The Gardener Returns, A Dialogue, Part Ten E

Later in the month of September, on the night of the day following the board’s nearly unanimous consent to the President’s wish to convert the garage, where Total Power’s man once kept his cars, into a visitor’s center, where the Institution’s growing sales division could house its shop, the Gardener sees the Porcelain Man for the second time. But before describing his dream ushered in on the first cold front of the season, we need to take a last look at Morning Glory’s jungle garden in the Elevator Shaft. Since the installation back in June countless pages overflowing with words, many of them belonging to Morning Glory, have described it with enthusiasm. Photographs filled local and national newspapers, art journals and garden magazines, not to mention all the cell phone pictures exported from visitors to friends. It caught everyone’s attention. It was the latest thing. The critics said it brought gardens and art at long last into the same arena. I might add that it brought literature into the arena as well. In his book which quickly followed the dissemination of his DVD, Morning Glory laid out the problems he faced and the solutions he utilized. He described his bathroom epiphany before the mirror while shaving which guided him in the creation of his ode to the Great Wall and the River Slang – we heard it all last spring. To apply an ancient metaphor, the book sold like hotcakes. So we know what he thought and all the pundits after him. But what do we think? What did it exactly look like?
Through the summer, hot and dry by all accounts, the jungle grew. By mid July a writer called it a broad leaf version of Monet’s Giverny; by August it was referred to as Rousseau’s Dream. Gradually and imperceptibly the pergola and the palisades disappeared behind it. Morning Glory’s yellow brick road no longer lead to a sunken garden highlighting the palisades but a thicket of overpowering leaves. The kids loved it. The kids literally sank out of sight into another world, where their mothers’ couldn’t find them. It was a pre-historic world of giant ferns and bananas, and what else?
Gardener – Excuse me?
Writer – And what else was growing there?
Gardener – He probably took all the Sansevieria, both the flat leaf and the cylindrical, all the Ficus, especially F. elastica, the Maranta, as well as Calthea, Dracaena, certainly the Alocasia, Calocasia, the list is endless if he actually emptied the Tropical House. I suspect many of the shade lovers got sun burnt during the first few weeks
Writer – By September the gardeners called Morning Glory’s garden, Kong’s Island. No one remembered Morning Glory’s sales pitch, highlighting the Slang River and the Great Wall beyond. Neither Morning Glory nor the Heroes returned again after the Grand Opening. Morning Glory, struck by his discovery of tropicals, took his retinue to the Philippines on a new assignment. There was talk of making a movie, Apocalypso Oley. Meanwhile the garden in the shaft just grew. The gardeners didn’t know what to do with it, they weren’t in charge of Kong’s Island. Horticulture and the Assistant were too busy planning for the upcoming sales event at the annual fund raiser. Besides they didn’t know what to do with it either. As for the President and her managers of the Roundtable, they thought it looked fine. So it grew and grew. From the yellow brick road, the pergola, the river and the palisades disappeared, as if swallowed by an ancient forest. Now the jungle is everything. And the kids love it.
In his treatise Existential Wind: The Story Behind The Shaft: The Contextual Garden: Eden After The Fall: Always Absent Never Present Twice Morning Glory envisioned a return to the Garden of Eden. But as far as the Gardener is concerned the gates to paradise had been irrevocably shut. And it’s not Cherubims with flaming sword that keeps him out. He wants nothing to do with Morning Glory and his shaft. It’s as if the garden had never existed. That is until late Friday afternoon when the Tropical House curator tells him about a fast moving cold front approaching Saturday evening. “I just heard the report on the weather station,” she tells him. “It won’t get down to freezing,” the Gardener replies as he gets ready to leave for home. “But what if it does?” “Then it’s already too late,” he says, resisting her plea. Over the weekend the knowledge he’s duped grows inside of him. He’s taken his anger out on the Tropical House gardener. He’s blaming the plants for Morning Glory’s folly. He remembers the Assistant telling the gardeners that no one should be telling anyone else what to do. Instead of helping a fellow gardener save plants, he’s allowed his selfish anger to get in the way. On Sunday night he goes to bed angry. Even the Gardener’s wife notices. But for some reason he can’t tell her why. Sometime after that, in the quiet of night, with the wind picking up outside, he sees the Porcelain Man coming out of the west, descending on waves of fast moving clouds. His blue grey poncho is wide like the wings of an avenging angel. His voice thunders in the black tumulus of night and his eyes flash, cleaving the sky in two as columns of fire strike the river below. The Gardener is craning his neck unsure of where he is. Then he realizes he is in the empty tropical house looking through the white shading on the west wall of glass where the tillandsia used to hang. They would be here now if it wasn’t for him. The coming of the Porcelain Man is so frightening he doesn’t see the Wizard at first, pacing back and forth on the great lawn south of the Shaft Garden. When he does, he wants to run out and tell the Wizard everything. That would be the natural thing to do, because of the impending chaos, tell him why the tropicals are out there in the first place, but he can’t. He’s lying on one of the gravel benches, unable to move. Strands of porcelain berry and bindweed are looping around his hands and feet, tying him to the bench piping. Even so he feels as if he is in the shaft. He feels the garden above him swaying. He feels the rising wind lacerating his naked body, reeds and broad leaves wiping across his stomach, faster and faster, for now the Porcelain Man is overhead lashing him. In one hand he carries a grub axe, in the other a scythe. A single red leaf banana falls, its roots tearing up the Gardener’s stomach. He writhes in pain. The wizard is pleading with the bird man, “Come down,” he cries, “sit here,” he begs, holding up his arm. But the wild fury is beyond hearing. He’s beside himself. He’s begun his windy assault, descending like a train through a tunnel of darkness. An icy, dry wind presses against the Gardener, pushing him deeper and deeper into the gravel, grinding him with all its might against the sharp edged stones. He shivers. He struggles to cover himself but the creeping vines are binding his arms. When the Porcelain Man swings his scythe in a great arc, folding the jungle in two, sharp pains shoot though the Gardener’s arms and legs. Fragments of color fill the air. When the Porcelain Man strikes the ground with his axe, the earth explodes inside the Gardener’s head, an unbearable pain, leveling his thoughts into a growing sheet of white behind his eyes. He is on the point of screaming when it’s over. The Porcelain Man is moving east with the Wizard running after him. The white bearded man tumbles as he picks up a leaf here, a branch there, disappearing behind a hedge the Gardener has never seen before. The Gardener wakes thirsting for water. His joints are sore, his head aches, his stomach turns. Cold air is blowing through an open window in the bedroom. In the distance thunder rumbles, receding. Not a drop of rain has fallen.
