover his salary has been adjusted. He asks the Assistant if this is a prelude to being fired. The Assistant assures him he knows nothing about it, that he should speak with Horticulture. Now it’s Horticulture’s turn to look surprised. He advises the Old Timer speak with Human Resource. With a look of surprise Resource tells him absolutely not. As far as she knows, his services are still needed. “Don’t you work in the nursery,” she asks. “Yes,” he replies, “But we haven’t introduced new plants to the nursery since the austerity program began.” “Well,” she admits, “because of funding cuts at the Federal level the Institution has been reorganizing.” He’s noticed that. “Then you should remember that next time you vote, you do vote don’t you?” He nods sheepishly yes. “So you understand,” she affirms, “that as soon as the reorganization is completed we’ll begin loosening the purse strings again.” “Will that be soon,” he asks anxiously. “I’m not sure,” she answers, “but aren’t you going to retire soon?” “I hadn’t thought about it,” he says. “Well, you should,” she suggests; “either that or consider what the next election might mean if you vote for the wrong man.” “Wrong man?” “Think about it.” When relating this discussion to the President, the President exclaims, “fire him, why give him a chance to vote!” But Resource explains that firing him would be seen like an open attack on senior members of the staff, which as Development then points out “would hurt us rather than help us.” Public Relations agrees. “There’s a lot of old people around,” she says.
In mid-August in preparation for the upcoming Fall Fund Raiser the last small tree is dug and burlapped.
Gardener – The last tree?
Writer – A crabapple.
Gardener – Probably Malus sargentia Tina.
Writer – Perhaps.
Gardener – But how can they do that, a public garden? It’s unheard of! We’re supposed to be leaders in innovation, not followers of the garden mall mentality.
Writer – We? This isn’t about you? This is so much bigger than you! “What am I to do down here,” asks the Old Timer. “For now, nothing,” replies the Assistant. “What am I to do in the nursery,” he asks Horticulture. “An excellent question,” is Horticulture’s answer. The Old Timer waits for another memo from the office; but it doesn’t arrive. Instead Horticulture sends his own memo suggesting the gardeners, for the time being, grow their own vegetables in the old nursery. “Vegetables, ” asks the Old Timer in dismay. “Vegetables,” laughs the Pruner of Yews. “Yes, vegetables,” the Assistant affirms. “The season’s nearly over,” the Gardener says. “You’re always negative,” the Assistant replies, “have you forgotten Kale?” “Kale? Cabbage? Beets, maybe? Be my guest,” the Gardener says, looking at him, “you obviously have the time,” and walks out the potting shed door. “Don’t rule out next year,” the Assistant shouts, following him to the door. To the others he says, “Why are you standing around?”
Everyone was aware that the Old Timer mulched the Nursery from the nearby leaf piles. Everyone was also aware that the Gardener used compost and mulch in the High Garden. And if we recall, aside from the Old Timer and the Gardener, no one else used Compost and Mulch. But Horticulture and the Assistant are aware of the Gardener’s seditious movement of mulch and compost to the woodlands. They have it on tape. Therefore Horticulture and the Assistant deem the Compost and Mulch piles superfluous. It is rumored that mulch kills trees and that compost spreads a horrid fungus. The Gardener is shocked when he hears the newer gardeners discussing this. He acknowledges that mulch can prevent water from reaching the deep roots of trees and shrubs during droughts if areas are not thoroughly soaked and that the high alkaline content of mulch in late decomposition can damage certain acidic loving plants. And that the addition of too much compost can help porous soils dry out even faster. But he claims the benefits outweigh the exceptions. To this protest, the Assistant nods his head sadly. “I know,” he says, “the Wizard, against his better judgment, let you mulch the grounds. He let you dig in compost with all its weed seeds.” “That’s the reason you mulch composted areas,” argues the Gardener. “Those were different times,” continues the Assistant with unctuous relish, “a bygone era. You didn’t know any better. You didn’t use mother’s little helpers, the tech tools Industry is now offering the world. Besides, Gardener, we’re too big to waste the taxpayer’s funding on your antiquated methods. We don’t have the time, nor the funds to run a feudal system. Your old fashioned methods are too labor intensive. Do any of you,” he pronounces, turning to the rest, “really like spending days on end digging out the foul smelling mulch when you could be working up here doing. . . doing real gardening?” “Gardening is labor intensive,” the Gardener states; “there’s nothing wrong with garden work. Besides it’s good when everyone works together now and then moving mulch.” “Oh, I see, kill independent initiative by implementing big brother projects like the your WPA inspired move-the- mulch days. I think everyone here believes the Institution is here to foster the individual’s right to pursue his dream. Am I right?” He looks around for approval. He used to mulch. He knows that no one likes mulching. There’s a shuffling of feet as discomfort fills the air. Woefully the Old Timer announces, “I’ll never mulch the nursery again.” “What nursery,” replies the Assistant surprised. “I thought maybe one day.” “As I just said, we don’t live in bygone days.” After that wood chips provided by the garden maintenance company replaces the leaf mould which is let to rot down slowly under a host of burdock and sticky willy. Since Horticulture foresees the department turning a profit in the future for the Institution he convinces the President to allocate funds for the fertilizer that will supersede compost. “They want to get rid of me,” the Old Timer confides to the Gardener and the Pruner of Yews. “Woodchips! Imagine that?”
