Originally appeared in VioletsFun Photo Journal, issue no. 6 (1999)
One of my favorite chores is watering, particularly watering the baskets that we having hanging from the greenhouse ceiling and the orchids, and I try to save this job for myself. Over the years, as the business has grown, and we have more to do, we’ve learned to delegate some of the work to our staff. Even then, Olive and I work long days, seven days a week. Were we to delegate all of the work, though, the reason for us being in this business would disappear. By doing so, we would delegate not only the work, but the pure joy of the work. We grow plants for a living because this is what we love to do. It’s not easy work, and it certainly doesn’t pay much, but we truly enjoy it. Choosing to do it makes it fun for us, whereas paying someone to do it makes it work for them.
Watering the baskets and orchids is something that I almost always have done myself. One evening this week, after having already worked all day packing and shipping plants, Olive and I were working in the greenhouse. She was grooming violets and I was watering baskets. Both she and I were away the previous week, so I hadn’t done this in a while. Even though this was becoming another 12 hour workday, I was really enjoying what I was doing. It was a nice evening, the greenhouse had cooled, and I was alone with my wife doing something that I loved to do.
In our greenhouse, watering the baskets means removing each from the ceiling hook or rod and holding the pot with one hand while watering with the other, sometimes also taking time to prune them. This means handling each plant, having time to carefully look it over, noticing all of the little things like new leaves and buds.
This evening, I could wait to show Olive the four new buds on an orchid that last produced just one bloom last fall. There was also the first flower spiked on an Oncidium (a favorite of mine), a Brassavola nodosa(Olive’s favorite), and another Orchid that Olive had brought with her from Taiwan. Then there were the three different varieties of “passion flowers” (Passiflora) that were in heavy bloom. As I worked my way to the back of the greenhouse, I could smell the heavy fragrance of the Hoya lacunosa hanging in the corner. Even the trivial, like the new growth on a Columnea that hadn’t been looking too good up until then, the spores of a fern that covered its soil like a thick layer of pepper or, simply, the look and smell of newly wet soil, excited me.
Every time I spotted something interesting, I had to tell Olive. We’d then talk about that plant, or about something interesting that she had noticed herself. It struck me that this is what attracted me to the hobby in the first place. The contentment of working with one’s hands, in one small piece of nature–being able to feel it, see it, and breath it in and smell it. That, and the ability of mother nature to surprise you, producing new growth or blooms when they were most needed or you least expected them.
Having done this for over 25 years, it’s easy to take these things for granted. I’ve grown to expect plants to grow and bloom well. As beginners, when just keeping the plants alive is accomplishment enough, there’s great excitement over every new leaf and bloom. Over time, as our gardening skills improve, we lose a little of this joy over the small details. On this particular evening, though, I felt like I had gone back in time–the same thrill over the little things was there. It was even better, maybe, since I could share my experience with my wife and partner, someone who not only listened, but felt and understood, my joy.