I’m sitting in a thick comfy chair at home, a headset pulled over my ears with a microphone bent around in front of my mouth. I feel like a dork. I have logged in on my laptop through an app and I’m waiting on the voice from a hundred miles away to chime in. If this is what an interview feels like, I’m uncomfortable.
A friend of mine in the landscape business has recently started a new venture doing podcasts on gardening. Not corn and peas and squash. But gardens with exotic plants and soothing walking paths amid the Hydrangeas. Collections of heirloom plants that take their place beneath majestic hardwood canopies. Hidden niches of the latest hybrid introductions that cause plant people to sweat with giddy enthusiasm. These are the gardens we are about to discuss.
When he called me about the interview, I was hesitant. I’m just a tree farmer with no formal academic sheepskin to my name. At least not, in horticulture.
“You must be desperate for material if you’re asking me for an interview,” I told him. “Surely, you can find someone better than me to talk to for your show.” But he insisted that talking to guys like me was exactly what he wanted.
The conversation started with small talk. Trying to put me at ease. “Don’t worry about what you say. We can stop and start over as much as we need to.” This wasn’t a live broadcast. He assured me that his editorial skills would make me sound like a real pro.
“You might want to pull your mic away from your mouth a little bit. I’m getting a buzz in the sound.” I made an adjustment. Cleared my throat. “How’s that?”, I asked. “Better. Turn your volume down a tad and let’s see if that helps.” I’m searching for the +/- button. Techy stuff is not my strong suit.
After we settled all the necessary tweaks, he pushed the record button, and we were off to podcast land.
“What were some of your earliest influences with plants that steered you toward your career in horticulture?”
He had sent me a list of potential questions a few days earlier which allowed me to plan ahead a little bit. This was supposed to help cut down on the long silent pauses and reduce the number of times my answers began with “Uhhhhhh, let me think about that one.”
Although I never imagined myself at a young age to be doing what I do now, I did hang out with a lot of plants as a kid. Long rows of vegetables to plant and hoe and pick. Trees to climb. Figs to eat for the taking. Muscadines galore. Fat sweet red plums. Bags of Sevin dust and canasters of Malathion for pest control. I was used to digging in the dirt which is the stuff of growing things.
My Mama was the one who dabbled on the horticulture side of plants. Not that she was any expert, or anything. But if we had flowers along the front walk or interesting shrubs in the yard, it was the result of her touch. Spider Lilies. Forsythia. Burning Bush. Spirea. Pyracantha. Azaleas. Holly. Climbing roses. They were all there because of her efforts.
Don’t think that I think ill of her when I say this, but she was a plant thief. Plain and simple. She always kept a pair of snips in her purse along with a plastic baggy and a paper towel. Always on the lookout for something she liked.
We were in Tennessee one time at a gas station. Probably on our annual trip up toward Gatlinburg. She spotted a row of Burning Bush planted at the edge of the parking lot. While Dad was filling up, she crept over to the side, looked over both shoulders, took serval small cuttings, went to the bathroom to wet her paper towel, and stuffed her prize in her pocketbook. Those bushes are still there at the old homeplace.
The windowsill in our kitchen, or the shelf on the back porch were always full of mason jars with her cuttings. If it rooted, it got planted. And I got threatened with unimaginable pain should I ever destroy one of them.
“Your Daddy mowed down my Hibiscus last week. Don’t make me come get you.” I understood exactly what that meant. I steered clear with the lawn mower. I spent hours with a pair of hand clippers trimming around her plants.
Somewhere along the way in this interview, it occurred to me that perhaps I had never given much consideration to my experience with her and her plants. Maybe she was more of an influence on me than I had ever thought. I like what I do. Somewhere within all the evolution of jobs I’ve had and paths that I’ve taken, I am hugely satisfied with my life and my work. And perhaps I owe that to her.
To be satisfied in this life is a priceless discovery. To try your hand at many things and then find the one thing that fits is what allows a man to be at ease with himself. But it takes a lot of sweat equity and the right attitude to realize that what you already have is pure gold. And the best way to get more out of life is sometimes to want less.
I read something like this not long ago. If you watch enough DIY home makeover shows on TV, you become dissatisfied with your home. If you read enough romance novels, you may find yourself more and more dissatisfied with your marriage. If you’re always comparing yourself with those whom you see as more successful or more talented or more beautiful, you’ll find reasons to be dissatisfied with your own successes and talents and looks. Be grateful for who you are. Let your own life be enough.
That’s not easy advice, but it sure is good advice.
By the time we got to the end of the interview, I looked at the clock and we had been talking for two solid hours. My host said, “Boy, this is gonna be tough to edit down to a 30-minute show. Lots of good stuff here.” I wasn’t so convinced. I could only imagine how I probably butchered the English language with my Georgia twang.
What this interview did for me was cause me to take a look at the last 30 years with an appreciation for all the events and changes in my life. I could never have seen it long ago but looking back I see my own path more clearly. Most of the things that frustrated me or that I thought stood in my way, turned out to be the necessary things that brought me to where I’m at now. And not just with my job, but with everything.
In life, you take chances. You put them in a jar in the windowsill. And if they root, you plant them. If they don’t, you try something else.
You never know what or who you might grow up to be.