Book Excerpt: (L)eavesdropping by Luke Ruggenberg

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From the Blurb:

“What’s your favorite plant?” “How do you get rid of a stump?” “Who are you and what are you doing in my flower bed, weirdo?”

Stray too far into any garden and such are the questions you might overhear before the police show up to escort you away. Eavesdrop with Luke Ruggenberg, however, and you’ll have no choice but to linger within earshot as an offbeat group of gardeners hash out their feelings on topics both mundane and absurd. Listen in as they haggle over the resale value of used gardening tools, discuss backyard solutions to the apocalypse, and struggle to raise the next generation of gardeners. Perk your ears long enough and you might even discover the ultimate prize in store for whoever wins this crazy game called gardening.

From the harebrained horticulturist who brought you “Plants are Terrible People,” and “Twenty Reasons Not To Garden (And Why I Ignore Them All),” comes a freshly composted collection of hysterical and disarming conversations about life, love, and the loamy limits of sanity.

                                                                  

A Transaction

Hapless visitors to the garden are often the target of aggressive and unsolicited gifts. No matter whether they have any use for a sawdust-packed dahlia or a packet of mysterious seeds; it is better to accept such offerings graciously than to risk offending the fragile gardener. Better still to avoid being a hapless visitor in the first place.

“Oh! I’m so glad you asked! That plant over there is none other than a—”

“Wait, I’m so sorry, did I … did I ask something?”

“Well … maybe not in words, per se, but I could tell you were looking that way. Hard not to. They are unbelievable this time of year. You were thinking it. Heh-heh. Don’t pretend you weren’t thinking it, now.”

“I-I—”

“So, since you asked: that, my friend, is a very special plant indeed. Meconopsis. Himalayan blue poppy.”

“O-okay. Yes, it is very … blue—”

“That particular species is quite rare. Quite rare. And a dickens to grow. It was given to me by a famous collector, you may have heard of her—”

“Oh, no, I’m sorry, I doubt it. I’m not really—”

“Well, nevertheless, you have good taste to notice. Excellent taste in plants. Did you say you were a gardener, too?”

“N-no, uh, I think I said my wife … likes flowers.”

“Ah! Yes, mine did too. Loved them. Well, shoot, where do you think flowers come from?”

“I-I mean, she usually gets them from the grocery store or the—”

“That’s right, the garden!”

“Oh. No, I know, but … okay.”

“Seems to me, you’re at least a gardener by association.”

“I, uh, I am?”

“Oh, and it’s a slippery slope, my friend. Gardening is. One minute you’re begging to know what that unreal blue flower is, and the next … well, you have to have it yourself.”

“But I didn’t—”

“But you can’t! Unfortunately, you can’t have that one. The Meconopsis. Hate to be disturbed, they do. But! I’m sure we can find something for you. Some seed, bulb, division; some parcel of glorious, reproductive plant magic for a friend. The garden is never without gifts for a burgeoning fellow gardener. To give them a little … push … down that slippery slope. Heh-heh.”

“Oh, no … really, that’s okay. I’m sorry, but I do need to—”

“I know what you need. No, I know exactly what you need! Your wife likes flowers, yes? Well does … she like … dahlias?”

“Err … probably? To be honest, I’m actually not sure which ones those are. But if we could just—”

“Of course she does! Who doesn’t love a dahlia? Dahlias were my wife’s favorite, you know. She could never have enough dahlias. She got new ones every year. I’d give them to her as gifts. She’d buy them every time we visited a new garden center or plant sale. Scour the catalogs for new hybrids or old heirlooms. Folks would come from all over to see her dahlias in full bloom. We’d see them walking past on tiptoe trying to get a better view from the sidewalk. Guess how many.”

“W-what? How many people would come, or …?”

“No! Guess how many dahlias she had. How many different cultivars.”

“Uh … culti-what now?”

“I mean, in her heyday, how many do you think she had? She of course had a hard time keeping up with all of them later on, when she … well, that is to say, priority-wise, lifting dozens of dahlia tubers and putting them in storage was not … she didn’t have the energy to … oh, I tried to help, but it just wasn’t the same for her if I did the dirty work. You know how that goes, women can be stubborn—not that I’m not, mind you, heh-heh, but so, how many do you think?”

“How … many. Uh, well—”

“Guess.”

“Oh jeez. Fifty? I guess?”

