Polystichum achrostichoides. Say that 5 times as fast as you can. For the other 99% of us who have no clue how to decipher that conglomeration of letters, it simply means Christmas Fern. The Botanic Gardens (BG) is renowned for the rich and lush greenery that garnishes the land just off of Cherry Rd near Audobon Park. Being a big fan of gardening and all things botanical, naturally (pun intended), I was excited to give some of my time to a little “green thumbing.” My newfound partner in crime, John Cook, is with me again today. His experience at BG two weeks prior was so moving that he is now destined to become a farmer; or so he says. I kind of hope he does. We need more farmers. Maybe I’ll work as a hired hand on his farm someday.
We stroll into the gardening office, after somehow managing to guzzle 25oz of coffee in the short 3 miles from my house, ready to rock! We meet Manny, who has one of those larger-than-life personalities and after tidying up some of the morning’s details he gives us a tour of the grounds. Manny shows me an array of plants and flowers whose names I will never remember but whose beauty I won’t soon forget. When I reflect on my gardening experiences I mostly think of a tranquil and slow-paced setting (like the kind I do at home); however, after seeing all the work that has to be done at the BG in such a short window before springtime really hits is almost overwhelming. Luckily, it didn’t all have to be done that day. As Manny gets us settled into the workplace he tells us a little about his career in comedy, “the good ole days” as he refers to it and “short-lived.” Sadly, he wasn’t willing to give us any of the routine because there’s work to do and when it comes to gardening the right way, Manny is no joke. There is a precise manner in which we are to transplant the ferns and as he explains the necessity of the precision, it makes perfect sense. There is a natural and sensible order to transplanting, so I spend a little more time pruning than I probably should have out of fear of messing up a transplant. Then I remember that I came to play in some dirt and dirt don’t hurt.
The weather is perfectly warm under the greenhouse and the volunteers John and I are working with are full of lively conversation. We worked nearly an hour past our scheduled time because the work and the company were so pleasant. I have to remind myself that gardening days are not always like this and the crew at BG worked through a long, cold, and gray winter to arrive at a day like this. Either way, I would have enjoyed the work no matter what the weather was like. I suspect I will return to the Botanic Gardens. I need my botanical social life as much as I need the regular social life.