A long time ago there lived a man who loved flowers and plants. As he wandered around the countryside, he would plant seeds in barren areas and he would encourage plants by removing the thistles that were choking them, by watering those wilting in the heat and by giving them vital nutrients. If he thought that a plant was too weak to survive where it was, he would replant it near his house so that he could give it special care. He was able to see the potential beauty in plants that were nearly dead and people were astonished at how he could transform a sickly specimen into a magnificent bloom.
His work, particularly with the flowers round his house, attracted interest and a few people started to help him on a regular basis and to learn from him how to bring out the best in plants. He had a simple slogan – “Plants are beautiful!” He became known as “The Plantsman”.
One day he had to leave for a distant country where his father needed him. He left his assistants to carry on his work and they in turn recruited more helpers.
All went well for a while, but plant seeds are blown by the wind and bees cross-pollinate flowers. Several of the newer helpers became concerned that some flowers were mutating and producing different colours and shapes, and the new generations of others were growing further from the house. It was decided to build a high wall round the plants nearest to the house to create a garden, so that the plant strains could be kept pure. Gardeners were appointed to look after the plants within the garden. They found it easier to work on a simple rule that any plants outside the garden were weeds.
The head gardener also drew up, using stories and letters about the plantsman, details of what each plant must look like to be accepted as beautiful. These criteria became known as the beauty rules. Any mutation occurring within the garden that did not conform to these rules had to be dug up and burnt. The slogan was amended to: ‘Only the beautiful are plants’, because they decided that this is what the plantsman had really meant to say.
Gardeners still went out into the countryside to search for plants that had the potential to fit into the garden. Some were very diligent in this. If they found any that met the beauty rules, they would try their best to transplant them into the garden, though some of these wilted in the new surroundings.By now there were many who had never met the plantsman in the flesh. They eagerly listened to stories about him or read reports of what he had said. One of the most popular stories was that the plantsman’s last words had been that he would be back and they fully expected him to return sometime soon. The gardeners were convinced that with their help he would apply the beauty rules across the world, root out all the weeds and turn the world into one big garden of beautiful plants that met all the criteria.
One day the plantsman did return but his appearance had changed a great deal over the intervening years and no-one recognized him in his modern clothes. Most of the gardeners were too busy mending the walls or maintaining the garden to take much account of the quiet figure. He was very sad to see the high wall and the new division between garden plants and weeds that he saw as wild flowers, because he still loved all plants and could see the beauty in all of them.
He watched what the gardeners were doing and occasionally asked them questions. Many laughed at the old fellow who could not understand the beauty rules, but some were greatly encouraged by his interest and a few felt strangely challenged by his concern for wildflowers. Most of the time, however, he spent back at his old task of nurturing and rescuing the plants in the countryside.
Sometimes, he came into the garden unnoticed and added nutrients to certain plants. Both in the garden and in the countryside you could see where he had been, because the plants there bloomed at their very best and gave joy to all who saw them.
© Philip Sudworth 2004