For the first time in all his years at the Garden– he refuses to say the word, Institution – the Gardener is unable to do his job. He feels he is being herded into a smaller and smaller place, held hostage by a set of alien rules applied to fit all circumstances, even a small garden. He once heard one of the Kings’ men complain that China was fixing its currency to favor its Industry on the world market. “China,” said the Kings’ man, “doesn’t play by the rules.” This man went on to say, “if I were President of the Country I would make China play by the rules.” What rules, the Gardener asks himself, and when did they go into affect? It seems to the Gardener that those who want us to play by the rules want us to play by their rules. After all the established rules of any group are created to favor that group. When he discovered the world of plants in the Old Woman’s garden – it saved him from the chaos of youth. For the first time since his father disappeared, he was rooted to something bigger than himself, which he perceived, with the Old Woman’s help, to be beautiful. He thought, if I bring this earthly beauty to others they will feel as I do. It took him sometime to realize that his Eden was not applicable to all, that everyone’s idea of paradise is different. The clients who sought him out generally liked what he did. He took on each project knowing he worked as if the ground belonged to someone he loved. Bits of his memory were lodged in his work like splashes of color against a unifying green, here a hint of his first days before his father disappeared, and there the strong influences of the Old Woman’s garden, and finally an architectural presence gleaned from the Wizard’s Garden on the Tongue of Slang. He also had clients who thought they liked what he did because he worked in the famous Garden. They thought, I want that garden here in my back yard. When they actually saw what he did for them, they realized, too late, they hated it. Sometimes they refused to pay him as if he had not lived up to the bargain they had imagined. It’s true his work sometimes reflected something he tried to avoid, an unwanted tension from the days his mother and his siblings wandered through this same suburbia evading the bill collectors. Some clients, not knowing the cause – it’s doubtful he fully understood himself – thought these manipulations of nature were strokes of genius, a spiny object amid an enveloping soft blue or an outrageous broadleaf tropical where one expected something neat and trim. No matter what shrub or tree he dug and moved again and again he couldn’t soften the composition, a glint of fury always remained.
When he began working in the High Garden at The Garden On Drake’s Tongue, he realized the Wizard had offered him a gift. In the High Garden he could encourage visitors to take home with them images of beauty that could help them design their own worlds of peace and comfort. But come now, Gardener, there’s little peace in creation, more like agitation, the act driven by a need to heal the psyche. Perfection is unachievable. But he counter argues, the attempt to achieve goes on forever. And therein was salvation. The potential for success, if only momentary, offers hope for eternity. If it can happen at all, it can happen forever. In the afterhours, if the creator reflected, he could pause and see his work of beauty. In that moment the creator is healed, for a moment, that fraction of time it takes the liver of Prometheus to heal before the bird of doubt returns to inflict its pain. He liked when visitors asked him about plants they’d never seen before and wondered if they could grow them in their gardens. He always recommended they try. Sometimes he gave them seeds, sometimes cuttings – provided they had a plastic sandwich bag – most often he told them where to buy the plant. He enjoyed hearing their stories and encouraged them to invest in the diversity of all these botanical beings.
