Extreme Gardening

Shama wanted to turn his life around. He had escaped from his life of crime in the City and found this peaceful village, but had yet to find a job. The opportunities were all in Strattus, half an hour away; the only jobs available in Lucerne were working in the grocery or hardware stores for ten bucks an hour. He would rather go back to robbing kids and selling drugs. There was also seasonal farm work, which paid about the same, but was outdoors and you got fresh produce. He might try that if he was still here in the summer.

He spent most of his time in the forest hunting rabbits and grouse, which he ate himself, and sometimes deer, which provided some income. He also hung around village cafes, getting coffee refills. When he discovered the Botanical Garden, he began to spend time there. He found inexplicable joy in the garden, especially in its Prime Indigenous Areas – the Amazon Rainforest filled with mysterious fertility; the Egyptian Oasis, a cool, calm haven; the Babylonian Hanging Gardens were so vibrant it felt like you were in an ancient cartoon book. It was amazing that there was no entry charge.

Shama saw workers toiling in many parts of the garden. They hardly said a word to each other, and rarely acknowledged visitors. This was a pleasant change from the village, where everybody wanted to know your business. He wanted nobody to know his business. The Botanical Garden suited him well.

One day a voice from behind him said, “I hope that you are enjoying our Garden. We take our duty here very seriously. We make every effort to ensure it thrives.”

“Yes, I like it,” said Shama. Who was this man, he wondered, with his gold-white beard and green suit? He’d heard the creator of this place was called The Gardener. Maybe this was him.

The man said, “I’ve seen you many times during the daytime. Are you working at present?” Shama felt nervous at the man’s intrusion but told him the truth; he was struggling to make a living in Lucerne.

“Have you considered studying gardening? It is the first of all human arts.”

Shama said wasn’t cave-painting the first?

“No, that’s not true. Gardening came before cave-painting, fire-making, and hunting with weapons. Where do you suppose natural colours came from, and kindling, and beasts?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” said Shama. “They all come from the earth of course.”

“Yes that’s true, young man, as far as it goes. But there’s much we can teach you here that will benefit you, and the world. Why don’t you enrol for our next programme? It won’t cost you a penny. All of our students are fully funded by The Authority; it knows the true value of our education.”

Shama indicated the workers digging and planting nearby. “Can’t you offer me a job like those people? My need right now is for money, and I was never good at school anyway.”

The Gardener smiled and stroked his beard. “Young man, education always comes before money. Improve your mind and cash comes running, guaranteed! Those workers are all students too. After a month of successful study we offer them a five-year work/study contract, and as their skills develop, so does their pay. Rest assured, none are earning minimum wage, and they love their work.”

Even though it was getting dark, and an early moon was apparent, their pace did not slacken. “What do you teach them, and what work do they do?”

“They are enrolled on the B.Sc. Extreme Gardening course, affiliated with Luna University. In their first year they study Taxonomy, Plant Pathology, Soil Health, Entomology, Multicultural Landscaping, Sustainable Gardening, Nuisance Wildlife Management, and Integrated Pest Control.”

“All in the first year?” said Shama. “What about the other four years?”

“They are all dedicated to Impact Gardening. They learn the process by which impact events stir the outermost crusts of celestial objects; these erode over time to form the first soils on planets, from which life evolves. As I said, gardening is the first human art.”

Shama said, “I’m still confused about the order of things…”

“When our last home was threatened, humans terraformed earth; the soil we created made life here possible. Now our planet is threatened again, we must begin elsewhere.” He pointed up to the moon. “As a cosmic being, are you ready for your next challenge?”

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