To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Part 2: Post 5: Gardening

So yes, Charlie got his pizza. I wasn't there, though. Apparently Dan (he who had not known girls fart) had felt badly enough that he took it upon himself to ask Charlie when he wanted his pizza ordered. Except Charlie has a serious thing against using gasoline, so he wasn't interested in delivery. Instead, he and Dan biked into town together to this pizza place actually run by a friend of Charlie's where everything's organic and they had a great time, and I'm beginning to seriously wish I'd known to go along.

The most familiar garden hydrangea is an exotic, from Japan, I think, but smooth hydrangea is one of two native species. It wasn't flowering yet when I started working with Charlie,.
Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
 I'm also kind of jealous of the groundskeeping crew. I think Charlie's involvement in both my cases of envy is a coincidence; my issue with the groundskeepers is that they get to be outside a good part of every day, and now that the weather is warming up I wish I were one of them. Instead, I have to spend most of the time I'm not either in class or asleep indoors cleaning. I even clean most of Saturday. I see the sun on my way between buildings and on Sundays. It's horrible.

And I signed up for this, not because I wanted to be a janitor, but because I was afraid I wouldn't get another job offer. I'd heard that Charlie only hires second years, but what if no qualified second years applied? I never even tried. I could kick myself.

At least my supervisor, Joe, lets us leave early if we get everything done well, so I've been working as fast as I can to try and get outside before lunch.

(If you'll pardon a tangent, my supervisor is actually only one of a bizarrely large number of people named Joe or Jo on campus. I mean there are the normal doubles--there's Dan and me, Charlie the instructor and Chuck the maintenance director--plus about half the women in my year all want to be called Raven, which is an odd coincidence but maybe not so odd here. And then there's all the Joes. Besides my supervisor, there are three students named Joseph, plus Jona, Joanna, and Joan, and both Joe, the security supervisor, and his husband, Coffee Joe, who works off campus. I didn't think it was legal for two men to marry, but whatever. Almost a tenth of the whole campus population is called Joe. You can't make this stuff up).

So today I finished my cleaning right before eleven and I was heading back towards my dorm to get something, when I found Charlie working by himself in the ornamental beds in front of the porch. There are several beds there, between the Mansion and the row of arbor vitae at the top of the front lawn, with a dragon-themed solar-powered fountain in the middle. I bet it's very pretty once everything really sprouts. And Charlie was happily digging away in the earth, planting something. I'd never really talked to him before, but asking him if I could help was almost as automatic as breathing.

Virginia rose is native across most of the eastern U.S., though a cultivated form exists that is invasive in Europe. Of course, it wasn't blooming either when I started working with Charlie.
Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana)
 "I don't know, can you?" he growled at me, hardly looking up. When I say "growled," I mean that his voice was gruff, like he wanted me to go away. He does that a lot, but I used to have this dog who would growl at strangers just because he wasn't sure what they were going to do. Once you proved to him you were friendly, he stopped growling. And I didn't want to go away. I didn't think Charlie was being a smart-ass about my saying "can" instead of "may," either, though he is usually a smart-ass when he's not growling, I know that much. I think he was just asking me a question. Not everyone can help in a garden, after all.

"I don't know," I told him, "because I don't know what you want done or how you want it done. All standards are local, and I don't know yours. But I used to work for a gardener, and if you tell me what to do I will do it." He smiled, briefly.

"Which of these plants do you know?" He asked, growling again and gesturing at the garden.

"Only the roses, junipers, and the hydrangeas, and not to species," I told him. "It looks like you plant with natives, not the ornamentals I used before." My being able to speak the right language won me an approving grunt. He asked me a few more questions, and then set me to cleaning the beds ahead of his planting.

We didn't talk much, except when he gave me instructions or warned me away from the juniper where the wasps were starting a nest. When I asked if he was going to leave the nest there, he told me that "we sting worse than they do. You allergic?"

"To bee stings, no. To people stings? Yeah, kind of." That made him laugh.

Red cedar looks like arbor vitae, but is actually a juniper. The way to tell them apart is the foliage. Both have tiny scales, rather than needles, but arbor vitae, or white cedar, has flat twigs with flat, smooth scales, and red cedar has square twigs with prickly scales or spines.
Red Ceder (Juniperus virginiana)
 "You and me both," he told me. And we kept working. The day was sunny and warmish, and the dirt and the plants felt good on my hands. Charlie had taken his shoes off, and I followed his lead. The grass and leaf mulch felt good on my toes.

Towards one o'clock (when we both had to get to Ecology class) he introduced me to the plants, pointing out one or two details from each that would help me identify them, and a few words about why each was in the garden where it was. I've never met anyone else so efficient at explaining such things. It's like he knows what questions I have before I do, knows exactly what to tell me so the plant will stick in my mind. Like, the difference between common juniper and red ceder, which is also a juniper, is growth habit and the fact that the former has leaf scales with a white stripe underneath.

"We'll see how many of those you remember," Charlie told me when we parted, which seemed like a good sign. I've already decided I'll try to work with him again, and if he growls at me that's just too bad.

[Next Post: April 5th: The Drunk's Club]

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