The next day Horticulture and the Assistant and rest of the gardeners survey the damaged Shaft Garden. Most of the Tropical House collection save the lowest growing members, have been mauled and shredded. The red leafed banana. . .
Gardener – Possibly the Abyssinian, Ensete ventricosum Maurellii.
Writer – and one of the tree ferns. . .
Gardener – Probably Dicksonia antarctica, taken from the Palm House.
Writer – have been ripped from the earth as if by a ferocious beast. The cold, dry wind has burned most of the broad leaf plants, the leaves brown and crispy from the edges inward. “The Musas, Canas and Calocasias will come back,” the Gardener consoles the Tropical House gardener, “we might as well dig them out now and store them.” “But the rest is ruined for display,” she answers not wanting consolation. “They’ll start coming back this winter,” he persists. But she walks away unable to look. “How weird,” observes the Assistant, “the plot is what – fifty by fifty feet – yet the Elevator Shaft is the only garden destroyed by the storm.” “Why does this always happen to me,” Horticulture bemoans. “Well, it was a weather event,” explains the Assistant, “maybe a tornado or a freaky downdraft.” One thing’s for sure, thinks the Gardener, you can’t blame the Wizard. When the President drives by on her way to her parking slot in back of the management building, and sees all the gardeners standing around looking into the shaft, she stops her car, rolls down the window with a touch of her index finger and asks Horticulture, “why’s everybody standing around,” He tells her, “the shaft was hit last night.” “By what,” she replies quickly surveying the scene. When he tells her, she says, “No point crying over spilt milk,” and drives on. Later she tells Horticulture, “change is good; Existential Wind will become a collector’s item. It’s important to clean the mess up.” “When the new shop opens,” adds Public Relations, punching her idea into her notebook, “we can loop the soundtrack over the PA, adding to MG’s seminal influence.” “Yeah,” says the President without looking at PA, “and the sooner you fill up that hole, the better.” Only you’ll have to do it with your own budget since there’s no more funding for the Morning Glory show.”
Now the gardeners move heaven and earth. First they move the earth, literally, in fulfilling the President’s command. Heaven will follow. Several days are spent removing the tattered tropicals. Since the steel walls in the Elevator Shaft were welded at the corners, and speed is of the utmost importance, Horticulture and the Assistant decide to leave everything in place, walls, steps, everything and simply fill in the hole. “We’re moving the Captain’s Mountain back where it belongs,” he tells his troops. He dons his baseball cap visor backward, and sallies through the rear door of the Potting Shed, with his gardener knights behind him. He mounts the tractor with its front end loader, instructing his infantry to follow him. “Bring Cushmans,” he cries, “and wheelbarrows, bring shovels and rakes.” Like Durer’s Great Christian Knight or in the least like Thomas Muntzer leading his peasant landsknechts into battle against injustice, he charges out of the garage, nearly taking one of the large double doors off its hinges. The project takes two days but the older gardeners are impressed, “Horticulture must have hated Morning Glory.” On the third day the gardeners roll the bare earth level, scratch rake it, then sow the grass seed by hand. Then they tamp the earth and scatter over the entire plot a shredded paper mulch that comes in plastic bags.
Following this feat of moving earth, they proceed to the next feat, figuratively speaking, of moving heaven. As already planned, a thirty yard dumpster is delivered at the south end of the Long Border, not far from where the Managers of the Roundtable park their cars. The Assistant tells the gardeners it’s permanent. “As soon as it’s filled, we’ll replaced it with another.” He tells the gardeners, “we anticipate future growth in the sales division, so we’re expanding the nursery. This year’s mulch. . .” which is. . . which is!
Gardener – I’m sorry, what do you want to know?
Writer – Define mulch?
Gardener – Come off it.
Writer – Define mulch!
Gardener – You know what mulch is. . , ok, ok, mulch consists of the fallen leaves we collect in large piles at the end of every growing season which, over the coming months, decay renders useful to us gardeners.
Writer – Thanks. This pile of leaves that is rendered useful to you gardeners is how we writers stretch our metaphor of heaven, since leaves fall from trees that stretch high into the sunlit heavens and render the heavenly photon into matter.
