Published in the June 13, 2016 edition.


In Wakefield, there is Jean Anderson. Joan Chetwynd. Cara Crockett. Mary Sullivan.

Who are these women? If you don’t know, they are merveilleus jardinier, French for wonderful gardener(s).

These ladies would make great additions to any garden center, since their knowledge about plants and flowers is vast.

Jean knows all about flower and vegetable growing and she loves working with soil. In good weather, Joan is always out in her corner garden on the West Side planting and pulling weeds. Mary tends the colorful gardens at the Hartshorne House and does a fantastic job. Right now iris is in bloom on the House’s grounds. And Cara is a professional gardener, having worked at various small garden centers and big chains.

They all have one thing in common: They know a petunia from a pansy. I wish one of them could have helped me last week when I was shopping for a hibiscus plant.

Tony and I were invited to a birthday party for a woman who is about to turn 60, so I asked her husband what she might like for a gift. His answer: She would love a hardy hibiscus, which is a beautiful tropical plant that grows to about five feet tall and has big blooms in various colors.

I’m not the gardener in my house. Tony’s the one with the bright green thumb, while mine is more the color of the bottom part of a celery stick. In years past, we’ve had hibiscus plants on our front porch. They were blooming wonders until the winter of 2015. He kept “grow lights” on them in the cellar during the cold months, but it was so frigid in 2015 that they did not survive. The hibiscus we had were 10 years old, so there was some grieving going on at our house when we had to hold a funeral for them.

But back to our friend’s upcoming birthday party. It’s being held in Maine at our friends’ home the weekend of June 17. A neighbor told me she’d been to a garden center recently and found that the plants were getting picked over quickly, so I figured I’d better get a move on if I wanted to buy our friend a hardy hibiscus.

So, off to one of the big chain stores I went. And when I got there, I was pleased to find that there were plenty of healthy looking plants available in all colors of the rainbow. I was even more pleased to think I’d be in and out of there in a matter of minutes. But I was wrong.

I approached a kiosk in the garden center where two women were at the cash registers.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Could you please tell me where I can find hibiscus?”

Both women looked at each other, then back to me. “Hibiscus?” one said. “How do you spell that? What is it?”

Uh-oh. Now I was in for it.

“It’s a tropical plant that stands about this tall,” I said, showing the height with my hand. “It has big blooms. I know you have them on sale because I saw them in your flyer.”

The women glanced at each other again. One scratched her head. The other one picked up a flyer and started thumbing through it.

Where were Jean, Joan, Mary and Cara when I needed them?

The woman looking through the flyer had trouble finding the hibiscus plants. “This must be the wrong flyer,” she said to herself. To which I replied, “It was an insert in one of the newspapers.”

Just then, a customer came to the kiosk, a man who had a carriage filled with potting soil, purple salvia and an azalea bush. But no hibiscus. I asked him if he had seen any while he was shopping.

“No, I didn’t. Sorry.” He turned back to the clerk to pay for his purchases.

The other woman stepped out of the kiosk and looked around. “Maybe I should call a manager,” she said.

And I thought, maybe there should be some training before the store puts you to work in a garden center.

I didn’t say this aloud because it wasn’t the woman’s fault that she didn’t know anything about hibiscus plants. I blame the store for not teaching their employees the basics before sticking them in a certain department. The people who work for these big chains probably earn minimum wage but wouldn’t you think the managers in charge would at least teach their workers how to tell the difference between a pansy and a petunia? I didn’t dare ask the question about these flowers for fear the women wouldn’t know about them, either.

I decided to take a walk around the garden center myself to look for the hibiscus. I knew it was an annual, so I started inside the store. No luck. So, I ventured outside but I still didn’t see any.

I went back inside the store and asked one of the women to call for a manager and she did. Soon, a lanky older gentleman came into the garden center.

“I’m the manager,” he said. “Is there someone looking for me?”

“That would be me,” I said. “Please tell me you know where I can find a hibiscus plant. I know you have them. They’re in your flyer.”

He gave me a blank look. Fortunately for both of us, a clerk from another department happened to walk past and heard our conversation.

“The hibiscus are outside, way in back. I’ll show you.”

And she did. But it had taken nearly 40 minutes for her to come to my aid.

Companies, whether stores, real estate brokers or restaurants need to train their people so they can be of help to customers. Otherwise, the businesses come off looking foolish and I’m quite sure their employees suffer stress when they can’t help someone.

After making my purchase — I bought a hibiscus with bright red blooms — another customer recommended a few smaller garden centers where employees know their plants. People like Jean, Joan, Mary and Cara.

This is the growing season and gardens in Wakefield are blooming like crazy. If you want to avoid frustration, be forewarned. Not every garden center hires people who know their plants.

The store I went to would be fortunate to have any of these four ladies on their staff. I wish they did work at garden centers, but they don’t. Next time, I’ll take the customer’s advice and go to a smaller garden center if I need something. I’ll probably pay a little more but it’ll save me time and eliminate frustration.

(Call me at 781-246-9863 if you want me to take photos of your garden. If I can gather enough photos, the Daily Item can run a full page of your winning blooms.)