When Irish Eyes are Smiling

Charles the Gardner-It’s time to acknowl­edge a job well done.

Charles is the “old-time” gar­dener every­one would like to have tend­ing their gar­den. He is a trea­sure of the past, know­ing when to plant which bulbs where, the impor­tance of cut­ting off the dead pods on the crape myr­tle before the next bloom, and what’s ail­ing any plant just by look­ing at it.

Today the term “gar­dener” is often mis­un­der­stood and under­val­ued and I hes­i­tate some­what in describ­ing him as a gar­dener, because he is SOMUCH MORE!

Unfor­tu­nately, Charles and I don’t see each other more than 3 or 4 times a year, but I’m always informed of his com­ings and goings by the grow­ers we both pur­chase our plants from. On the occa­sions we do bump into each other, how­ever, only min­utes into our greet­ing our con­ver­sa­tion auto­mat­i­cally turns to the first bloom­ing plants in view and he will always men­tion the next tree or shrub he is look­ing for­ward to see­ing in bloom in the next upcom­ing sea­son. The last time I saw Charles was in mid March. He had just loaded his truck with an impres­sive num­ber of del­phini­ums and ranun­cu­lus for a client and was, in his words, “look­ing for­ward to plant­ing these beau­ties” that very after­noon. The plant­ing area was already pre­pared, he informed me. “The del­phini­ums”, he said, “ would be planted amongst the infor­mal spirea, yarrow and ice­berg roses”.” And the ranun­cu­lus, well,” he said, with such cer­tainty in his voice that I wouldn’t have dared to ques­tion his deci­sion, “they always look their best planted en mass in a cir­cu­lar bed of can­dytuft.” His hands all the while paint­ing out the loca­tion of each plant vari­ety – Charles talks about his plants with the same affec­tion some peo­ple talk about their grand­chil­dren!

After 30 years of gar­den­ing expe­ri­ence this Irish­man from Done­gal is in the envi­able posi­tion of choos­ing his own clients – although he has never said this directly to me – I know it to be true. He reserves 3 days of his week to main­tain sev­eral very big homes in an exclu­sive part of town and the other 3 days for land­scap­ing and plant­ing for his other clients and refer­rals. Charles says he never tires of his work because every­day, there is some­thing new to appre­ci­ate and, in his line of work, no two days are ever alike. “See­ing the new buds appear on a favorite shrub or tree,” he says, “and know­ing when you come back again in a few days time it will be in full bloom, that is a feel­ing that never gets old.”

He read­ily admits that over the years some of his plant­i­ngs have given him a lit­tle more grief than oth­ers in get­ting estab­lished, “but you need patience,” he said in his strong Irish brogue. “Patience is the one thing nature teaches you when work­ing with plant life – and say­ing a few Hail Mary’s, of course, doesn’t hurt either!”

Charles expe­ri­enced long ago the spir­i­tual bond that con­nects man and nature and this is what I meant when I said Charles is not “just” a gar­dener. He brings so much more to his work, and reaps the many rewards, too! As I left him that after­noon, I reminded myself to take heed of his good-natured advice. Her­man Hesse, the Ger­man author and poet said, “Patience is the hard­est thing in life to learn, but the most impor­tant.” I wanted to feel the same joy and won­der that Charles dis­played on see­ing the first del­phini­ums appear in the cool of Feb­ru­ary and our col­or­ful neigh­bor­ing ranun­cu­lus which remind us of the approach­ing spring in March.

I can’t wait to see the mag­no­lias in bloom!


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