Gardener – Who are you kidding?
Writer – So as I was saying, that is, as the Assistant was saying, “this year’s mulch as well as all the other garden matter. . .”
Gardener – Compost!
Writer – will be taken to the dumpster.”
On the morning following the night of the first major frost, with the ground crackling underfoot, the Old Timer with the help of the Tropical House gardener lays sheets of plastic fabric over the lumpy ground once occupied by the compost and mulch piles. They both know that leaf mulch can smother weeds just as effectively and with no extra cost to the Garden. To keep the landscaping fabric in place, they punch plastic stakes through the weave into the crusty soil to hold it. While they’re doing that, The Pruner of Yews splices into a water line feeding a nearby faucet adding a special connection with a shutoff valve. When he finishes, the sun is high enough to melt the ice crystals in the soil. While the Tropical House gardener digs a small hole near the faucet, the Pruner of Yews uncoils one inch black plastic piping, cuts a section off and connects one end of the hose to a new irrigation valve and the other end to the T connector with the shut off valve on main water line to the faucet. In the meantime the Old Timer bolts a solar panel onto a special stand set in the ground nearby. The Tropical House gardener, having quickly dug the hole, stretches a long section of the plastic one inch hose from the hole she’s dug along the entire length of the nursery. The Pruner of Yews attaches the end of the hose near the hole to the irrigation valve which he now places in the hole. Meanwhile the Old Timer, who has mounted the solar panel, hooks two wires to a twelve volt battery set in box at the base of the stand. He then runs another set of wire from the battery to an AC DC converter, then to a timer he straps to the faucet. From the faucet he runs the wire along the one inch plastic piping to the irrigation valve, attaching the wires to the terminals on the electric motor in the new valve. The Tropical House gardener pushes a special plastic box down around the new valve and its connections and covers it with a lid. Off the one inch feeder line which the Tropical House gardener uncoiled the length of the nursery, all three gardeners start connecting a series of half inch hoses, using T connectors spliced into the one inch hose. They run these half inch water lines through the nursery, clamping the last six feet to eight foot 2×4 pressure treated wood which they insert two feet into the ground. On each terminal six feet above the ground they clamp a rotary sprinkler. After testing the system, they unhook the battery, drain the valves and go back to the potting shed. The automated irrigation system is a novelty. To water the display gardens and the grounds which everyone sees, the gardeners still drag hoses with oscillating sprinklers from fixed metal boxes housing water outlets sunk in the ground.
At the next managers meeting, Horticulture describes the reallocation of resources. “From now on,” he says, “garden rubbish will be dumped into the container at the end of the Long Border. This,” he proudly claims, “eliminates our landfill, allowing my department to enlarge the nursery which means increased inventory and sales.” Public Relations, with her sharp ear for nuance, types in her idea book, the word, landfill. In future postings she will refer to the old compost and mulch piles as the landfills of the past. “As for the cost of the dumpster,” continues Horticulture amid the bright countenances of those around him, “roughly five or six hundred dollars, the Institution will be more than compensated by the intake of monies derived from the newly expanded nursery. Not only that,” he boasts, the brimming smiles charging his batteries as he speaks, “cost analysis demonstrates that we will save money by eliminating the time consuming drive the gardeners made down to the landfill because the dumpster will be centrally located.” Finance nods her head in approval. Development claps her hands and emits an uncharacteristic giggle. “This,” he proudly claims, “will not only save time, which we all know is money, but will be nationally beneficial as well since we’ll reduce our dependency on foreign oil. It’s also ecologically prudent since we’ll reduce fuel emissions, and at the same time our carbon footprint.” “I couldn’t care less about the footprint but ecology sounds good and will keep the regulatory extremists off our back,” announces the President dryly. “Not only that,” pipes PR, reading from her digital notebook, “eliminating the long drive down to the landfills of the past provides us with two excellent talking points.”
By the end of December, after months of discussions begun that summer with the famous architectural firm, Wood & Post LLC, noted for making new buildings look like old ones, which Wood, in a sentimental moment, once said reminded him of “the first machine washed jeans I bought in college, same thing,” plans are finalized for converting the garage into a visitors center. An artist’s rendition is posted on a large signage. . .
Gardener – I thought you hated that word.
Writer – It grows on you, don’t you think. Anyway the signage is mounted on wood posts pounded into the ground on the west side of the garage and shows people in late spring wear, a light breeze blowing, walking toward a rustic building somewhat reminiscent of the days when Total Power’s head man kept his cars there. But the colonnade holding up the portico over the double glass doors in front with its attendant shrubberies and flowering pots is vaguely comforting of things contemporary. Everyone feels they’ve seen it before, especially the younger people. The Old Timer says it looks like the front of the Colonial Bank up in Deerfield, Massachusetts, where four hundred years earlier in 1704, the French and their Indian allies attack the white English farmers who had settled in the valley, once the home of the Pocomtuc, who had unwittingly given the land to the English in exchange for other land from the English in a real estate deal favorable to those who could read English. PR likes it because it reminds her of the BuckStopsHere coffee shop, in her childhood home of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was once a drug story, where a half century earlier, local high school students from her grandparents era sat at the counter in defiance of integration laws which stated that only white customers would be consumers. It was at the BuckStop, as the kids now call it, where she first learned to love strong coffee with whipped cream. Education of course sees all these positive antecedents as a sign of progress. She encourages everyone to hold hands and sing songs. Not one of the gardeners recognize the surrounding landscape which is illustrated with a forest of billowy trees embracing the building on three sides.
