Someone recently asked me, “How did you get this into gardening”? Most have an easy answer like, “My parents or grandparents were gardeners” or “I had an interest in plants from a young age”. For me, there was no simple answer.
With that in mind, I started to analyze where my passion for plants originated. And I realized it came from a series of events over the past 17 years.
Here is the story of one of those events:
When last we spoke, I left you with quite the cliffhanger; the arrival of a stranger in a beat-up white Ford Taurus in my driveway who just happened to know my name. Before we get to the exciting conclusion, let me give you some additional back story.
That morning back in the summer of 1998, I purchased four Barberry shrubs from my my favorite garden center with the intention of replacing my aforementioned “lollipop shrubs”. Through all of my new found research on shrubs, I became infatuated with red/maroon/scarlet leaved plants. They had so much more of an impact and were more interesting than the ubiquitous green versions and I had plans to dazzle my neighbors with color.
I some how managed to squeeze four of the shrubs into my bad ass, black, 1995 Geo Prism, gashed hands from the shrubs’ thorns notwithstanding. I was so anxious to install them when I got home that I ignored everything else going on around me (we call that foreshadowing in the industry).
As soon as I arrived home, I pulled the shrubs from my tiny car and left them in my driveway so I could plant them as soon as I removed the old yews along my foundation. There were numerous Barberry stems/thorns remaining in the car and they were awesomely intermingled with my Motley Crue and Metallica cassettes.
And then he showed up …
I clutched my shovel tightly as he emerged from his automobile. The showdown was on. As Mr. Stranger asked if I was in fact “The John Markowski” (OK, I added the “The” for additional drama) I tried my best to quickly determine why the Angel of Death was just now dropping by. My thoughts at the time were:
- He was there to collect my gambling debts. It fit the profile but I never had a bookie in the first place.
- I was some how involved in a criminal investigation. Always a possibility I guess, but the car didn’t scream detective unless he was truly undercover or his office had truly fallen on hard times.
- I won Publisher’s Clearing House. But there were no balloons visible in the car.
The answer was #4, none of the above.
Turns out, our mystery guest …
… had found my wallet sitting in the middle of Rt. 206 in Hillsborough, NJ and was here to return it out of the goodness of his degenerate heart. He apparently found my license inside the wallet, still in tact, and drove the five miles or so to return it to its rightful and careless owner. I thanked him profusely, gave him all of the cash I had in the wallet (around $20 or so) and bowed my head in shame. Stand off over … and I lost.
Here’s what happened …
I left the wallet on the roof of my car as I was loading the Barberry shrubs at the nursery. It then flew off as I pulled out of the parking lot and on to Rt. 206. I didn’t even know it was missing until the dude showed up.
Lesson learned right? Not a chance. I can even
one ten up that story.
Four years ago, while on our way home from vacation in Connecticut, we stopped at a gas station to refuel. I pumped the gas like a champ (never an easy feat for a NJ’er) and the trip home was back under way.
Two and a half hours later, we pulled into a Starbucks in Oakland, New Jersey for some coffee. You guessed it, no f’n wallet. I had used it to pay for gas back in Connecticut, so it no doubt fell off somewhere along Rt. 95. No chance I see that again. The entire family was ready to hand me divorce papers.
When we arrived home, the goal was to cancel all of the credit cards immediately. As I picked up the phone to call the first credit card company, I noticed we had a voice mail. I hit play and this was the exact message:
“Hi John, it is your Uncle (blank), I have your wallet. Give me a call.”
Want to try and piece that together Encyclopedia Brown? You don’t? Good, because it would be impossible. Here is how it played out:
- My wallet managed to stay on top of the car from Connecticut and all the way to NJ. No lie.
- It fell off when we pulled off of the highway and into the Starbucks parking lot.
- An off duty police officer found it in the middle of the road and scooped it up.
- My uncle’s PBA card was inside the wallet.
- The police officer who picked it up was best friend’s with my uncle’s son (my cousin), a fellow cop.
- He gave the wallet to my cousin and asked my uncle to call me.
- My uncle was at a wedding when he called me … with my parents.
This was clearly my last warning to get my shit together. These kinds of things don’t just happen. There was a higher being at work here and I was all ears. There was no third chance available.
Ever since that day, I refuse to wear shorts without pockets. I haven’t placed my wallet on top of anything since then. But most importantly, I started an OCD like ritual to make sure I have all the essentials on me at all times. It goes like this:
I say out loud “Keys, wallet, phone, work ID (always in that order)”. I tap each pocket to ensure they are all securely in there. I do this upwards of 100 times a day and I haven’t lost any of them since then. So if you see me mumbling to myself, just know to not interrupt me or there could be dire consequences.
I’ve even extended that same mentality inside my home. “Alarm on, garage closed, refrigerator door shut, lights off, dog has water, etc.” It can look bizarre but dammit, it is effective.
How will I magically weave this tale into a garden related post? Don’t know, but hopefully I entertained you a bit. Actually I’ll give it a shot just to see if I can pull it off.
Back to the Barberry shrubs …
I mentioned I planted 4 of them, correct? Two on each side of the front door at my old home. Nice and symmetrical. That worked for me at the time until years later when I discovered the “rule of three” with garden design.
“Rule of three” pushes the design theory that all plantings look better when the same plants are grouped together in odd numbers. It is more pleasing to the eye. I don’t fully understand why this is true, but oh boy did I subscribe to the theory.
For a long time, all of the plantings at my current home were in groups of 3. Like freakishly so. I was that taken by the theory.
I even had to show you three photos in order to avoid the shakes.
It extended into my every day non gardening life as well. The mugs on my desk had to be grouped in 3’s. My deodorant and toothpaste and cologne triumvirate looked great on the bathroom counter. I considered asking my wife for a third child just so they would look “right” in photos. I had “Rule of 3″ OCD.
I’ve since let up some and have allowed my garden design to relax a bit. I can even drive by my old home where the 4 Barberry shrubs still sit and not hyperventilate. But through it all, I am a believer in rituals and how they saved me from myself and my garden.