Now, with his plant kingdom in the hands of someone who couldn’t care less about plants, the Garden is threatened. If the rules established by the Garden’s President are better suited to a mall, what chance did the Garden have? But not only his Garden, he realizes, but gardens everywhere. The Kings have narrowed the meaning of the word, industry to mean something profitable. Thus the Kings’ word, Industry, looms up beside the President’s Institution. More specifically the Kings of the plant Industry have established a business model that favors giants over all the Jacks and their handfuls of beans. How could the small growers compete against the Kings’ rules which have bypassed millenniums of practice? As the Gardener looks out over the Garden, he wonders what choice he has when the Kings have already chosen his seed for him. What becomes of the Garden’s diversity when the corporate model for the mall and the factory is applied to all? The natural world can’t be relegated to the demands of the market without the loss of this precious diversity, which for the Gardener is the cornerstone of his liberty, his liberty to chose for himself from a vast plant kingdom what the gardener will propagate. It’s no different than choosing beer or bread on a supermarket shelf. If it all comes from one company, that’s not diversity, that’s not the evolutionary plan. There should be no masters of the market or the garden. Who is the first to complain when our so called elected officials try to protect the realm from the loss of diversity? The Kings who cry against regulations! Diversity demands that all living things have an equal place on the plane of existence, no one thing receiving more than its share. He weeds the garden to ensure that one species doesn’t dominate over another. On the other hand, though he tries to ensure something rare its place in his garden, he can’t waste all his resources should this plant be ill-suited for that environment, like a barrel cactus in a pond or a lawn in a desert.
That same Kings’ man who complains about China, claims to know how to put people back to work? Yet this same man, to maintain his investments, has put people out of work. Were those who lost their jobs to help maintain his investments ill-suited for the work like the tropical orchid growing on a mountaintop? Perhaps a few. But more likely, the rules of the market dictated a high return on the capital invested by the principal shareholders, before they could consider the well-being of those employed. No, the rules don’t favor workers any more than they favor polar bears. Who would the Kings’ man help, the gardener who had collected his own seed or his neighbor, who had bought genetically modified seed from the King’s store? The independent or the company’s client? When the wind blows across his neighbor’s large fields towards the gardener’s small patch, it brings with it the neighbor’s pollen. Does the gardener have any chose which way the wind blows? Can he expect a big city judge to understand the mechanism for plant propagation when the judge has never worked in a garden? Can a judge who has only read the legal decisions from other trials or the well crafted words of the Kings’ agents understand the illiterate forces and unwritten laws of nature? We are not talking about the gardener who collects the seed knowing it’s now transgenic. We’re talking about the gardener who doesn’t want the Kings’ seed period. The Gardener doesn’t care if transgenic seeds is good or bad for people. He cares about his freedom to chose what he sows in his garden. At the end of the season, the gardener does what he has always done: he collects enough seed to sow next year. But the following year, he observes that his neighbors herbicide has drifted over into his garden on the same westerly breeze traveled by last year’s pollen. How does he know? Here and there on the margins of his plot, he can see tell tale signs of herbicide poisoning, the corn leaves yellowing and wilting for no reason at all. But he can also see that some of corn stalks among the dying are still vibrant and green. A week later an agent from the Kings’ men drives up in a dark car with tinted windows, gets out and serves him a summons. “What did I do,” the gardener asks. “A sample of your material. . .” “What material,” asks the gardener bewildered. “Plant material. You’re growing our product!” “What product,” the gardener asks befuddled. “Plant product. That’s our corn,” the man says pointing to the green stalks growing over by the ditch. “Our records show that you never bought the rights. . .” “What rights,” he asks truly alarmed. “Proprietary rights, allowing you to grow our patented products. Here, sign on the dotted line and write out a check in the King’s name and all will be well. Otherwise one of the Kings’ elected officials will arrive and take you to prison.”
