Plants, Porch Cushions, and Designer Books

God made somewhere in the neighborhood of  297,000 plants, not including lichen or mushrooms. And, that figure comes from Plants, Plants, Plants, a kid’s book I got for my grandchildren (a surprisingly accurate book).

But, my clients do not want any of the 297,000 plants God made. No, they want a plant that MATCHES. Matches the porch cushions, the window shutters, the rug, the paint on the shed, you name it. To be specific, as one dear client described, a plant that grows to approximately 3 feet 10 inches tall and 4 feet wide, is yellow (or whatever color the cushions are), evergreen, doesn’t shed, blooms (all summer), needs no pruning, and oh yeah, it needs to go behind all the other plants in the front (very established) bed, which will require a crane to place the dang thing.

(Yes, this is me complaining. It’s that time of year when my clients hate me and I hate them.)

Here’s what I want to say to my mostly beloved clients:

How do you feel about silk plants?

Instead, oh wise woman that I am,  I use the universal language of all women. I say:

Your husband will say no to the crane.

They sigh. He will, won’t he? I shake my head that, sadly, yes, he will. I know their husbands, and do generally feel bad about making them the fall guys, but hey, a girl’s got to make a living.

Years ago, I was hanging out with my sister while she hung curtains for one of her clients (I do the outside, she does the inside). I was perusing their library, a room bigger than my house, filled to max with shelves of books. A certified book nerd, I was in heaven, until Kathy–quite callously I might add–broke the bad news to me. She was drilling holes into their $100,000 walnut paneling for the Roman shades she was about to install. (The husband had casually mentioned the cost of the custom woodwork after he spied Kathy’s drill, and suddenly understood that his wife had given her complete permission to mar the wood for the Roman shades that would adorn his entertainment room/library.) With drill bit in her mouth, Kat said, over her shoulder, “Those are designer books.”

Huh? What’s a designer book?

Designer books give you the look of a library without the mess of books that “don’t match” and heaven forbid, cause you to readjust book shelves to accommodate book sizes. Designer books can be ordered in the same size, and the same cover, but not necessarily in the same language or even the language of your choice. These particular books were in every language known to man. It was like the Tower of Babel had crashed in their library. Even if they chose to toss good taste out the window, and grab a book, who reads Ho-Chunk? I was so naive. For a woman who just donated several thousand books from my library to the local one,  I am still trying to wrap my brain around that. Why do that?

For the same reason we want plants to grow to 3 feet 10 inches, be a certain color and bloom all season, while being evergreen. Everything needs to MATCH. Heaven forbid if the blue of the poor delphinium doesn’t match the blue of the porch cushions. No matter that the delphinium is spectacular beyond compare, if it doesn’t match, well out it goes. Perhaps we’ve become consumers to the point that we are clueless about how plants grow or books are written. I am thrilled God was the creator and not my clients, or we’d all match. I’m talking clones.

If I’m asked once, I’m asked a million times by my clients, “Am I doing this right?” They’re worried what the neighbors will think, or the family and friends. Try as I might, I am unsuccessful in convincing them that gardens are about self-expression and creativity. If they like it, then it is right.

Do you like it? I ask them.

They do.

Then that is all that matters. And, it is.

Sometimes, my client’s taste is so not mine. Tightly clipped boxwoods, tacky yard art, or cottage-y fluff doesn’t excite me. But, watching a woman discover her own creativity does. Watching her find wonder in her garden is a dear thing. It is a hard won battle. Trusting ourselves is next to impossible when books are supposed to look uniform on shelves, or plants quit growing before hitting the 4 foot mark.

I want to scream, God did not make that plant! But, oh my goodness, look at what he did make. Roses, and shrubs, and trees, and ferns, and moss, and perennials of every color and size. Almost 300,000 plants.More than could be explored in one lifetime. And he made you. And he made me. And isn’t it wonderful that we don’t match? Now, let’s take what we’ve been given and make something fabulous out of that.




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