“Darn close. Darn close. You’re very keen. Very keen. Sixty-three, in fact, at her peak. Sixty-three different varieties of dahlia. Nowadays though, I just leave them in the ground and … let the survivors survive. Like me, I guess, right? Ha! I’m still here! No, I’d say there are about fifteen left now, give or take.  But I do dig them up and divide them occasionally, so I’ve got some of the best, hardiest ones out in the shed, in sawdust, all ready to give to an up-and-coming gardener such as yourself. This is your lucky day!”

“Wow, that’s … really kind of you. Really. Um … and I’m sorry about your wife, but, uh, I really need to be—”

“Oh, don’t be sorry. Don’t. It’s … it was—hey, come on back, why don’t you?!”

“Back … wait, what? Back where?”

“The shed, it’s in the back, we’ll grab a choice specimen for you to take home to your wife. Come on. I won’t take no for an answer.”

“How about a ‘no thank you’?”

“Ha! Funny, too, this one. Keen and funny. I like you. My wife would have liked you, too. Maybe she would have liked your wife, too, heh? In another universe, maybe we’d all be friends having tapas and wine together. You like tapas?”

“I don’t … know? I like wine okay.”

“Oh, we’d get along famously, all of us! You two can’t be that much younger than us—than me. And don’t worry about the tapas, we’d find you something you like, we used to go to this neat little spot down by the lake. You seem like a tapas kind of guy, whether you know it yet or not. We’d find something you like. I’d order for you.”

“Yeah, no, uh … in that particular hypothetical situation I would definitely appreciate any, uh … insight you might offer, menu-wise and … tapas-wise.”

“Well shoot, you run it by your wife anyway, see what she thinks.”

“What she thinks about …? I mean, sure! Yeah, sure. I’ll see what she thinks. Definitely. Okay, but for now, uh, if we could just …?”

 “Oh! Of course, of course, here I am blathering on about tapas. Let’s take care of business. I promised you a dahlia tuber, didn’t I? Right, follow me, back this way!”

“No! Uh … jeez … wait! Wait, we still need to—”

“To get your dahlia! I know. Come on, this way. Mind the rambling rose on the arbor there, she’s got claws, that one.”

“Ow! Yeah, I see that. I don’t really … need a dahlia, though.”

“No one needs a dahlia. No one needs such beautiful, vibrant, life-giving things in their lives. But dear lord, what is your life without them? My friend, you need a dahlia more than you know.”

“B-but, my wife and I live in an apartment! Where would we even put—”

“Put it in a pot on the balcony! It’ll be spectacular! You get lots of sun?”

“Not … really, no!”

“Eh, I’m sure you get enough.”

“How could you … know that—look, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your … generous, uh—”

“Nonsense! It would’ve made my wife happy to see her dahlias making their way out into the world. Her babies, they were.”

“Right. I mean, I’d love to take home one of your … wife’s babies, but—”

“THEN JUST TAKE IT!”

“W-what?”

“Here! For the love of God! It’s not hard to just … take a dahlia that someone’s offering to you! I’ll never see you again; do what you want with it. Just give me this! Take it now and let me think she’s still alive and moving in this world! TAKE IT! This one is ‘Café Au Lait’ and IT’S GORGEOUS! It was her FAVORITE!”

“Sir … I don’t understand, I’m just—”

“Take it and GO! Please, I feel like a fool already. Tapas! What on earth was I—just go, please. Give it good soil. As much sun as you can. Or … don’t, just dump it in the trash the moment you get home. I’ll never know one way or another. Just leave, please.”

“I … but … okay, I will, I just need—”

“What?! What do you need, my friend? I think we’ve already established that you have no idea what you really need in this life. How could you? You’re not even, what, twenty-five? Thirty maybe? Live a little first, why don’t you. See some things. Try tapas! Stick around long enough to see your wife wither before you like one of these dahlias after a frost and then—THEN talk to me about what you need. Here!”

“I … I’m sorry. Really. I’m so sorry. But … well, I do need you to—”

“WHAT?!”

“—To pay for your pizza, sir.”

“What?”

“The … your … pizza that you ordered. The one I handed to you half an hour ago? I can take, uh, cash or credit, or …”

***

Luke Ruggenberg is a writer, horticulturist, and afficionado of berry jams. His previous books include Twenty Reasons Not To Garden (And Why I Ignore Them All) and Plants are Terrible People. His favorite jam is tayberry. When he’s not writing, he can usually be found gardening or yelling at squirrels in the Seattle area, where he lives with his amazing wife and two children.

For more info about Luke’s projects, stop by lukeruggenberg.com. For pictures of neat plants and root vegetables he is especially proud of, check him out on Twitter or Instagram.

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