Monday, August 19, 2019

See, I've Got These Tomatoes

See, I've Got these Tomatoes ...

      People assume.

      If you are very tall, a lot of questions from strangers will start with basketball, despite the fact that you might not have played it, and despise it. If you are old, a question about what it was like to be in the civil war might upset you. Young people can't distinguish between a forty year old and an eighty year old. They're both old people. So the civil war question is hardly out of the question.

      My garden is mostly azaleas under towering oaks. Some hosta, ferns and heucheras are nice accents. Shade gardening is what I do. On hearing I'm a gardener, a new acquaintance will ask about vegetables which require a lot of sun: normally tomatoes, but sometimes summer squash.

      The answer will depend on my mood and how I want to appear. Despite the fact that I know as much about veggies as a city dweller with a patio-poised potted petunia, there will be times when the desire for an air of infallibility pops out. If I was just introduced to a group of strangers as an expert in gardening, I might want to preserve that fiction, at least for a short time, and preferably for a period after my mouth opens.
Barney attempts to wake up both people who came for his talk.
      Another time might be when I've finished a talk before a garden club and am fielding questions. Here, the aura of “the sage on the stage” is a wearable cloak, until I get home and am told that I have to take out the trash and mow the lawn. Everyone has an ego, and I've decided not to fight mine, but just to go with it. Now we come to the moment in the bullfight where I either insert the sword or dodge the horns. I could say something that I half remember from a website, or another person's remarks: “Yes, eight hours of sunlight is best, but keep them watered and well drained.” Brilliant, and fits every sun-loving plant. Oh, they wanted to know about fertilizer? “Some 20-20-20 in the spring before blooming will get them off to a good start.” Again, seriously generic. How could that be wrong? Well, what if the question was a step above fertilizing, such as stopping blossom-end rot, or the best companion plants for Bell Peppers? Now the bull has me trapped against the fence. Time to bow out, gracefully. Once more, I can shuck-and-jive, hoping the next semi-answer will end the line of questioning, or I can smile weakly and return to the reality that I don't really know everything about everything.

      If a talk is going well and I've built up some credibility, its strength might carry a weak answer and few would notice. If a talk is not flowing well and the audience has discovered the joy of their smart phones, then there might be nothing to lose. But do I want to give them a dumb answer, anyway?

      If we could assign probabilities to the alternatives, as in behavioral economics, then the choice would be the answer with the expected gain greater than the expected loss. OK, that's not going to happen. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann is not sharing the stage, calculator in hand.

      Sometimes I DO want to give a generic, possibly misguided, answer and try to look magisterial. Sometimes I'm happy to say, “I don't know. I just grow azaleas. Anyone here wanna see a magic trick?”

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