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In the Trenches

Brian Hartsock

Working at The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants would probably be a dream job for almost any horticulturalist; it certainly is for me.  I love being a part of an organization that preserves the very spirit of one of America’s most dynamic and interesting founders.  It is a feeling shared by many of my colleagues also.  So, as I try to describe what it is I actually do here to friends, family, and patrons, I see a look of wonder in their eyes.  I am often told how lucky I am and what a peaceful and relaxing job I must have. 

Lucky, yes.  Peaceful and relaxing, however, would not be the first words that come to mind.  As with many gardeners, we love the fruits of our labors, but it is war out there.  Spring comes first in whispers.  A mound of soil starts to rise, and soon the twinleaf is stealing our hearts with the delicate beauty of dainty white petals.  These are happy times as we shake the cold from our bones and look forward to the bright warm days of summer that have been gone for too long.  The bluebells come and go and summer is just around the corner. 

Perhaps, as I labor in the gardens and monitor the progress of the nursery stock, the stunning display of roses and iris is the equivalent of fireworks signaling the beginning of battle.   Now comes the heat, the fungus, the insects, and the summer storms.  A gardener’s heart may be tender and their thumbs green, but their constitution must be iron.  Do the Japanese Beatles have no respect for the beauty and history they devour!  Being a lover of nature I can find beauty in most anything.  For the Japanese Beetle, his beauty comes in the form of a crunch between my fingers. 

We are eternal optimists, gardeners.  When the latch clinks on the gate and I pass from the world of asphalt and brick to that of petals and fragrance, I lament for the rusty foxglove that stood taller than me the day before as a night of rain and wind have laid them over.  I am thankful for the pictures I took and mournful of the buds that will never know the tickle of fuzzy little bumblebees.  All is not lost, for flowers fill vases as well as our souls.  And that must be why year after year, storm after storm, beetle after beetle we endure.  But hear this powdery mildew: “I have not yet begun to fight!”

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