The gardener refuses to sign for something he didn’t buy. He didn’t want that corn. “Yes, you did,” says the court judge, who lives off the taxes paid by both the gardener and King, though the King’s share is supposed to be larger because it makes more, “otherwise you wouldn’t be growing it.” “I collected the seed off my own land last year,” he tells the judge. “Can you prove that,” asks the judge, telling him “an invoice is as good as an alibi.” “How can I prove I collected my own kernels with my own hands,” protests the gardener. The judge looks at him with a stern eye, “That simply proves my point. You didn’t buy the product in question, you stole it.” “Why would I steal something I don’t want. It doesn’t make any sense,” pleads the gardener. The lawyer for the prosecution knows the law. He knows the Kings people and the Kings elected officials. He stands up, sharply dressed in a blue grey suit, and with the judge’s permission explains to the farmer who is, after all, just a hick, why he stole the factory-made corn seed from his neighbor. “Gene modification is saving the world from famine. There’s money to be made. By inserting the gene code for synthesizing the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin into corn’s genetic package my client, the King, prevents the European corn borer from destroying his clients’ corn. Do you know what Bt is,” the man in the blue grey suit asks him. The gardener can’t believe the tone of voice. He remembers using a Bacillus species for years trying to kill the grubs in the lawn in his back yard where his kids played kick ball. But the project had failed because he didn’t have enough lawn or larva to allow the B. popilliae to take up permanent residency. And he had never been sure that his targets, the Japanese Beetle and possibly the European Chafer, and other species of June Bug, which he always found piled against the screen mid summer or later as larva buried in his wife’s potted plants, had been the only targets. Later he tried nematodes but the results were the same. Not that he would try chemicals, preferring to live with his problems than shotgun the invisible targets out of existence. “Yeah, I know what BT is and I don’t want it in my corn. So what’s this got to do with me?” The lawyer in the blue grey suit sighs patiently. “I’m trying to explain to you the science behind this innovation.” “You’re explaining nothing I don’t know already,” the gardener objects; “gardeners like me have been culling seed since the Neolithic when the wise women selected the plants that favored larger fruits and resisted disease.” “Objection overruled,” injects the judge from his high seat above the courtroom. The lawyer for the prosecution thanks the judge before continuing, “but you, sir, wanted to take a short cut, didn’t you, you decided you didn’t want to wait a thousand years for a similar product to appear naturally; you took advantage of my poor client, the King, and that’s why you’re accused of patent infringements.” “Is this what my ancestors in Concord and Lexington fought the British King for,” he asks the judge, “that I can be prosecuted for collecting seed from the plants I’ve sown and grown on my property since I was a teenager working with my daddy?” “Didn’t you notice that some of what you call your corn didn’t die while other corn plants did? Didn’t you see that?” “Yeah, I saw that my neighbor’s herbicides hit my plants. I should be suing you!” he rebuts, “why would I want corn like that, that can be sprayed with plant killers and survive?” “Because then you could add more rows, plant more corn, which would increase you profit and feed the world.” “I prefer feeding the world the old fashion way, by weeding.” “That’s right,” the lawyer exclaims, as if he has struck his mark, “And you know how hard the old fashioned way is, don’t you; and when you found a short cut you took it.” “No,” the gardener shouts, “I didn’t take it. The wind brought it. That’s how plants do it, in case you didn’t know, in the wind. I don’t owe your King anything, but the King owes me. The King’s so called product invaded my property and then the King’s weed killer killed my plants.” The King’s lawyer objects, the objection is sustained, and judge pronounces the defendant’s comments inadmissible being based on hearsay. “Your Honor,” the lawyer concludes, “we see this defiance all the time from criminals like the defendant. If these people persist they are going to force my generous, understanding client, the King, to bring in the terminator against the all the Kings’ wishes. But my client must protect his assets for humanitarian purposes for only the Kings have the power to save the world from starvation and privation.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the startled gardener acknowledges. “Unless you obey the patent laws of this country and the world and buy the Kings’ corn, the Kings will be forced to use a technology they have sworn not to use. In other words the day is coming when you won’t profit when you pirate my clients seeds without paying for it, because it won’t germinate! Either you buy the Kings’ corn freely or one day you’ll have no other choice at all. You, my friend, must follow the rules.” The gardener is shocked. Now he can only stammer. “The creation of sterile seed is against the law!” The gravel comes down. “Silence,” shouts the judge, “the only laws are the Kings’ laws!” “There’s a higher law,” the gardener cries, against the din of the courtroom, “and that’s Nature’s law!” “The Kings laws are nature’s laws,” proclaims the judge. “I’ll write my congressman,” he shouts defiantly as the guards take him by the arms, “I’ll go to Washington!” “You won’t be going to Washington,” laughs the judge. “And it wouldn’t matter even if you could,” explains the victorious lawyer, “I know you’re congressman and your congresswoman. I know them all. Besides the Kings didn’t invent the terminator seed; your so called government did!” he proclaims, everyone laughing out loud.
