I was over at May Dreams Gardens today reading Carol’s latest post, “You Might Be a Gardening Geek If . . .” and it reminded me of a story that bears telling. What brought it to mind was her point number 5, bonus points for visiting garden centers in other cities.
I am, as my friend Jeri says, a frequent offender on this count. Once when Jim and I were on a trip to an Amway convention in Milwaukee, we happened to notice a big billboard in Illinois advertising the big spring hosta and iris sale at a place called Hornbaker Gardens. It wasn’t That Far out of our way, and we had Lots of Time, so we decided to make a stop there.
Well, I had to rein myself in once I started looking around. First we stopped at the iris gardens, which were in full bloom. I suddenly understood why people get hooked on irises, with their frills and multiple colors. After we had walked around all this confectionery, we continued on to the main sales center where they had more hostas in one place than I had ever thought possible.
I count this as the moment of my big Hosta Awakening. Up until that moment, I had been unaware of the huge variety of size, color variations, and leaf shapes and textures that were available in this genus. Since we were on our way to the convention, we decided not to buy too many plants, as they had to fit into the car with our luggage, our son, and us. They were having a “Hail Damage Sale,” and with great difficulty I held myself down to nine pots of hostas, which spent the convention happily living on the tiled window sill in the bathroom of our hotel room. I have no idea what the maid thought, and I was careful to water them neatly in the bath tub to minimize the mess that she had to clean up after we left.
But my prime “buying plants while on a road trip” experience happened in July 1997. It was shortly after Jim, Jesse and I had decided that we wanted to become a family. We were waiting for certain legal issues to be decided, but we knew that eventually we would be adopting him. We thought it would be fun to introduce him to our family, and so decided to take some time that summer and make a road trip out to the East Coast in order to visit with my brother and his wife, and Jim’s brother Bob and his wife Gretchen, all of whom happened to live fairly near to each other.
The main attraction was going to be attending the Boston Pops Fourth of July “Concert on The Green”, which is followed by the most amazing fireworks display you have ever seen. Jim was working, and did not have a lot of time off, so he planned to fly out and meet us there for the 4th of July holiday while Jesse and I took a leisurely drive out there.
It wasn’t long after we planned our trip that my little sister coyly informed me that she was going to be married in Williamsburg, Virginia on July 12 and wished that I would act as her attendant. It was quite a ways out of our way, but I agreed to support her, and so we added a southern leg to our planned travels. After receiving permission from the Court and the Division of Family Services to take him out of state, Jesse and I began our odyssey. Along the way we visited Niagara Falls, where we took a ride on the Maid of the Mist, and visited the Butterfly Garden there.
Eventually we arrived at our destination, where I discovered that Gretchen was definitely a kindred spirit. She started taking me around to every garden center within a hundred mile radius of her home, including my favorite mail order establishment, White Flower Farms. The best one was called Capricorn Farms, where in addition to an amazing herb garden there was one of the Heritage Trees of Connecticut, an ash tree over 400 years old. The thing was immense, was at least ten feet in diameter, and presided over the place with quite a regal presence. We were there for their Saturday afternoon tour and tea. Needless to say, I discovered I needed quite a number of their wares, blithely sure I could get them home alive and well.
When Jesse and I left to continue our tour of the Eastern Seaboard, in addition to a wonderful flat granite stone showing signs of glaciation that Bob had given me, I had two flats of various herbs and perennials I had purchased while visiting all the sundry garden centers. Our car was a rental, because our aged truck was giving us problems, and Jim needed a reliable commute car for his job while we were gone. (The little red Pontiac had no cruise control, which lack brought home to me why it is imperative to have THAT while on a long trip.)
My sister had informed us that there would be reservations for us at the Williamsburg Inn at Colonial Williamsburg, and so we made our way there. The trip was faster than I had thought it would be, so we drove into the circular drive in front of this stunningly gorgeous Five Star hotel around one in the afternoon. I parked in the unloading zone, and walked into the lobby.
The clerk looked down his nose at my Birkenstocks, shorts and tie-dyed t-shirt clad self, and inquired as to how he could help me.
