Have you dreamed of having a plant named after you? Buddleia ‘Bubbah’s Blush’ or Marrubium ‘Mandy’s Madness’, maybe?
Perhaps my time has come.
Tennisia goodnickii ‘Cool Green Gardens’ has a nice lilt. Not that I’ll do the final naming of the never-before-seen tree in my new client’s garden. Okay, it wasn’t a whole tree, but you’ll see what I mean.
At first, the magnitude of my discovery didn’t compute. I was at a client’s property dragging a measuring tape with my right hand, scribblingnumbers with my left, and video-recording with the other.
I limboed under a low-slung branch of a coast redwood, glanced down and noticed a half-buried tennis ball. My clients own a few Black Labradors who are fond of fetching, so nothing seemed unusual.
The furry coating on the ball was worn, but still visible. It was dirty and likely drenched in saliva-borne doggie DNA. But for some reason, I bent and picked it up.
The ball resisted. It resisted a lot.
“Maybe it sprouted roots,” joked one of the voices in my head. It was Shecky, the comedian, doing his Bullwinkle Moose voice.
“Nonsense!” I said aloud, in a dismissive tone. I pulled a bit harder and heard the sound all gardeners know as rootlets pop, pop, popped like a bubble wrap yoga mat.
I stared at the encrusted orb in my hand. Living roots radiated from the bottom. Though additional research and scientific stuff was probably in order, the implications were clear: I had discovered the germinating seed of a tennis ball tree. I’ll be famous! I’ll pack lecture halls around the world and be hosted by delegations of noted botanists.
“Not so fast.” Shecky tends to butt in without raising his hand. “If it’s growing roots, where’s the stem? Where are the cotyledons?” (Shecky paid more attention in botany class than this C-student.)
He had a point. As any third-grader who’s sprouted a bean seed for their science project remembers, the stem of a newborn plant usually makes an appearance before the roots.
What had moments ago begun as an Icarus-like rise to the heights of glory crashed, as the white-hot rays of logic melted my fragile wings of hope.
On closer inspection it became clear that there was a simpler, though less sexy explanation. Here’s my theory:
1. The human throws a man-made tennis ball across the lawn, into an overgrown thicket of Carissa grandiflora ‘Green Carpet’ (Natal plum, known for its viciously forked spines poking from between the twigs).
2. The frenzied Black Lab bounds after the ball. Losing sight of its quarry, the dog switches to nostril mode, hoping to sniff out the ball. OUCH! “Nose piercings might be all the rage for twenty-somethings, but I’m out of here.”
3. Over time, the elements dry the resilient walls of the ball causing it to split. Soil and debris fill the void.
4. Within a few weeks hungry roots spread into the ball, creating the impression of a root system.
Damn that rational, Spock-like lobe of my brain! Why does there always have to be a logical explanation?
Fame slipped my grasp as quickly as it arrived. There will be no tickertape parade down Broadway and no luxury suites at the annual convocation of the Royal Horticultural Society. If fame is to be mine, I’ll have to earn it the old-fashion way-caught by paparazzi in a drug-addled Rodeo Drive haze in the company of Lindsay Lohan.