The Gardener is on his knees pounding the ground, beating the very object he worships, the earth beneath him, the ever sustaining Earth. And there before him staring right at him are the minute flowers of Galinsoga. . .
Gardener – How did you know the name of that?
Writer – I’ve heard your amused comments. Galinsoga is staring at him in amusement.
Gardener – Amusement? Hardly.
Writer – So he yanks the weed from its place in the sustaining earth and is holding it in his hands, roots dangling, like that famous painting of Goya, Cronos Devouring His Children.
When the President changed the rules the Gardener was still willing to propagate his favorite varieties. At first it was challenging to see what interesting combinations he could come up with yearly, using only what was growing in the High Garden. “Smoke and mirrors,” the Wizard once told him, referring to preparations for a fund raiser. “If we lack time, edge and rake the paths and the rest falls into place.” Fine for a limited purpose. So with lifting bulbs, making divisions, taking cuttings, collecting seed, the Old Woman had taught him all this; but now the struggle to survive with all the extra hours before and after work and the physical work itself has exhausted him. Plant diversity had been the kindling for his works of structure and color, needing only a spark of enthusiasm to ignite innovation and discovery. Without access to the great gene pool of the plant world he’s come to parody himself, like an old actor playing the same role over and over again, reciting the worn lines without emotion. Without plant diversity to sustain his interest he has nowhere to go but in circles. It’s simple, diversity is the bedrock of a healthy garden. A broad gene pool safeguards failure. If a species needing more light is failing under a tree, then another specie, provided there are others to chose from, replaces it. In the quest for success the composition must remain fluid. This is based on experience. Every great garden seeks the right balance. It’s trial and error and the process is supported by a rich diversity of plants from which to chose. Society was the same. Millenniums of experience had taught us the pitfalls of a constricting gene pool. Brothers were not encouraged to marry sisters. Defective chromosomes collected inside a single progeny was like a stagnant pool of water breeding illness. By regulating the gene pool with traditional taboos, society encourages diversity.
Then why is he devouring Galinsoga? A weed? Or is it a member of his so-called vast garden gene pool? He stares at the place where he just pulled up Galinsoga and finds it still growing there. He pulls it again but it reappears in the ground. He keeps pulling it but it keeps reappearing in the same place. He is now holding a handful of limp bodies in his hand, yet the species remains in the ground in front of him. Not only that thousands of Galinsoga are popping up all around him, leaves stretching toward the light, flowers dotting the crown, maturing, drying, seed spilling in a terrifying moment of mass reproduction. As far as he can see where the bare earth separates his perennials the seedlings of Galinsoga are unfolding cotyledons quickly bearing leaves. Is this diversity, he cries, hearing himself and suddenly afraid someone might have heard him. He turns away and there on the border near the street, where once he defeated Mugwort, the pungent silvery perennial is stretching toward the border’s edge, roots running though the ground in thick mats from which the aromatic leaves appear. He can’t believe it. But there isn’t time to counter this assault. The Bindweed which he had once eliminated around the narrow English oak,
Gardener – Quercus robur fastigiata.
Writer – is creeping around thin trunks of the evergreen inkberry. . .
Gardener – Ilex glabra.