In January two steel cargo containers, six by forty-eight feet, are dropped off end to end near the compost and leaf container. Two thirds of the south end of the Long Border is blocked from view. Leaves and styrofoam cups and crumpled office papers have already been piling up behind the compost container. With the advent of this temporary storage area more leaves and litter collect in the abandoned garden bed behind the containers. The entire northwest corner of the old manor house of Total Power’s man, where once a lovely porch with awning wrapped the west side of the house, cars and cargo containers have created a no-man’s land to which the public bathroom in the basement of the office building, added during the modernization of public facilities following the donation of the property to the city, consolidates the hard truth faced by countless dreamers, who, without possibly realizing it, are hoping to finding a world without flaw.
During the next two weeks as the gardeners collect their tools and store them in the steel containers, they empty the garage of everything. Horticulture and the Assistant award themselves credit for having the foresight of placing a permanent garbage containment system down the road from the garage and right next to the steel containers. The garage holds stuff dating back to the time of Total Power. The amount of stuff baffles the team as they stand there wondering what to keep and what to throw away. But in this moment of doubt an pentecostal fire descends upon everyone from above and the spirit of George Carlin fills them. The Old Timer is the first to speak in the saint’s tongue arguing in favor of some stuff because he remembered seeing this stuff in the basement, which was then full of stuff, in the house where Total Power’s wife still lived when she was an old lady, before she donated the house and lots of its stuff to the city of New Drake back in ’65. But when he sees other stuff he claims that stuff, looks like the same dusty stuff that was falling to pieces, even back then, in an empty room on the second floor above the kitchen in the other house, the North House, where he lived as a boy in ’59 when his parents were the Estate Managers. His father made him sit in this cold room full of old, dusty stuff, because he had stolen candy and stuff from the Five & Dime down on Broadway and hidden the stuff in the unused room under all this dusty stuff. Soon they are all speaking with Carlin tongues, assaying all the people since the beginning of time, who collected stuff and begat children who collected more stuff, which they handed down from generation to generation, everyone generating more stuff, the old giving the best stuff to their children, the worst stuff to their friends, and the siblings fighting over who gets the best of the best stuff while the cagey prefer money so they can buy the stuff they want, for stuff we art and unto stuff we shalt return. So the inspired gardeners work as one spirit pulling out and assessing stuff, and more stuff asking each other what Saint Carlin would call this or that, followed by a pause before the chorus shouts, stuff! everyone in high spirits now as they renounce stuff by throwing the stuff into the dumpster. The only shortfall is when the hauler returns with an empty container and tells Horticulture and the Assistant that the full dumpster can’t be charged at the cheaper rate of hauling organic material but at the higher rate because of all that non-organic stuff.
Later in the month following the first hard freeze, a fencing company arrives. It’s as if Captain Morning Glory’s Mayans have returned. They stand on a flatbed truck and drive on the yellow brown lawn up the hill behind the garage, pounding steel poles at long intervals into the hard ground. On the service road and the on the walkways they drill holes into the macadam and sink their poles. Midway between the steel poles they build wooden braces out of two by fours. Then they unroll and stretch an orange plastic barrier fence, four feet high around the perimeter of the envisioned Visitor’s Center, tying the fence to the poles with wire and stapling the fence to the upright arms of the wooden braces. The footprint for the new building is huge. The Visitors Center will occupy the front of the new building. The gardeners tool shed and plant storage areas will be in a rear smaller building, separated by a courtyard where the machinery will be stored. A courtyard will separate the main public hall from the working areas in the rear. Adding in the areas occupied by the contractor sheds and storage areas the construction site behind the orange barrier fence is over three acres. The north stairway entrance to the High Garden and the Aquatic Garden is eliminated until further notice. Because of the enormity of the project large sections of lawns and gardens as well as sections of the service road are annexed to the site. Because of the availability of land, other adjacent areas are eventually overrun, adding new and unexpected domains for the contractors wanting their cars and trucks in proximity. From this day forward an independent fiefdom exists inside the Institution having rules of its own.
After the fence is raised a week quietly passes without a single machine interrupting the winter idyll. The ice on the river flows up river and then down river depending on the ocean tides. Visitors can look to the Great Wall and almost image the garden as it was during the Wizard’s time. Then the first truck arrives in February and delivers a forty yard dumpster. To set the container inside the fenced off area in front of the garage the driver has to maneuver in the tight area near the old beech tree. To avoid the tree he has to drive up on the lawn west of the greenhouses. In the following days with the sun rising dramatically, the traffic increases significantly. The viburnums on the west side of the garage, on the opposite side of the service road connecting the two houses, suffer when oversized trucks pull into the beds to avoid hitting the construction fence. In the days ahead other trucks will break more branches. After a cold rain the heavy vehicles grind their wheels deep into the beds, leaving ruts in the earth along the road, which remain there until the job is done.
