As soon as I walked into this particular plant shop, I knew something was different about the guy who ran it. He was too good to be true.
When I first walked into “The One and Only Plant Shop,” about three years ago, I wasn’t even looking to buy anything. I was just killing time waiting for a buddy. I wandered in only because it was a hot day and the shop looked soft and cool, and the next thing I knew, I was talking to this old, grandfatherly type who tried to persuade me that I needed a plant in my apartment.
He didn’t begin by talking about plants, though. Instead, he said “Hello,” asked me a few questions about myself, and, gradually, he let the conversation move until I asked him a few questions about his life. Then, he quickly told me his whole story. It was pretty interesting, too.
He started with nothing, basically created everything he had, and he claimed everyone should have a plant because, “Plants round out your life. They give you balance,” he said. “They give you stability.”
I’m not sure I bought the whole idea the first time I heard it, but I was a little curious. And I liked the guy. So I asked a few more questions about taking care of plants, just to make sure I could handle one if I decided to buy. I didn’t want to get in over my head, and I didn’t want to waste my money either. I didn’t bother asking about a warranty or a money-back guarantee or anything like that, though, because I was just buying a plant. It wasn’t like I was buying a car. But I realize now I should have asked. I should have thought a little more about this. But I didn’t. I just jumped right into it.
I saw one plant that I liked, it wasn’t too expensive, and that old guy convinced me that it would be good for me. So I paid him in cash, put the plant and the directions for taking care of it in the back seat of my car, and I left. My buddy laughed when he saw it, but he was more interested in going out, so we dropped the plant off at my flat and drove off.
The next day, before I went to the office, I watered this plant like I was supposed to, and I put it in a good spot, so it would get enough light. And it grew pretty well, too. Within a few weeks, it began to fill out nicely, and, I have to admit, that plant gave my little apartment a nice feel. It reminded me of my parents’ place a little bit. It took the bachelor edge off things.
According to the directions, I really only had to water this plant once a day, but I found myself watering it in the morning before I went to work and again at night as soon as I got home. Outside work, I didn’t have much routine in my life at that time, and I liked the fact that I was actually taking care of this plant, like I really knew what I was doing.
I probably shouldn’t say this, but I started talking to that plant, too. I used to think that people who talked to plants were really crazy, but I did it. I said “Good morning” to it when I first got up, and I even started saying “Hello” when I got home at night after work. On some days, I’d actually ask it questions like, “How was your day today?” or “What’s up, Sweet Green?”
“Sweet Green?” Isn’t that funny? I actually gave it a name. After really bad days, too, I was even telling this plant about my work. I began to get a little worried about myself.
Then, one Sunday, the guys from work came over to watch a football game, and they started giving me grief about having a plant in the apartment. Like I’d gone soft or something.
But instead of falling into their trap and trying to defend myself, I played it up all the more. I told them the plant’s name was “Sweet Green” and that they shouldn’t mess with her because she was my friend. Then, I watered her, and I talked to her, too, just for laughs. They loved it. It got to be a big joke at the office.
“How’s Sweet Green?” they’d say. “Give her our love.”
After about a year or so, this plant had grown about five to six inches in height, and it looked really full, too, just like the directions said it would. It looked so much better than the day I bought it. But, then, I started traveling a little for my job, and I wasn’t as conscientious about watering this plant as I had been. I thought about asking the old landlady downstairs to go in and water it once in a while, but I decided I didn’t want to bother her.
Naturally, the plant started to wilt, and the green leaves began to turn brown, but I have to admit that I didn’t care. I figured it would die, and, maybe, someday, I’d get another one. No big deal.
I was having fun traveling, I was meeting a lot of new people, and I was making more money. I was even making enough to afford a new place, one that was already furnished in a brand new apartment complex. So, after I moved most of my belongings and before I cleaned out the junk in my old place, I stopped in again at that plant shop and had another nice conversation with that same old guy. He actually remembered me and my plant, and he seemed really happy to hear that things were going so well for me. When I told him about the old plant, though, and how I wanted to buy another one for the new place, he wasn’t happy at all about making another sale.