Writer – and before he can intervene, is pushing both upward, twining thickly through the branches of these shrubs, flowering profusely white cups, quite lovely really, and dropping seed, and outward through the earth the white hairless roots, brittle to touch, piercing the ground beneath him. He is overwhelmed, drops his dying bundle to the ground and stares forward like a blind man while panic grass, dandelions, and chickweed, all once successfully managed, rise up in open rebellion against his orderly world in the alpine beds. This carpet of confusion is sweeping over everything like the grey water of the ocean rushing across the lowlands. The once soothing greenery sways before him rough edged like waves on a shoreline, cresting in white clouds of seeds drifting over everything like sea spray. The garden is collapsing as a bold few battle each other for total control, like Titians at the beginning of time. A cold sweat, an upset stomach and aching joints convince him he’s coming down with something. His white blood cells and his antibodies must be surging through his body now seeking the cause of infection. Yes, they are working inside of him now, regulating the microbes and viruses seeking to overthrow his health, the health of his body, the health of the organism. He laughs. It’s no different anywhere! Whether it’s his body, the garden or the nation. He eats well to help his body regulate his health. He weeds the garden to maintain balance. And we supposedly elect government officials to regulate the Kings and their people, whose narrow sighted goals for complete market dominance, make them detrimental to society. Rules and regulations are essential to the health of the country to prevent the Kings’ all consuming growth from destroying the country as it was now destroying the Garden. He leaves work with the others, is home before sundown, his wife and children shocked to see him so early.
The next day in the frame yard adjacent to the potting shed, he is staring into a bucket of water, when the face of the Old Woman floats to the surface of the water, smiling. He smiles in return. She asks him why he’s forgotten how wide the world is. Don’t let the darkness swallow you. Everything you need can be found in someone else’s garden. Just then the Assistant comes into the frame yard. “Who are you talking to,” he asks, a smirk on his face, “I heard voices.” “That’s odd,” the Gardener replies, lifting the bucket and leaving, “everyone here was quiet.” At diner he tells his wife and kids, “this afternoon I saw the Old Woman’s face in a bucket of water.” “A bucket of water,” asks his older daughter. “I was filling it so I could water some divisions of Iris pallida in the Herb Garden for one of the interns.” Who is the Old Woman, daddy?” “She taught me everything I know,” he tells them. “Did the Old Woman say anything, daddy?” “She told me to visit other gardens.” The kids laugh, thinking he is joking; but his wife says, “She’s right, you must get away when you can and visit other gardens.”
That night he dreams he is walking through an intricate garden of winding paths. Sunlight fills the garden; yet he can’t see the sun. The sky is blue and perfect with perfect clouds but the sun is nowhere to be seen. The trees throw shadows that seem alive, breathing. They sway as if in a breeze, although he can’t feel anything. He comes out onto a glade where it is suddenly dark and the rain begins to fall. That’s when he sees them wandering through the garden, one a tall pale figure in a thin blue grey poncho sweeping through the glade, a man like Mockingbird whistling. The other, the birdman’s companion, he recognizes. He’s the Wizard. He runs over to him, covering the great distance instanter and greets him enthusiastically. The Wizard reprimands him, one hand slicing the air. “You must be quiet! We’re working by stealth.” “Have you been here long,” asks the Gardener, his voice shaking the leaves all around him. “A very long time, but you must be quiet!” the Wizard emphasizes, his finger to his lips. He is holding a wad of plastic A&P bags. Just then the birdman swoops down upon a clump of iris to admire it, the outer edges of the poncho enveloping the clump, his head tilted to the side to study it. Then with a wind beneath him he rises up on his feet again, drifting ahead, his head looking side to side. The Wizard nervously apologizes and races forward toward the winged stranger. The Gardener, too, is following right behind. He sees the two confer. The unknown man hands the Wizard a small bundle and then moves off again, sometimes laterally, sometimes forward, his head constantly moving side to side in search of something. The Gardener looks down on the clump of iris. Weeds are growing through the rhizomes which clamor over one another in tight congestion. He can see that no one has been tending this place. It reminds him of the High Garden but then it could be anywhere, a garden beside an ancient temple or church. “Stop daydreaming and help me,” the Wizard scolds in hushed voice. “What do you want me to do,” the Gardener replies enthusiastically like a child. His voice fills the canopy of a nearby tree, leaves flutter silver and green as a flock of sparrows fly off, shrieking to the birdman. “Shhhh! Or you can go home,” exclaims the Wizard with a worried look. “Here take this.” He hands the Gardener a plastic bag, holding the rhizomes of the iris, and a plastic label. “What