The days are growing longer. Everyone in management is excited. When they walk past the site on the way to the restaurant for lunch they see progress, they see change. The architect is famous and known for bringing the manor life of an older era to life in the modern world. The south wall or front wall is preserved, since it represents an era long gone and missed. Brick masons begin sand blasting the paint off the old wall. For the rest of the month and into the first of March the rest of the building is demolished. A patina of dust a century old of ancient mortar and pulverized brick coats budding limbs and evergreen leaves. Instead of a dormant world returning again, all bright and fresh, everything near the demolition site is grey. For the gardeners a struggle begins with truck drivers pulling semis onto the lawns and into the shrubberies to let other vehicles by. Often the fork lift operators back into the beds breaking branches or they leave their machines idling, the hot exhaust burning the new foliage.
As spring presses forward through March with snow drops and crocus appearing here and there, the gardeners. . .
Gardener – Don’t forget Chionodoxa sardensis.
Writer – What’s that?
Gardener – Glory of the Snow, you can say blue waves of Glory of the Snow.
Writer – As spring presses forward through March with snow drops and crocus appearing here and there, and blue waves of Glory of the Snow drifting down the hill behind the former home of Total Power’s man and wife, the gardeners are hard pressed. When demolition ends, excavation begins on the lawn on the north side of the now demolished garage. A new layer of dust now, reaching back at least a thousand years if not more, covers the more recent centuries of patina. The gardeners argue with the construction managers. They warn them that the driver of the enormous backhoe, who is shaving earth from the northeast corner of the construction site, is getting too close to the large magnolia, growing at the top of the slope.
Gardener – That must be the Magnolia soulangeana, a hybrid, with multiple silver grey trunks, and large purple blossoms with white interiors.
Writer – Remember, Gardener, our story glides over familiar experiences but is still a story. The project managers promise to do their best and the giant yellow machine, which looks nothing like Buck Mulligan’s Steam Shovel, continues its attack on the hill where the magnolia has stood for as long as the Old Timer can remember, its flower buds now swelling.
Gardener – Must be April.
Writer – Some of the Mayans assure the gardeners it will be fine; others of Irish descent are annoyed by this intervention of tribal gardeners who’ve no business interfering with the internal affairs of the construction site. The next day a new team of Italians and Aztecs tears up the service road connecting the two houses and excavates a deep trench. The channel runs from the construction site to the North House. The Gardener finds the High Garden cut off for a week from the other parts of the property. He can walk anywhere he wants but he can’t bring a Cushman up from the storage container to the Aquatic Garden where he would normally park if he wanted to offload material or pile on brush. The north end of the grounds is cut off from the south end. Once the trench is dug a sewer line is laid out in the trench that will connect the bathrooms and water drains in the Visitor’s Center to the sewer line running under the North House to a major line down by the river. The soil is backfilled and a temporary asphalt patch applied so the road can be used again. Even before this work is completed, this trencher unit suddenly attacks the walkway on the south side of the High Garden cutting off all access to south stairway. The asphalt is carted away in a bobcat with a front end loader and the soil is piled up against the wall burying a lovely ground cover.
Gardener – Vinca minor Miss Jekyll with white flowers instead of the usual blue.
Writer – This new trench is where the power lines will be laid in the weeks ahead from a power source on the main road outside the fence to the potting shed basement and eventually from there to the new Visitors Center.
Then the first truck arrives from the big nurseries. The semi backs down past the turnaround where Morning Glory’s home away from home had parked a year ago like an embassy on wheels from Times Square a year ago. The driver stops at the beginning of the gravel Meadow Road leading down to the nursery and the woods beyond. The Assistant, with camera in hand, calls everyone in to unload the plants. The urgency created by the fate of the magnolia is siphoned off to the nursery. The Assistant takes pictures of everyone unloading the truck, later posting them on his MyFace page under the caption, “my guys at work.” That day and the one following the gardeners haul the plants down to the nursery and line them out. Over the next two weeks several more trucks arrive. This concentration on the retail end of the Institution begins to affect the general appearance of the grounds. Weeds pop up in the shadows of the emerging perennials, hoses are left uncoiled in the greenhouses, broken branches from wind storms litter the main lawns, even the necessary deadheading that begins in earnest once the perennials begin blooming and keeps the garden pictures in focus is left undone.
Then one day the Gardener refuses to unload a truck. He’s angry and feels hard pressed without the compost and mulches he depended on to keep the High Garden weed free and moist. The Assistant demands an explanation. He tell the Assistant, “I’ve taken a page from your book, I do what I can do.” He arrives at 8:00, leaves at 4:30. Horticulture frets that other gardeners might follow suit and use Gardener’s excuse. He pleads with the President and she acquiesces. After hours of inquiry he and the Assistant order three 1800 pound bags of recycled shredded brown rubber mulch. The super-sized bags arrive on a flatbed truck shipped out from the national distributor. The three bags are set down south of the containers in the cul-de-sac behind the management office. The bales are never opened. The Gardener refuses to use it and the others follow suit.