“Oh, my sister is getting married here and she told me that there would be reservations for me and my son.” After informing him of the name the room was under and showing him my driver’s license, he admitted that there were indeed reservations. We proceeded to go through the rigamarole of registration. While we were parsing that ritual, he asked me if I wished to leave the reservations on the credit card under which they had been made.
I had utilized my time at the desk to observe the uniformed gentleman at the door whose sole job seemed to be making sure no guest ever had to touch the door in order to enter or leave the hotel. I had noticed that he seemed to know everybody’s name, too. I had also observed the well-heeled and impeccably luggaged people who were being escorted into the inner sanctums.
The little voice inside said “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas any more!” so I asked the clerk how much the rooms were a night. I managed to keep from choking (barely) when he informed me that they were $376 per night. And we were supposed to stay two nights! I told him that the reservations could stay on the card they were made on, and gave him my own little Visa card so he could imprint it. “When we use room service we will use this card, okay?”
It was fine with him. Then the poor man looked at his records and realized that our room was not ready yet. The previous occupants had left late, and the maid was not finished. Oh, he was terribly sorry and embarrassed, and quite relieved when I blithely told him that it was quite alright, that I knew that I had arrived awfully early, but I really had no idea how long it was going to take me to get there from Washington, DC. “We’ll just go walk around Williamsburg until the room is ready, grab a bite to eat.” He seemed relieved that we would not be hanging around the lobby waiting for our room.
I asked if I could leave my car in their lot until later, and he told me it would be just fine. Then I remembered the plants, and started to worry that they would be fried if left out in a car parked in the nice hot July sun. Could I, I asked the desk clerk, have my luggage brought in from the car and stored somewhere until our room was ready. Of course I could, I was informed, they had a secure luggage storage area. He imperceptibly ordered a white gloved, uniformed gentleman (it seems impossibly crass to call him a bellboy) to help me unload my luggage.
I do believe that the Williamsburg Inn is the sort of establishment where the guests arrive in chauffered limosines, or at least luxury automobiles, and with matched luggage. It is also the sort of establishment that believes that a paying guest should be afforded every courtesy regardless of their origins and class (or lack thereof).
I am positive that no one, before or since, has arrived with the miscellaneous collection of items that constituted Jesse’s and my luggage. There was an ancient green plastic suit bag, which contained our wedding finery, mostly protecting it from dust despite the rips in the sides. My main piece of luggage was an Eddie Bauer duffle bag, 20 years old at the time, and stained with the numerous travels and adventures (including numerous Arctic Chamber Orchestra tours and sample collecting expeditions for the Institute of Marine Sciences) it had accompanied me on. Jesse had chosen to travel with a red day pack and two gym bags, one blue and one black. We also had one blue Coleman cooler and, last but not least, the two flats of herbs I had purchased up north.
I opened the trunk of the car, and completely astonished the bellboy by proceeding to start unloading some of my luggage onto his cart myself. I’m not sure anybody had ever done that before either, and he quickly tried to dissuade me from such an untoward activity. He managed to keep his composure when faced with the array of our luggage, and asked me what I wanted unloaded from the car.
“Oh, everything! I can’t leave the plants in here, they’d die in this heat. And the stuff in the cooler will be going bad if it stays in the car for two days.”
“Yes, Madam,” was his unruffled reply. He started unloading the car, very carefully arranging our mismatched belongings on his elegantly carpeted and polished brass luggage transporting cart. Down at the bottom of the pile in my trunk rested the big flat rock Bob had gifted me with. The bellboy looked at it, looked at his beautiful white gloves, and proceeded to reach for it. After all, I had said to unload everything.
“Oh! Oh, the rock can stay in the car,” I cried, before he had actually touched it.
“Thank you, Madam,” was his only reply, as he gently closed the car trunk. He calmly, and with a very straight face, wheeled our luggage into the lobby, past the astonished desk clerk as well as some rather bemused guests who happened to be enjoying aperitifs in the lobby.
When Jesse and I arrived back at the hotel, having enjoyed the sights of Williamsburg and lunch at one of the taverns there, our luggage, flats of herbs and all, was waiting for us in our pristine room.
I think this qualifies me as a gardening geek, don’t you?