do you want me to do?” “Do I have to spell it out! Get the name and any other information. It’s important! And do be quiet!” “What do I write with?” “Don’t you carry a pencil and pad of paper with you anymore,” exclaims the exasperated Wizard. He digs through all his pockets. He appears to be wearing layers of casual jackets. “Why are you wearing all those jackets,” asks the Gardener in wonder. “They belong to him, can’t you see, they’re too big.” Finally inside the wallet pocket of the inner most jacket of brown suede, he finds a pencil and hands it to him. Printed across the length of pencil are the words in old English lettering, The Antique Pottery Mart. “Don’t just stand there, write something!” “What do you want me to write?” “The plant’s name for god’s sake. I can’t believe what’s become of you!” He point to the congested rhizomes in the garden bed. “Oh my, the Porcelain Man is getting away from me. I don’t want to lose him!” And he runs off. The Porcelain Man, whispers the Gardener, staring after them. He forgets everything and runs after them. Then he remembers the label, yes, the label. He turns back to look for the clump and there, instead of nubs of leaves growing out of the roots, spires of tall, bearded iris have grown with standards in burnt umber and falls of purple. He forgets the Wizard and the Porcelain Man and bends down to see the name of this marvelous iris for himself. The old copper label is blank. Then in midair above the label a stylus appears and scrawls an elegant calligraphy, that reminds him of something. As if such things happen all the time, he worries instead where he has seen this handwriting before, when he feels he’s waking. No, he cries to himself plunging back again toward the magnificent iris, reading on the label, I. g. Dante’s Inferno. In the distance the earth and the sky merge in a blue grey mist where he thinks he sees the Porcelain Man sweeping down from the sky, feathers of misty grey, the Wizard, below, arms akimbo, nervously urging him on. His descent is so rapid he knows it cannot be true, and yet this bird has dropped to earth, again sweeping close to the heartbeat of what he wants before returning to the distant Wizard, his hand now in the air like a perch, which makes the Gardener laugh, as he wakes to the sound of someone flushing the toilet somewhere in the building where he lives. In a panic he searches for the name. Then quietly, not wanting to wake his wife, he rises out of bed, goes quickly into the kitchen where he turns on the light. On a scrap of paper he writes, Iris germanica Dante’s Inferno.
Sometime during the following week it comes to him, a bolt of lightening that makes him laugh like he did in the dream. The handwriting on the label belonged to the Old Woman. How could he have forgotten that? When he began working at the Garden, he saw her less and less. Then the years passed without him seeing her at all. Then one day two years ago the Old Woman’s daughter, whose inclinations were not bent in the same way as her mother, called him. She wasn’t a gardener but she knew how much the garden meant to her mother. She told him her mother was sick and had been for some time. The next day he went to see her. The Old Woman smiled at him the way she did the first time she saw him from the corner of her house, a boy staring up her walkway. He told her he’d come to weed and deadhead the beds. “Oh, you have more important things to do now,” she told him, without a hint of reproach, “a garden of your own and a family to love. The girls must be getting big now.” He and the daughter moved the Old Woman to the window where so she could sit and watch him work. “If I do something wrong you can tap on the window.” He once remembered her garden full of surprises, nooks and crannies appearing beneath bowers, where something grew he’d never seen before. Now as he surveyed the work ahead of him, he realized how small it was, how quaint. It took him just a few hours to clean up the overgrown weedy beds and set the debris on the compost pile, now crumbling in decay. When they said goodbye, he kissed her on the cheek, as she patted his hand. A week later she was dead.
Now with the late afternoon sun in front of him, he drives across the River Slang, passing the Great Wall and the Gate Keepers’ colonnade. As he drives through the neighborhoods where he once lived like a gypsy, unwanted memories seep through the quiet, tree-lined streets like palimpsest standing in stark contrast. Why in his quest to create beauty had he forgotten the one person who had set him on that journey? He drives up the street where she lived. In just a few years the neighborhood had changed. Small houses had evolved with new additions into castle-like playhouses set back on manicured yards proclaiming wealth. He stops at the house. FOR SALE is posted at the entrance with the name and telephone number of the realtor. A sticker pasted diagonally across the front of the sign, leaving the realtor’s name and number in view, adds in bright letters, JUST SOLD! It’s obvious someone was called in to “clean the place up” before the sale. The garden appears sanitized, everything neat and tidy, the narrow paths defined, not a leaf or stem falling out of the tiny beds. There is none of the congestion, the overgrown aspects he had cherished as a boy and which he knew to be anything but congested. With his world at the Garden collapsing, he hopes he’s not too late.
