I remember gardening since I was a little kid. I watched my grandpa prune roses. I watched my mom pick cherries and apples off trees in our backyard in Chicago. I made summer money by cutting grass for several neighbors. I had plants in my bedroom window in high school and later in my college dorm. Every spring I would plant geraniums, petunias, and vinca in my gramma’s balcony pots while she played piano.
As an adult I have had vegetable gardens, herb gardens, flower gardens, and still drive by past houses and apartments to visit trees I planted. While I taught art courses as a college adjunct, I also did landscaping for a landlord with several apartment buildings, and I would move bushes and saplings from one property to another and start cuttings in my apartment to plant at his locations. Later on, I had acreage in Round Top, Texas, and sowed wildflower seeds in little hidden meadows.
Recently I have been traveling back and forth to St Louis while my mom has been seeing several doctors for different issues. Before I fly, I always look over the crowd and set my intention for whom I’d like in the seat next to me should the plane be full. It depends on my mood that flight, but a good seatmate can make the flight go by with grace and ease. I can usually pick 3 or 4 and I often manifest one of them in my row.
One night, on a late flight, there was a man sitting near my gate, and on the floor in front of him was a small mango tree. I knew it wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin nor under his seat. I wondered if he had bought the tree a ticket. I decided that I would like to sit next to the tree, and kind of laughed to myself.
He was one of the last people on the plane, and of course, he sat in the middle seat next to my window seat. The tree plopped down between his legs on the floor, the black plastic pot nudged under the seat in front of him. The leaves came up to his chin. He apologized for the invasion of space, but I told him I was expecting him there. The man on the other side, however, was not pleased that leaves were touching his leg.
When the lights went down, I got out a pad of yellow paper and a green felt tip pen and started sketching…and he started telling stories. I had the only overhead light on in the area and studied the leaves and his knees while he reminisced about his childhood in Pakistan. Eventually he came to the US and ended up in New York, and was now moving to live with his son in Houston. He had a suitcase in the cargo hold but wanted to bring this brown mango tree which he had grown from a seed. He was assured it could be planted in the ground in Houston and survive the winters. He wanted his son to eat its brown papayas that reminded him of his own childhood.
I asked him how his love of gardening began, and he told a long tale about a neighbor in New York. This man had grafted 42 different varieties of fruit tree branches onto a single specimen tree. I drew this second tree as he told the story of peaches, pears, apples, and cherries branching off the same trunk. I have never questioned, until writing this, if it was a true story.