George Ball, Chairman and CEO of the W. Atlee Burpee Co., Trustee of The Horticultural Society of New York, and past president of the American Horticultural Society in Washington D.C., wrote this ever-so-horticultural short story. We share it with you here to spread holiday cheer and wish you a Happy New Year.
Call him Santa. Some moments ago, after measuring the behavior of the world’s children, managing construction of several hundred million toys by elves, raising and tending magic reindeer, and mapping this year’s delivery routes, he found himself wanting to knock an elf’s hat off, or set the sleigh ablaze. Even Santa gets the blues.
So many more kids these past few years, he muses. The winters getting colder, chimneys tighter than they used to be. He can adapt to just so much change. Magic goes only so far, even for Santa.
“What to do this off-season?” he ponders. As much as Santa wants the extra cash, he needs a break—and a makeover. The Southern Hemisphere’s “Christmas in July” shows have been fading away. In Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, South Africa, demographics have changed. Besides, they stole his thunder, if not comfort and joy. Brutal trip, too.
Being omniscient, Santa sees that a seed company is hiring. Seasonal work from January to May. Hmm, seeds … interesting! He trims his hair and beard, dons work apparel, summons Blitzen, flies down and presents himself. The factory is so busy, the Human Resources clerk whisks “Mr. S. Claus” through. I’m hired!
When Santa sees the colorful packets lined up for packing and shipping, his mind lights up like a Christmas tree. “So exotic, yet so oddly familiar.” He takes the mail order catalog back to his rented abode and reads it cover to cover.
Later Santa notices several familiar seeds and plants. Being a deer maven, he knows their leaves are too rough or spiny for deer’s throats. He suggests developing a new collection of deer-resistant varieties to his manager, who promotes him to oversee the Vegetable Department. Santa might not want to turn away deer, but gardeners sure do.
Santa is surprised by the “Large Carrots” section. His deer wisdom returns. “This carrot is so huge and sweet, it’s perfect for deer”, he tells the manager. “It looks orange to us but to deer, it’s gold. Plant a small plot to both satiate their carrot-lust and keep them away from your garden”. Mr. S. Claus becomes the toast of the marketing team, which incorporates his lore into the upcoming catalog.
One late April morning, after a week of shipping tomato transplants, Santa bolts awake with an aha! moment. “All these seeds and plants are gifts that, in turn, produce gifts that, in turn, keep giving even more gifts.” The gift of all gifts.
Rubbing his eyes, Santa realizes that Christmas, with its lights, colors and the abundance of the gifts he brings, is a spirited representation of spring and summer, with their dazzling sunshine, myriad hues—and abounding harvest. Christmas by other means.
In late May, at the end of the “busy season”, Santa receives a bonus for being so “good” (amusing him no end) and whistles Blitzen back down. Returning to the North Pole, they fly over flowering spring gardens where he sees pea-vine rows and green-bean fences; peonies, daisies and snapdragons in bloom. Everything comes together in an epiphany: Gardening is the source of all that is good or “nice”, and of nothing that is bad or “naughty”.
Back home, to the joy of Mrs. Claus, the elves and the reindeer, Santa begins construction on his new workshop—a greenhouse.