It’s odd he thinks, how spells are broken, the magic drained right out of a place and time. A cold reality has replaced the enchantment that once resided here. Yet he’s wandering through a distant time even though nothing around him reflects the life of that time and place. Death is like that, he thinks, leaving behind this ultimate reality that no longer recognizes you. In one moment someone precious is alive, their body filled with awareness; then within a fraction of a second, the body still warm, nothing animate remains in the shell. Some would say the animate has left only dead wood behind. But left where? He has seen many times, the animate dwindling, dying out like a fire. If it goes anywhere it goes to those who remember, who remember the empty husk when it was lit from within. So with this garden, he says, reclaiming a cold ember and squeezing it with the heat of his memory. Even that day two years ago when he, the selfish man, came back after years of being away and found the Old Woman too sick to maintain the place, the garden breathed her presence. Weedy and overgrown, yes, but still alive, still animate. Her place, even by the window, animated the garden. He is sure that even after she died, the garden lived, as if her special essence, fleeing the decrepitude of her body, had taken refuge in the garden. But her daughter not understanding her mother’s vision, brought in landscapers to make “the mess” presentable. Unwittingly they scattered the coals of her imagination. The garden grew cold the way her body had. He accepts that in time we all become inanimate again. It’s a wonderful thing to know that no matter what becomes of an organism, whatever the Kingdom, nay whatever the Domain, from the sapient down to the smallest iota of self organization, the Earth reclaims it. Even if the body is forgotten, or shrouded in plastic or smothered by empty oil cans, or dissolved in toxins, the Earth reclaims it, without reservation, without approbation. In the end our Earth takes us back to the beginning. Even the Kings’ men, blind as they are return to the universality of the elements; even the conscious manipulators of others for personal gain, even these most evil of people, return to that elemental reduction that makes all things equal once more.
But somewhere, in spite of the landscapers, embers glow. Those who came to see the place and bought it must have sensed them. Perhaps they will not search for it vain. They will restore the light adding their own sympathetic fire. He can’t believe that two years ago while weeding and deadheading he hadn’t noticed the little details he was seeing now, like a child. Being on top of the world, in need of no one, his memory had withered purblind. He couldn’t imagine the Old Woman teaching him anything new. For a gardener this is a disastrous decline in sensibilities. It closes the door to everything else, because there is always something else, some new plant, some new means of showing the old ones off. It’s why we garden. But here and there tucked under branches a simple pruning would reveal, her little treasures are lying in waiting. How could he have not seen them? No one saw them, not even the gardeners who preceded him recently with their rakes, weeders and clippers. He’s conscious now that it’s getting dark. He’s been wandering through the garden for a long time, entranced by all the details he missed two years ago, that everyone missed, all but the Old Woman who always knew, knew past and future and the world under her feet. And suddenly he sees it in one of the borders in back of the house, lost in clumps of wild oats gone mad. . .
Gardener – Chasmanthium latifolium. . .
Writer – hidden, the old leaves folded and yellow, but new leaves breaking forth from thick rhizomes, like the corners of playing cards that the Old Woman is holding tightly in her fingers, waiting for this moment to declare her hand. It’s Iris germanica Dante’s Inferno. And there behind the clump is the label in his dream the night he saw the Porcelain Man.

Footnotes;

Strategic dynamism:
( re FROM NYT The Education Issue Anatomy of a Campus Coup By ANDREW RICE Published: September 11, 2012)

Taking farmers to jail:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto

The Insect Pathogen Bacillus thuringiensis, A Bt Primer:
http://filebox.vt.edu/cals/cses/chagedor/btprimer.html

Masked Chafer
http://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/bimg140.html

And Masked Chafer control:
http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r785301311.html

June Bug
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_bug

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