Extended Garden Metaphor

Hal, looking sneaky and idea-ish

Hal, looking sneaky and idea-ish

One day last summer Hal bounced an idea off me. He does this often, because he’s an idea kind of guy. It was a great concept, so I got excited with him about it: a series for the public radio business program, Marketplace, told from the point of view of a Nashville Private Investigator. “What if we had Marketplace call [FIND] Investigations and hire us to look into how the economy affects crime?”

It’s one thing to have a great idea, quite another to deploy it. A blank canvas or empty page can be a terrifying prospect, especially when there are absolutely no limits or guidelines as to what you can fill it with. Infinite choice can paralyze.

As it turns out, nearly a half a year has gone by, and we somehow managed to make this good idea happen. Now that Marketplace series, Part 1 exists, it’s easy to imagine that it always did, that it had to exist, that it was inevitable that such an idea should succeed on its very merits. But that ain’t how it works, folks.

Nine years ago next week Hal and I bought our little Halcyon house, a complete mess of a Victorian-era cottage with a trash heap and muddy weed bed for a yard. It was a full season before we’d progressed enough on the internal renovations for Mom and me to even consider taking on the landscaping. I remember looking at the blank slate of a yard–no, scratch that, it was worse than a blank slate. We had to chain-saw down tree-sized Devil’s Walking Stick weeds and load out mounds of concrete litter before the place could be called “blank” with any honesty.

I remember looking at that bloody mess of a yard and thinking, more in the form of a sinking feeling than of actual words, where do we start? It was going to be years before we saw any real progress in a place this @#$%&* up, I thought. And I do not kid you when I say that I did not know the difference between an annual and a perennial.

My mom is a freaking dynamo

My mom is a freaking dynamo

Fortunately, my mom does not find herself paralyzed by big jobs. She pushes her trowel into the ground, and Voila!  The job is begun. I followed suit.

Nine years later, the yard is a masterpiece of some kind, depending on your point of view. Lovers of simplicity and tidy lawns would see it as a series of dire problems to eliminate with Roundup, whereas kids, cats, and anybody who enjoys a certain amount of chaos would find themselves right at home.

Visitors to the garden, and sometimes even I, see it as a thing that’s always been, and after years of classes and reading and planting, I view myself as a knowledgeable plant person. But it wasn’t always so, and it wasn’t ever inevitable. It started with the first hole we dug and marched slowly forward from there.

Cemetery monument on Gallatin Rd. - I loved it so much I wanted it to be in the story, raising an "ice cream cone of hope" for our difficult times. Needless to say, that idea never made it.

Cemetery monument on Gallatin Rd. - I loved it so much I wanted it to be in the story, raising an "ice cream cone of hope" for our difficult times. Needless to say, that idea never made it.

It’s like that with any bold idea, any project considered, any seed cast. Some germinate, others languish. I’ve already forgotten a lot of the ideas we had that never saw the sun and plants we dug in that withered and died. Or more importantly, plants we never got around to planting.

But I want to remember them. When I hear the second and third parts of the upcoming Marketplace series, (I speak with hope here…) I want to remind myself of the many months it took for the idea to take shape, months of driving aimlessly up and down Gallatin Road with a  camera and notepad, coming up with ideas; of trying to interview people who wouldn’t talk to us; of notepads full of words and outlines describing shapes for the story that never materialized.

I want to remember it for the next time I think moving a bunch of zebra grass that looks stupid where I planted it is way too much effort, for the next time I can’t figure out how to fill the empty page, for the next time an idea is too big and bold to know where to plunge the trowel in.

The idea’s not the thing. The digging’s the thing. (I keep having to learn this.)

P.S. When a story is overlittered with garden metaphor, does that make it a “trope-iary”?

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