Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Parable of the Cat's Foot

It was a problem, and it was making me a little edgy.

The planter box.  All photos by Geonni Banner.
I had a planter box made for the courtyard of the apartment building I manage.  I had it filled with good potting soil, and chose plants that wouldn’t require a lot of care, but would look nice.  Everyone seemed to like it.

So it went for some time.  There was one type of plant that I had chosen that upped and died.  There were three of them, and they all died during the winter.  So I suppose they may have simply been annuals.

I considered a couple of options for replacing the dead plants, but the spaces were quickly filled in by a pretty little ground-hugging weed called Cat’s Foot.  Cat’s Foot has charming little miniature flowers that look something like wild violets.

Cat's Foot
The presence of the Cat’s Foot made it easy to put off deciding what kind of plant to get to replace the ones that had died.  But as the weeks went by I noticed something that irked me.  

Tenants coming out of the building to go somewhere would often stop and drop off a bag of garbage or recycling in the bins adjacent to the planter box.  When they did this they would often drop a daypack or some other thing that they were carrying – flump! – on the planter box, on top of the Cat’s Foot. 

Sometimes people would actually sit on the same spot.  This really annoyed me.

Cat’s Foot is soft and delicate.  This kind of treatment would often crush the plants, and it would take days or weeks for them to fill the space in again. 

My annoyance with the careless smashing of these lovely little plants disturbed me.  I said so to a friend who also lives in the building.  He was not especially sympathetic.  He considered the convenience of having a space to plunk things down to rate higher that the aesthetic value of uncrushed plants.  I mulled this over while the friend and I perused the nursery at Home Depot for replacement plants for the planter box.  As manager, I felt that I should have the final word on the subject.  But then as I continued to think, it came to me that it would be best to look at it from the point of view of others. 

Replacement plant.
Perhaps there was another way to look at this problem.  Perhaps there was a way to handle it so that it wouldn’t be a problem - not for anybody.

So instead of buying 3 plants for the three empty spaces, I just bought two.  Instead of a third plant, I bought large a terra-cotta paver.  I took home the two new plants and the paver.  The plants went into  two of the gaps, and the paver went into the space where the tenants had been plunking down their daypacks and whatnot.  I re-routed the tendrils of the Cat’s Foot away from the paver.  Problem solved.  I left the paver slightly sloped so water wouldn’t stand on it, but not so sloped as to make things slide off of it. 

The paver
This was a good lesson for me.  Seeing the viewpoint of others is not always easy, especially when their viewpoint runs counter to our own.  When I was able to see that the planter box was very large, and could be purposed for more than one use, I saw that I could still have my green and pleasant space – with Cat’s Foot – and my neighbors could have a part of the space to put their stuff down and make their lives a tiny bit easier.  

How cool is that?

Our "grandfather" grapevine.  It's huge.

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