Cultivating a Culture of Gardening™

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Importance of Being Ordinary


I could tell when I looked at his face that he was not happy. Now, my boss is a very kind man and has a voice that works like Valium on a hectic day. But when his clients aren’t happy, those of us who are his underlings will be greeted with a thin lipped smile rather than his big toothy grin. And then the interrogation begins. Mine began with a drive around the city to look at competitors’ annual color displays.

Spring Trials - California 2013

Spring Trials - California 2013

Downtown Chicago 2013

Downtown Chicago 2013

 But maybe I should back up a little to bring a little perspective:
            I. Am. A. Plant. Nerd.  You see, this post is not about my boss. He’s a hard-working man that cares deeply about making his clients happy. It’s about what I am learning through the landscaping world about life. I love plants that are unique and I love creating displays that march to a different drummer and stand out when the summer heat rages. One of the problems this summer was that we did not have summer heat rages. The other problem was that while I and my plant nerdiness love unique plants displays, a large majority of people are really most comfortable with annual color displays that are…. Ahem… ordinary.
I once said that I wanted my annual color to be Begonia-free and Alternathera-free zones. But as I drove around the city with my thin-lipped now not smiling so much boss, and I strove to look through his eyes at the landscapes around me, I saw that the look that our clients kept pointing to as “what we want to look like” was the very thing that I worked hard not to look like. And you know what? It did look good. Deep into our rainy, cool summer those Begonias and Alternathera were showing off like bratty sisters and grabbing the attention from everything around them. And COLEUS, that multi-named marvel of horticulture displays, was often the queen of the show. All my heat and drought-loving Scaevolea, Angelonia, and Cuphea Flamenco Samba barely even moved past being green and languished in the liquid coolness of this summer.
Then I think I finally got it – the lesson that has been tapping at the door of my conscious for so many years. I was remembering the comfort of home-made spaghetti, the consistently blooming iris that my grandmamma would share, and the comfort of the simple tunes in an ageless hymn. These are the ordinary things that make me feel safe, that stand the test of time and present themselves as reliable.
As the middle child of a very large family, I understand being ordinary. With a big sister who was a nationally ranked tennis player, brothers who were stand-outs in just about anything they did, and younger sisters who were stunningly attractive, I found comfort and place in being the ordinary sister who was consistently reliable to be there when needed but never garnered the meteoric attention of a superstar.
Yes, I wrote a book. It has received an ordinary amount of attention. But you know who love this book? The new gardeners who need the basic, ordinary instructions on how to do container gardening, who write me to say that this is the first time they have ever been successful in gardening.  And I wrote some songs. They were ordinary songs that never garnered much national attention. But what made the effort of writing these songs were the people who would come up to me and say, “I keep thinking of  (….. lines in a song) and it has encouraged or help me in this way”. Ordinary songs but reliable to be helpful when needed.  
In a society that has an almost fearful aversion to ordinary, I am finding that ordinary is a powerful emblem of its own. Jesus took 12 ordinary fishermen, ordinary tax collector, and ordinary people to build a church that covers all nations today. Being able to turn on the lights and turn up the heat in the morning is an ordinary delight that many of my winterstorm-weary friends have learned to appreciate. There is something in the ordinary that makes us feel safe, that is reliable, that does not wax and wane with the popular opinion, that begs me welcome it though my pride would defer to the unique. 

Yes, I will continue my lust for the unique and exotic plant. But I am learning to appreciate and embrace the ordinary in horticulture, and in doing so I find myself embracing the other ordinary around and within me.  Ironically, my company’s motto this year is “Be the Best in 2014”. At first I thought that by being earnest in my ordinariness, I would be negating the company motto. But ordinary is not average, nor is it not being the best. Ordinary is better because it is something you can count upon.

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At April 2, 2014 at 2:33 PM , Anonymous Ms Hickman said...

yes it's nice to have basic things. I find these are within reach of me doing them without problems and plants dying.

Glad you gave some advice on how to combat hungry rabbits, as they destroy all the new shoots. So thanks

At June 9, 2014 at 5:28 PM , Anonymous Vicki @ Playin' Outside said...

Guess I'm like the sibling who'll egg you on in doing something that'll get you in trouble. I think SOMEONE has to do everything first, and why shouldn't it be you? I can't understand why commercial property owners and homeowners don't all prefer to save money by planting perennials, and why the same everyones keep hanging on to the thirsty, fertilizer dependent, high maintenance annuals as they keep whacking back crape myrtles just because everyone else does it that way. I'm not against using annuals for a spot of accent color, but entire esplanades and common areas? Perhaps not a problem in Tennessee, but as more of us find ourselves with less water for landscapes, hopefully new ways of doing things will gain ground. So, go girl! Let your freak flag fly - if only in your own garden.


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