Reporters are often accused of digging up the dirt for a story. I'm guilty as charged in the latest "Art, do my job!"
I took on the challenge of nursery worker.
My boss for the day wasted no time putting me to work.
" We got your hat.. and we got your gloves," he said as I walked up to the office.
He's not real big on wasting time. One of the first things he said was that I.. "showed up a little bit late for work."
He was just kidding, I think.
But Leslie Hudson of Hudson Farm and Nursery in Cairo wasn't kidding about our first task: filling dozens of plastic pots with potting soil as quick as you can.
"All right Art. You got to do four at the time, he barked.
"I have to do four at a time?"
Tony Cornell and Leslie started working together three-and-a-half decades ago at another nearby nursery... and the roots of their friendship go down deep.
Says Tony, "we both enjoy working outside and we been doing it for so long, we just enjoy it."
We asked Tony how many of these pots of potting soil he had filled up over the years.
"I'd say at least a million"
Next up-- operating the heavy machinery.
"Art, do you drive tractors?"
"I can try."
I managed not to strip the gears or dump the pots as I headed for the greenhouses.
A quick dousing with water and we were ready to plant.Leslie held up a small, sharp stick.
"We got our high-tech planting device here... this is called a dibble."
I grabbed it and started punching three-inch holes in the potting soil.
" So am I dibbling okay? You're dibbling very well."
With the dibbling done, we could gently drop these sun-loving plants called coleus into the pots.
Next task: Create something called a mixed planter.
Leslie's advice: "If you'll just keep in mind you need a thriller, a filler and a spiller."
The thriller is the biggest, most eye-catching plant. I chose the peace lily.
The filler is something that fills the space in the pot just below the thriller..
And the spiller literally spills out of the pot toward the ground.
"The gloves are gonna have to come off for this, " I said as i threw them onto the potting table.
It went pretty well... till I dropped a 'filler. ' Leslie was reassuring, saying
"It's a good thing plants are pretty tough!"
" I killed it.. I killed it!," I cried out as I tried to pull the root ball together and get the plant into the pot.
Despite my flower fumble, Leslie's wife, Scottie was actually pretty impressed with my arrangement.
" You've got different textures.. different heights. You did well."
When Scottie was growing up, her dad had greenhouses too. And when they'd go on vacation the kids would groan when their father would want to stop and look at plants.
"A truly full circle moment," says Scottie, "is when you're traveling with your children. We would drive down the road and they would say ' He's gonna stop and hug a tree!'"
Speaking of hugging a tree, I thought I'd ask Leslie the question almost all of us want answered.
"Why do plants look great when I get 'em from the nursery, and horrible soon after I take 'em home?"
Leslie says "probably the most critical factor in keeping a plant alive is water. And people tend to either over-water.. or they tend to under-water."
So... how critical was Leslie of my job performance?
He liked my creativity, but said I needed to speed up, and get more organized.
" If he could work on those skills, I think he's gonna make a great news man one day!"
As we wrapped up and said goodbye to the crew and their morale officer, Pippin the puppy, it was clear they were all blooming where they were planted.
"It's fun to deal with people... and you know, dealing with God's beauty in the world... flowers. And there's nothing any more enjoyable to me."