The recent 50th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the struggle for civil rights in Selma, Alabama brought back a poignant personal memory, when my wife and I travelled down to Tennessee with two other couples in the early 1980s.
We had already booked several days in a local bed and breakfast when my friend (who is from the West Indies) tried to also confirm a room for him and his spouse.
The owner caught wind of his accent and immediately asked him “if he was black”, to which he replied, yes.
She apologized rather profusely and declared that while she wasn’t personally prejudiced, it would “ruin the reputation of her inn if she allowed coloured people to stay there”.
Needless to say, my wife and I cancelled our reservation, as did the third couple and I’m sorry to report that the only accommodation that we could find in that town (which I won’t name) where we could all stay was the local KOA. So we went camping.
The reason for the segue on the prevalence of racism is to illustrate how gardening is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that horticulture is virtually ‘colour blind,’ and it also doesn’t discriminate against age either – as you can dig your dirt from the moment you can hold a plastic shovel, right up to your last breath.
Every day at work I encounter people of different ethnicities, nationalities and religions, all looking to do the same thing – grow a plant.
In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a more multicultural experience than your local garden centre on a spring weekend.
This spring, in particular, has been rife with proud Italians, Greeks and Spaniards, all looking to plant the new hardy Olive ‘Eddy’s Winter Wonder,’ with hopes of even a meagre crop, if only for sentimental reasons.
Then there was the Russian lady looking for a fragrant white lilac – when I told her that I had ‘Beauty of Moscow’ in stock, she seemed mildly interested. But when I mentioned the original cultivar name, ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’, she lit right up and said ‘that’s my lilac from home,’ and indeed it did go home with her.
I also took the time to help a Persian couple who were choosing a fruit tree to plant in honour of their newborn baby boy, who tagged along in a stroller. They wanted something he could eat from by the time he was old enough to walk and decided upon a multigraft plum tree, which had a smattering of bloom buds.
While they were planting a plum to commemorate a new life, it is also pretty common for me to help people choose a tree to plant in memory of a loved one who has passed away.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it, celebrating inevitable experiences like the beginning and the end of life, and if we can find something peaceful to do in between (like gardening), then all the better.
Of course, there are also more tangible benefits to this multiculturalism – in particular the Chinese New Year pastries, curry dishes, bottles of wine and smiles from grateful customers who have found something that reminds them of home – be it a herb, hot pepper or fragrant flower.
This United Nations of gardening makes me proud of my chosen profession and teaches all of us that if we focus on the things we have in common, then the differences don’t seem to matter so much.
Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (firstname.lastname@example.org).