The Two Kinds of People

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Male and female? Black and white? Nope.

There are two kinds of people: gardeners and … um, well, whatever you call the others. They don’t seem to understand each other very well.

Last autumn, my friend Paul and I strolled through a well-manicured, upscale neighborhood near where he lives. I noticed all these workers tending lawns, raking leaves, and putting bags of grass and leaves at the curbsides. There are no compost piles here, I thought. Indeed, the houses were very grand, but the yards were very small. After a while, I mused aloud, “Why would anyone want to live here?”

My old friend stopped walking, looked at me in a new way, and said. “Because crime is low and the streets are safe, the schools are good, and the location is convenient to the airport and major highways.”

I thought his tone was a bit icy; perhaps that’s because Paul lives in the same zip code, albeit in a townhouse.

“But there’s no place for a garden,” I replied, stating the obvious.

Paul, though, is not a gardener. He provides subsistence care to the azaleas that came with his townhouse and hires a lawn service to maintain the rest. And he only does that much because not doing so resulted in a letter from his homeowners’ association. When considering his home, “Room for a Garden” did not even make his “Nice to Have” checklist at the bottom, much less the “Must Have” section near the top. By contrast, my realtor could draw up the contract once he toured me through the sunny half-acre I bought. It just happened to have an old house sitting on part of it.

On Christmas Day, Paul and some other friends and I were munching cinnamon rolls, sipping coffee, and exchanging presents. When my turn came, I eagerly removed the bow and plastic lid on a big bucket of compost given to me by Janet. Janet is a professional gardener who gardens in her backyard and volunteers at a local park. Because the park gives free compost to its volunteers, she was able to give huge buckets of the black gold to all her gardening friends for Christmas. Paul and Tricia (Janet’s nongardening sister) assumed the gift was some kind of a sick joke. Then they saw how overjoyed I was. My daughter was very happy for me, but then she’s a gardener. This prompted me to recount the time my husband had eight tons of composted horse manure dumped in the yard. He put a bar of French soap on the top with a bow. I hugged him till he hurt. The gardeners thought it was a very romantic story. 

Paul and Tricia didn’t get it.

Mr. Batty stopped by a week or two ago to give us some nice cameras. Recently widowed, he was moving to a smaller place and divesting himself of many of his possessions. I remembered years ago when he’d bought that house. The soil was on a rocky incline, but he’d carefully removed the rocks and begun building up the soil. At the time, I had a source of free horse manure, so we made a number of forays in his old station wagon for organic fertilizer.

Now Mr. Batty is in his 80’s and his gait is unsteady. His children urged him to move to a smaller house on a level site, so he’s moving. But with a youthful twinkle in his eye, he promised me he’ll be taking his garden, soil and all, with him. I don’t suppose anyone but a gardener would understand why a lifetime’s acquisitions should be pared down, but a garden moved in its entirety!

I made a new friend today. Her name is Ashley. When she put out a church-wide plea for help packing and moving, my husband and I volunteered. The apartment she was leaving had a vast expanse of window with bright sunlight streaming in. I noticed that while everything else was simply shoved into the moving van or car trunk, her plants were being left for a separate, careful trip to the new location. There were a number of houseplants, but when I saw half a dozen potted herbs, I knew for sure I’d met a gardener. I asked her if the new place had room for a garden, and she looked at me as though I’d asked if it had a bathroom.

Ashley is getting married in April. When she mentioned that she and her fiancé had listed a composter on their gift registry, I completely understood.

But not everybody would.

This story was originally published in GreenPrints, “The Weeder’s Digest,” the magazine that shares the personal side of gardening. Visit our website,

Illustrations by Mary T. Ey