The excavation at the northeast corner of the construction site stops short of the Magnolia. A Mayan tells the Gardener that earth will be shoveled back into the area once the foundation is poured. A new team arrives. These surveyors are Eurasian and they shoot their laser beams across the wide open spaces that were once a hill and pound stakes in the ground where the corners of the buildings will be. After them another team of Mayans arrive and among them are Italians who often look Aztec, only they are older. They wire steel re-enforcement rods together and build forms for the foundation walls out of ¾ inch sheet plywood and two by fours of knotty pine, and sometimes any scrap of lumber that fits the need. The first of the big cement trucks arrive, its tumbler rotating. To get the discharge chutes close to the northeast corner of the excavated pit, near the Magnolia soulungiana, the operator in the first cement truck drives up on the lawn under an old elm, swings around and backs up toward the magnolia. The weight of the loaded truck compresses the soil under six massive wheels, leaving a deep calligraphy across the lawn outside the fence, north of the construction site, not unlike a Celtic rune. The Gardener, hearing the diesel rumbling and the gears grinding close to the High Garden, runs down the northwest path between the High Garden and the Water Garden and sees the truck parked not twenty feet from the Magnolia. The driver steps down from the cab and swings the chute toward the tree. The Italian workmen cut the orange plastic fencing and attach the chute to sixty feet of aluminum chutes which the Mayans have extended through the branches into the pit. The Gardener shakes his head. The Mayans smile at him. One of them points to the open Magnolia flowers, purple and white and shouts “Que linda!”
With May a week away the first of dry heat wave settles in. The Mayans and the Italians wire in more steel reinforcement rods across the ground on top of which they lay in panels of metal re-enforcement mesh. The cement trucks return. Each batch is checked by an city inspector with a kit and then the grey slurry is pumped in through a long hose, truck after truck, the tumblers turning, diesels grumbling the entire day. With the concrete slab poured, steel I-beams are delivered on a flatbed truck. A crane much larger than the one hired by Captain Morning Glory for his Elevator Shaft installation arrives on another flatbed truck. Because of its size the flatbed truck must turn around on the public road outside the Institution’s north gate. It backs down through the gate and around the front of the North house, stopping near the turn around where Morning Glory established his home away from home a year ago. For the rest of the day the operator unloads the giant machine. It has massive caterpillar treads like those used in armored tanks. Slowly the monster machine grinds its way up the hill, scaring the macadam on either side of the temporary asphalt patch covering the filled in trench where the sewer line was laid. Once anchored in place near the flatbed truck carrying the steel I-beams, the operator swings the telescoping boom over the truck where the driver of the truck ties in the boom’s cables to a beam. Then the operator of the long boom lifts the beam off the flatbed truck and swings the beam out over the site and sets it upright in an interval in a slot in the foundation wall, where the welders secure it. Once the beams are in place the masons begin raising the cinder block wall in the rear building where the gardeners will keep their tools and store their plants, and the brick layers lay up reinforced brick walls where the Visitor’s Center is imagined. Once the cinder block walls in the back of the building are high enough, they are waterproofed with tar. Then a West African cuts all the orange fencing down, so he can drive a bobcat with a front end push blade attached up the hill and push the soil in behind the wall. Meanwhile the Mayans shovel in the soil near the Magnolia which finished blooming a month ago. When everyone is done someone ties the tattered orange fencing to the Magnolia.
The entire month of June, like the year before, is stellar for vacationers. Yet the weatherfolk on TV and on radio, when they see a cloud on the horizon talk about a threat of rain as if that cloud was a national disaster. For the gardeners pulling hoses out to needy shrubs and trees thirsting for water, the sun looms up every morning like the Egyptian boat of the dead. Instead of bringing the promise of renewal, the sun looms higher and higher, over reaching the entire world with its oppressive rays. Leaves wilt, then prematurely drop. The grass turns yellow. The trees weaken and the youngest shrubs die. And whatever beauty the gardeners have planted out in their beds requires constant attention and not a moment’s distraction.
By the end of June the outer lower shell of the Visitor’s Center in finished. More steel beams arrive. They are laid across the spans and welded to the verticals to support the peaked roof over the Visitors Center. Then the monster crane returns to the flatbed and is taken away. The ground around the new complex is backfilled and leveled. Once the roof is in place most of the work goes inside. The President and her roundtable managers, who work far way in air conditioned rooms up on the second floor of the house where Total Power’s man and his wife lived, see the changes and they are happy. They don’t see the masons at the end of the day washing out the steel mortar boxes with garden hoses, and dumping the grey sandy water into the shrub beds. They don’t register the increased ph. And they don’t see across the grounds, far and wide, the paper bags, coffee containers, plastic bottles and styrofoam packaging from workers’ lunches caught in thickets of holly, yew and viburnum, because they are looking in an entirely different direction with a completely different frame of reference. But the gardeners do. They pick up the garbage, they prune back the dead and broken branches, they yell at the masons, they fight with the truck drivers, the foremen, and the construction managers. When the President learns of these arguments she commands Horticulture to tell them they must use the chain of command. “What chain of command,” the Old Timer asks. The Assistant is indignant. “First you come to me. Then I take it to Horticulture, and he takes it to the President. She takes it to Finance and she takes it to the right construction manager. He will take it to the foreman who will take it to the responsible subcontractor who will then take it up with the employees. Chain of command, it’s that simple.” But the only chain of command the gardeners see is the one that keeps the one in power in place. Meanwhile it’s their fingers that plug every hole in the ragged walls of stability. They are the protectors of the garden. They are doing all they can to prevent widespread botanical death. And they are growing weary. And they know that in the world as it is, the real buck stops with them.