“Is the old one dead?” he asked me.
“Not quite,” I said, feeling a little bit embarrassed that I’d let it go, especially since he obviously cared for the plant more than I did.
“Well, I can’t sell you another one,” he said sternly.
“That’s okay,” I added, thinking he meant he didn’t have any more of that particular kind of plant. “I really like that one over there,” I said, and I pointed to a taller, thinner, and younger-looking plant in the window.”
The old man knew I hadn’t really understood him, so he got a little more serious and said, “No, I mean I can’t sell you another plant, period. Not that plant in the window or any plant in here.”
“Why not?” I asked, somewhat surprised and not sure if he was pulling my leg or not.
“You can only buy one plant here. Then, it’s up to you to take care of it.”
“But, I’m not a gardener,” I said in self-defense. “I don’t think I can bring that plant back to life.”
“Have you tried?”
“Not really,” I admitted. “I just figured I’d come in and get another one.”
“Just let that first one go, you mean, and move on to a new one?” He wasn’t letting up on me at all.
“I guess so,” I said, somewhat defensive, but, then, I came back at him, too. “Why do you care?” I asked. “Aren’t you in the business of selling plants?”
“I am,” he said sternly. “One per customer.”
I knew he was serious about not selling me another one, so I walked out. I didn’t care. His attitude had turned me off completely to plants. So when I cleaned up the old place and turned in the keys, I asked my landlady if she wanted Sweet Green.
“No, she’s yours. You take her and bring her back to life.” I felt like that older generation was ganging up on me. So I threw the plant in the back seat of my car and figured I’d just throw it in the dumpster when I got to my new place. Of course, it wasn’t that easy.
When I got to my new apartment, my parents, my brothers, and my brothers’ wives were all there, and they gave me a big, house-warming, surprise party. They insisted on carrying my stuff in, including Sweet Green.
“You just have to take better care of her,” Mom said. “Give her a little more attention. She’ll be fine.”
Everybody else gave me their advice, too, even my brothers. And their wives started pulling off the dead leaves, and they watered Sweet Green and found a good spot for her near the balcony.
Since they were all being so nice, and since I knew some of them would ask me about Sweet Green in a week or so, I didn’t have the heart to throw her away right then and there. I kept her around, and she didn’t die. Even though I barely took care of her, she hung in there somehow. She was amazing.
Well, you can probably guess what happened next. Just when I thought I was in line for a big promotion, I got laid off. My company got bought out, and the new company didn’t have any room for me. So, I spent the next few months at home putting my resume together, calling people, trying to find myself a new job — and watering Sweet Green. And talking to her again, too.
Now I hate to admit this, but I think that old guy at the plant shop was right. Sweet Green was good for me. Even though she didn’t look that great any more, when I got laid off, she helped me somehow. It was nice just having her there to listen to me when I prepared to make a call about a job or when I read my cover letters aloud to see how they sounded. Soon, I found myself talking to her directly. Asking her questions. Telling her jokes. It was unbelievable. If people were spying on me, they’d think I was completely nuts. But we both got better.
I got over my anger and frustration at having been let go, and she recovered from the time when I neglected her.
It took me over four months to find a new job, but by then, Sweet Green looked better than ever. And I promised her I would never make the same mistake again, no matter how busy I got in my new job and no matter how much fun I was having.
I felt so good about both of us, in fact, that one day after work, I stopped into “The One and Only Plant Shop” again. I really wanted to see that old guy and tell him what had happened, how his plant really had come back to life.
When I walked in, though, he was real busy with one customer, and he had three or four other customers waiting in line for his attention. When I looked closely to see what he was doing, I noticed he was taking a plant out of the window — the one I’d admired on my previous visit. He was preparing it for the first guy in line. The plant itself still looked pretty good, but I wasn’t interested any longer. I had a plant waiting for me at home, and rather than waste any more time looking at other plants, I went home to Sweet Green. And I’m glad I did. She’s my one and only.