So the other day I’m wandering the aisles of a large garden center—you know, one of those places that sells knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, clothing and scented candles and patio furniture (always 50% off) alongside the garden tools. I have a specific list of plants I’m looking for—this new garden was in a partly-shaded, often boggy spot, and I did my homework ahead of time.
The place was huge, with what seemed like acres of plants in color-coordinated pots. Still, I wasn’t having much success. I couldn’t quite fathom the organization of the perennials, and I couldn’t locate anything on my list.
While I was poking through the irises, seeking Siberica, a young man begins scooping them up and loading them on a large cart. “Hey,” I say, “where are you going with those irises?”
“We’re putting them on that table over there,” he says, pointing.
“Oh. Is it okay if I look through them?”
He shrugs. “I guess so.”
I continue the hunt—Germanica, Germanica, dwarf Germanica. He continues loading the cart. Finally, I say, “Do you know if you have any Siberian iris?”
“I’m new,” he says. “Let me get somebody.”
He comes back with another young man in tow, bearded, a little scruffy-looking. He pulls out two tired-looking Siberian iris for my inspection.
“I was hoping for white,” I say. “I have a lot of purple.”
“These are the only ones we carry,” he says, with a bitter smile. “You can have any color you want, as long as it’s purple.”
“Never mind,” I say. “There are some other things I’m looking for.” I show him my list. “Belamcanda lily?”
He looks at the list, looks at me, leans in close. “You know, if you want to get something nice, you should go to Bremec’s,.”
Bremec’s is a small, locally-owned greenhouse, and a bit of a drive.
“They have a great selection of hard-to-find plants, and they’ll be in better shape,” he confides. “See, around here, all the plants are the same.”
I blink at him, confused.
He glances around, then says, “All plants need the same watering schedule, the same light, the same soil and fertilizer, know what I mean?”
“Ah,” I say, “well, that’s where I made my mistake. I thought I needed to find plants that like wet feet. And here I come to find out that any plant will do.”
His lips twitch. “Exactly.”
“Well,” I say,” thanks for your help.”
“Don’t mention it,” he says, turning away. I’m sure he means that, literally. I wonder how much longer he’ll last.
It reminded me of that scene in the movie, Miracle on 34th Street, where the Macy’s Santa tells the mom where she can find the toy her son wants at a good price. And it’s not at Macy’s.
I’ve been in bookstores, too, where everything comes down from corporate, from what books they carry to how they are shelved. Where the booksellers—who know their clientele—are obviously frustrated. It doesn’t have to be that way. Bookstores are a lot like greenhouses, in that many of the people who choose to work there aren’t hoping to get rich. They do it out of love—a love of books. And the chance to spend time with others who share that passion. So imagine what it’s like to find yourself working for people who don’t.
Those lovers of books and plants and art and music and fine foods can the brick-and-mortar stores’ biggest assets—they are the ones who understand that books, and plants, and people are not all alike.