Every afternoon when the gardeners return the hundreds of feet of green garden hoses to the storage containers where they keep their tools, the insides have become as hot as ovens. In the beginning of June the Gardener notices yellow jackets building a hive in one of the hinges on which the big metal end doors swing. The smooth backed creatures, dressed like harlequins in yellow and black, fly in and out ignoring the gardeners. But the Gardener realizes that by the end of August going in and out of the container will be harrowing. Sooner or later someone will be standing in the wrong place blocking the entrance to the nest. He warns the gardeners to be aware. He means to deal with the problem but other problems keep cropping up. One day the Assistant is taking inventory in one of the containers, when he leaps back on seeing “the bees.” He runs back to the potting shed, grabs one of the cans of hornet killer and sprays the nest liberally, leaping back from time to time as he wields his aerosol stream as a knight would a sword or, more appropriately, the valiant tailor in the Grimm’s tale. The yellow jackets caught in the nest fall from the hive and curl hideously, writhing. The Assistant nods his head to an intern standing by, “just saved your ass from those mother fuckers.” The returning yellow jackets, not caught in the attack, fly about in bewilderment. They remain in limbo for days. Then they begin building a new hive in another hinge in the other container. The Gardener must act before the Assistant discovers the new hive and panics again. He’d been stung more times than he can remember, felt that hot prick that sent him running ludicrously flailing the air with his arms. He too has pressed the button on the insecticide canister. But he learned to wait until nightfall or early morning when all the hive residents were inside before spraying. But he hated the process. The cowardly attack of a giant. And if it was no good for the yellow jackets how could it be any good for him? True he possessed more mass than a yellow jacket. What was effective on them would have no observable effect on him. But what if he used it everyday, every other day, once a week or even once in a while for decades? What if ten thousand people in different places used the spray? The Kings’ men in government who were supposed to regulate this material set up charts with allowable amounts. How did one determine the amounts of ten thousand applications in a given area on a given day? This didn’t even account for susceptibility of applicators with less durable defense systems in their bodies. One day many years ago he was watering a newly planted Japanese holly. . .
Gardener – Ilex crenata.
Writer – when he felt that hot bite on his arm, then on his leg. His senses refused to draw on past experience so he went on watering for a few seconds until something struck his neck. He instinctively slapped his neck and saw the tiny yellow bodies whizzing around him. He felt one crawling under his T-shirt. He ran backward waving his free arm like a mad man, brushing the other clinging creatures off his pants and shirt. But they followed him. Without thinking he sprayed them with the hose. They landed bewildered, dazed. They walked around on the ground, confused. Then they rose again so he shot them again with the water with the same results. He walked back and saw the hive hole in the ground, which he must have stepped on, causing them to panic! He aimed the hose at the opening and watched the water soak the ground, fill the hole. They came out of the hive walking, the same confused way as the others. It was obvious they were stunned. The water had the same effect on them as the smoke used by beekeepers to control bees. He marked the hole with a stake and that was that. Days later he returned and the nest was back in operation. He found no fault with them. He had protected himself and that was that. The nest could stay. This time the nest must go. But he’s still not interested in terminating the residents of new hive. He shoots a jet stream of water into the hinge mid morning before the sun gets to hot. The returning yellow jackets circle around, studying the jet stream. But they never follow the stream to its source. He hoses them down, confusing them. It gives him time. He eventually forces the nest out of the hinge with a bamboo stick. Carefully he shovels up the hive with yellow jackets crawling on it and moves it into the woods nearby. Meanwhile the rest of the group begins returning to the hinge where he hoses them down each day to inhibit their ability to regroup. He stands in awe of their persistence, returning to their lost home like survivors on the slopes of Pompeii and wishes they had the good sense to go out and find the nearby hive where their brothers and sisters are prospering. But he knows they won’t, they’re doomed. He is awed by their Sisyphean strength, or is it an incomprehensible stupidity. He wonders where on this graph of these possibilities he stands. Is he strong or is he just stupid? Eventually they disappear. Is that his destiny as well? Are he and the other gardeners doomed to disappear, coming in day after day to a garden no longer here?
Three days before Labor Day, on the morning of the grand opening of the new center, the young partners in the architectural firm of Wood & Post request the use of Horticulture’s potted plants. “We want to enhance the colonnaded portico for our photo shoot this morning and for this afternoon’s event with the Mayor,” one of the young architects assigned to the project explains; “we need something green, flowers would be better. The photographs will go into our yearly catalogue,” he says as if that will be a good thing for the Institution. Horticulture agrees and sends the team over to the Assistant. He too agrees and sends them to the Gardener. The Gardener refuses and sends them back to the Assistant. Instead of going back to the Assistant they go into the Tropical House looking for anything that will enhance the appearance of their building. Unfortunately the Tropical House is still recovering from last fall’s disastrous storm. The Tropical House curator sends them down to the nursery “where there’s plenty of material.” When they get down there, they discover plenty of stuff but nothing in flower. “This will have to do,” says one of the young partners. Now they need a vehicle to bring the shrubs up to the Center. They call the Assistant on his cell phone. The Assistant calls the gardeners on his walkie talkie. The gardeners, busy preparing for the Mayor’s arrival, stop what they’re doing and drive down to the Nursery without the Gardener, who continues doing what he’s doing. In the Nursery they find the partners and their photographers selecting shrubs and small trees that are growing conveniently in black buckets and are ready to go. All this takes a few hours, the partners and their photographers choosing something then putting it back. Up at the new Center, they have the gardeners push plants this way and that way until at last they are satisfied. Now all the entrances to the new building are “dressed” as one of the young partners says, to which the Old Timer adds “like the grand opening of a local supermarket.”
