Why I Love being a Garden Coach, Aside from My Awesome Boot Collection

I seriously love being a garden coach. For one, it gives me reason to have an awesome boot collection.

Here are my new boots from Altar’d State. I only wear them on sunny, dry days in the afternoon. Here’s my totally waterproof and stylish (yes, those boots exist) Rockport boots. (These made the trek down the Oregon/California coast with me. I looked darn good standing in the Pacific Ocean in them.) My Land’s End snow boots (in black, not brown, hate that red stripe on the brown), and my LOWA boots which I admit I did not want to drop the cash on, but will also admit that they are handy in cold, wind, rain, sleet, and snow. Plus, all the guys are completely jealous of them, so they were worth the cash for that alone.

Boots aside, I love being a garden coach because I love strolling through gardens chatting with folks. I mean, come on. What a great way to spend a day. And, my folks are every bit as diverse as the plants we discuss. I never want our hour to end.

I want time to stand still while the 37 year-old autistic man gets his courage to ask for the instructions to be repeated again. He must be brave to say, “Will you go over it again?” I want to shout with delight, “YOU did it! You asked for what you needed.” And, yes, I will. I absolutely will go over it all again. And, so we do. How we measure ‘on center’ for planting. How the roots should be broken up to look like the spokes on a wheel when placed in the ground. How we determine color according to bloom time, and what deadheading is.

It isn’t just him. It’s too much information for anyone. When to prune what, when to fertilize, how to amend the soil, what is mulch and what kind to use. How to determine sunlight hours, and how those hours determine what plants we’ll pick. It’s a lot of material to remember, and no one gets it all the first time. Besides, he’s learning about more than plants. He’s learning to look out for himself. He’s learning to get his money’s worth. He’s learning to speak up and be heard. That is so terribly important, but even more important, he’s learning to listen. If I correct him, he makes the necessary adjustment. I watch him and learn, and make the necessary adjustment myself.

My personality is quiet and calm, so I’m a good fit to walk in the garden with the young father whose 8 year-old son recently died of cancer. “Everyone wants us to plant a tree to remember him,” he says, pointing to the place in the yard it’s supposed to go. “But I don’t want a tree. I never keep anything alive. What if I kill the stupid tree?” He’s wondering if he killed his son, somehow. If, as his father, he could have done something different, something more. Taken him to the doctor sooner? Asked the right questions? Found a different doctor before it was too late? Was this his fault? What if the tree dies, and just confirms his fears that he did not save his son? He’d rather have his son than the tree, anyway. I suggest a small statue. Perhaps the one of the boy reading a book. Didn’t your son love to read?

“You mean I don’t have to plant a tree?” he asks. He’s feeling so much pressure from God knows where or who. “No. You do not,” I say as firmly as I can, while looking directly into his eyes. You did not kill your beautiful son, and we do not have to plant anything you don’t want too.

My favorite client ever is quirky, and tall, and gorgeous, and artsy, and lives in a pretty conservative neighborhood with her uber-conservative husband who was trying to get in on the garden fun, and so painted a rod-iron staircase magenta. What a complete shock for her (and myself) as party night drew near. But what a dear she was to love him more than the staircase or the party-goers. We got some super funky-fun chartreuse pots, and filled them with purple wandering jew, pink angelonia, and white bacopa (sounds hideous, but it was awesome). Then we added big pots of bright red hibiscus. If you’re going magenta on the rod-iron staircase against the brick-red house, all bets are off and the fun is on. Anyway, the whole family has a slightly, crazy bent that make them my loves for life.

I can’t leave out my boxwood client, whose yard is full of the most gorgeous boxwoods–years old, well established, pruned to perfection, and without a bare or brown spot to be seen, except on the two next to the driveway. He feared it was boxwood blight, which would mean all of them would have to go. He held his breath while I examined. “Does anyone park here that has a bad exhaust on their car?” The gardener does. Of course. The gardener is always the culprit in murder mysteries, why not in boxwood mysteries? Tell the gardener to stop parking where his exhaust is spewing on your pretty boxwoods, and, tell him to prune this out. We had a delightful chat in the perennial garden following our hour, complete with tea, and a very interesting talk about his hemlock hedge, and his last child leaving home for college. Really. Conversation about hemlocks is balm for the soul. Did you know that?

Sometimes, I think my job is so meaningless because I am not writing a brilliant novel, or using some new life-saving surgical technique on a patient, or teaching a child to read. It’s just plants and where and how to plant them, and the cultural care needed for them to thrive. But, if this were not my job, I’d have missed that moment when, the young mom who loves permaculture, showed me her first chicken eggs and her bright, red tomatoes she planned to serve her family. Pure delight. She was beside herself. Plus, she loved my new boots, and oohed and aahed as much over them as I did her fresh produce. We determined, we both love a compliment.