February 6, 2012

I Married a Plant Prostitute

So, there I was on a Friday evening, crawling through rush-hour traffic along the Mass Pike in an ancient truck with dubious brakes, no suspension to speak of, and a water garden slamming into my right leg every time I accelerated.  This is the lot in life for a Principal Undergardener, especially when he is married to a plant prostitute.

Maybe I should explain.

New England Grows - it's as though an entire village
springs up overnight
Each February, the ‘Green Industry’ in New England gets together in Boston to exchange ideas and show its wares.  If that term is unfamiliar to you, the Green Industry is the world of nurseries, growers, seed companies, garden centers, landscapers, and the ancillary equipment (from pots to greenhouses and earth moving equipment) that serve their needs.

It's a sea of greenery in
early February
It all takes place in the mammoth Boston Convention & Exposition Center and this year’s show unfolded over three days last week.  I spent one day – Thursday - at the show basically wandering around and seeing some industry friends.  Betty went her own way to do what she does at the show.

I have a fundamental fascination with trade shows.  They’re theater at its very best and person-to-person contact in an age when websites and Skype have rendered reach-out-and-touch selling an anachronism.  It’s as though some smart people got together and, overnight, threw up a town dedicated to just one subject. And, because the subject happens to be plants and their care, it features a lot of greenery and color at a time of year when such things are in short supply in New England.

I was there to gawk
and play with the toys...
I spent hours wandering aisles, examining plants and tools, and generally annoying the sales staffs because I did not represent a chain of retail nurseries or landscaping service.  It was truly a wonderful day and I was a kid in a candy store.  That was Thursday.

Then came Friday afternoon and a return trip to the show.  At 3 p.m., the show closed.  At 3 p.m. and one second, vendors began breaking down their exhibits, packing up equipment and putting everything on giant carts to wheel out to waiting trucks.  For most show visitors, it would be time to go home.  For me, it was the beginning of work.

...Betty was there with big game in mind
You see, while I was playing with toys and ogling plants, my wife was going booth to booth asking for plants.  Her pitch was well honed: she’s putting together a garden for a not-for-profit institution at next month’s Boston Flower & Garden Show, and she really needs plants.  If the vendor said ‘sorry’, Betty smiled, said, ‘well, thank you anyway’, and went onto the next exhibit.  And, in fact, many nurseries and plant growers sell the contents of their entire booth during the show.

But for those who don’t, those plants - be they annuals or perennials, plugs or trees - are a pain in the neck to truck back, where they occupy greenhouse space and require heat and maintenance.  Giving them away for a worthy cause is icing on the cake.

Let’s just say that Betty was fabulously successful.  She had roped in four Master Gardeners to help collect plants and we all began taking them out to the aforementioned borrowed truck, which had an enclosed bay of about 120 square feet.  Even as we stacked in plants pot-to-pot, it was obvious that we had more plants than we had space.  So, some plants went into boxes and more plants went on top of those boxes.  When we ran out of space in the truck’s bay, we started using its cab.

As the show deconstructed itself around us, Betty saw other plants in booths that weren’t being loaded onto dollies.  “Can we have that?” she would ask.  Invariably, the answer was in the affirmative.  It was at this point that one of her Master Gardener buddies, seeing Betty triumphantly return with a nectarine tree in bud, said, “You are such a plant prostitute.”

“I know,” Betty said, sheepishly. 

“I am, too,” her friend said.  “And I love it.”

In all, we garnered more than 400 plants which, along with what we already have in greenhouses will fairly well populate the 1100 square foot exhibit.  It took until 9 p.m. to tuck them all into a greenhouse.  Part of this week will be spent sorting the new plants into a semblance of order to determine what is usable immediately for the show and what will go into a second display planned for April.

A worthy cause?  Definitely.  Did my arse and back ache all weekend?  Also, definitely.

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