That afternoon, all the Kings men along with their mayor, their state senators and their local representatives gather in front of the new Center. The mayor is standing beside the President who is standing at a microphone congratulating everyone for their valiant work. She turns to the Kings’ men and thanks them for their support. Grants from their various charities have helped carry the Institution toward its goals of self-sufficiency. Before introducing the mayor she thanks each member of her staff for putting this celebration together, forgetting to mention Horticulture in her list of credits. He doesn’t seem to notice. The mayor congratulates the President. He apologizes that city, state and federal funding is at an all time low but feels this loss is more than offset by the generous contributions of the Kings. The mayor then takes a pair of scissors from the President and cuts the ribbon stretched across the entrance between the columns holding up the portico. He christens the new Visitors Center, the Kings’ Interactive Media Center. The Kings’ men standing in the audience clap, then run off to board room meetings down in New Drake where they will more than offset what they have just given away. The mayor and the other government officials, are given a tour of the new Center. They chant, in competing a capella, “Ahh,” when they feast their eyes on the virtual map. “The kids will love it,” the mayor promises.
With the dust from construction barely settled the giant reception tent for the Fall Party is raised on the lower lawn near the balustrade. It’s decided by the majority of the Board at the suggestion of the President that the giant white multi peaked tent will remain permanently in place until further notice. The President thanks the Board, “Our rental concession is bearing fruit,” she says; “the wedding and the corporate parties are a success. By eliminating the periodic installation and removal of the tent we preserve our earnings and increase our profit margin and,” she adds, “minimize damage to our precious plants.” This report doesn’t assuage the one dissenting vote. She has to listen to the Treasurer, who feels the high peaks of the huge tent will permanently obscure the view of the Palisades from the Pergola. “Wasn’t that the original if unsuccessful premise of that TV artist whose net wealth we helped expand,” he asks. She is about to respond but he cuts her off. “I’m a fiscal conservative when it comes to unwise spending, but we represent the public domain. As representatives we should never cut costs nor turn profits at the expense of the Garden’s mission, which I helped craft years before you arrived.” After the meeting, she complains to the Chairman. He shrugs his shoulders. “There’s not much we can do,” he says, “he’s made us all rich.” Later the President confesses to Development through clenched teeth, that “the one cost effective slash I’d like to make would be across the Treasurer’s throat.” Development laughs but sees the President is far from joking. “And he keeps calling the Institution, a Garden!” Later that day she listens to that non-entity Horticulture warn her that the lawn will die under a permanent tent. Luckily that quick study, the Assistant reassures the President that synthetic grass will be easier to maintain. Horticulture bends his head and accepts again the unlucky star under which he was born.
With the giant permanent tent in place, the lower lawn is effectively cut off from public use. Nonetheless PR always seeing the world through rose tinted glasses, unlike this Writer, whose eyes have grown jaundiced with time, types in her idea book that “because of the multi-peaked tent now in place, the Institution has taken on the festive look of a medieval fair. Must tell the Prez about adding pennants to the white peaks!” Far from PR’s decisive meditations regarding the tent, the gardeners, without the Gardener’s help, bring the products up from the nursery to a staging area in front of the Kings’ Media Center, while carpenters continue working inside on a comprehensive punch list of things still needing to be done. Hours later the caterers, who also operate the restaurant in the North House, arrive in their trucks. All access to the Long Border is cut off and once again the statuesque Korean dogwood
Gardener – Cornus kousa, wonderful bark, handsome look.
Writer – is damaged as the fully extended lift gate of a box truck driven by someone new backs into the dogwood’s sweeping lower branches and snaps the largest one in half. After the trucks are unloaded, they are driven down the road and parked near the dumpster, where the portable storage sheds stood recently, before the gardeners moved their tools to their assigned space in the rear of the new complex. As the sun in the western sky above the Palisades sets a trail of fiery globes across the River Slang, the guests arrive. They gather around the bar tables, shaking hands and nodding heads, the ladies with a slight tilt that moves the hair over the shoulder. Everyone then finds their way to the plant sale in front of the Kings’ Interactive Media Center. There the gardeners run around helping the customers choose plants. The guests pay for their purchases inside the gift shop, which is open, having a few items of its own for sale. After that the gardeners take the plants out to cars or store them for later delivery in the courtyard behind the Kings’ Interactive Media Center. With the dinner in full session, waiters running about, the President waxes enthusiastic in her speech about the beauties for sale in front of the Media Center and “don’t forget to look inside our new sales shop. You’ll discover many more wonderful things for sale. In fact I’m wearing a beautiful silk scarf hand crafted by Vietnamese artisans.” She pulls the bright blue scarf gently out in front of her so she can admire the hem. Then absently she lets it flutter down across her breast. She is wondering how she can change the Mission Statement once and for all.

Notes:

The Raid On Deerfield
Raid on Deerfield – 1704

The February 28, 1960 Integration sit-in at Colonial Drug, a West Franklin Street drugstore in Chapel Hill North Carolina.
http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/exhibits/protests/sitins.html

Shredded Rubber
http://www.nofault.com/images/db_products/19/other1.pdf

Photons and Photosynthesis
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/biology/antpho.html

Cargo Containers
http://www.cargocontainers.net/containers.htm

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