“And you’re sure you’re a real landscaper?” the man asked, scratching his bearded chin.
“Yes, I studied landscape design in college,” Martin said. “Didn’t you read my bio on my website, Mr….”
“Jacobs.” The man straightened up. “I looked all through your website, but there wasn’t a picture. And you look so normal.”
Martin just managed to avoid rolling his eyes. “What did you expect a landscape designer to look like?”
Mr. Jacobs waved his hand around vaguely. “Oh, you know, magical. Maybe with a staff and a long white beard. Like Merlin, you know?
“Well, I think most people who spend a lot of time working with plants like to keep their hair out of the way. Long beards tend to get caught on things.”
Mr. Jacobs nodded seriously. “That makes sense.”
Martin coughed to muffle a laugh. “So. What would you like help with?”
“Your website said that you design rock gardens?” Mr. Jacobs looked at Martin and waited.
Martin nodded. “I have designed several very lovely rock gardens. Do you have anything in mind?”
Mr. Jacobs grinned and pulled a tattered piece of lined paper out of his pocket. It was covered in smeared pencil smudges and illegible scrawls. “I wrote it all down here.” He held up the paper.
It was a mess. Martin leaned forward and squinted. He could maybe decipher a few letters, but that wasn’t very helpful. “Why don’t you read it to me?” he asked.
Mr. Jacobs turned the smudgy paper around. “I’d like to plant the marble around the outside of the yard like a hedge.” His finger traced a circle on the paper. “Have you got the Italian kind?
“Marble. I’ve heard that it’s better. But if it doesn’t grow well here, I’ll take whatever kind works best.” Mr. Jacobs drew his finger across the top of the page. “I’d like some beds of pumice in the back. I think something light would really open the space up. But you’re the expert.”
“It’s good that you’ve picked out the rocks you’d like in your garden. Have you thought about what plants you want to have grow around them?” Martin asked. “You said there was an Italian plant you wanted? I don’t think I caught the name.”
Mr. Jacobs looked confused. “I just want whatever plants grow the rocks. You know, like whatever grows marble or amber or obsidian or pumice. I was thinking I could harvest and sell the rocks if I need to.”
“Rocks don’t grow on plants,” Martin said. “People dig them up out of the ground or find them laying around.”
“Well, yeah, that’s what normal people do. That’s why I need your help. You create rock gardens.” Mr. Jacobs waved his hand around like he was holding a wand. “As long as you get it started, I think I can keep it going.”
Martin couldn’t tell if Mr. Jacobs was joking. “I use rocks as a garden feature. I design where the plants and rocks go in the garden to highlight the contrast between the delicate plants and stronger, more permanent rocks. I don’t grow rocks.”
“Then you’re not a real landscaper.” Mr. Jacobs looked disappointed.
“Yes, I am. I design landscaping. I went to college for years to study this. I have my diploma framed and hanging on my wall at home. I am a real landscaper.” Martin suddenly realized he was starting to yell. He cut himself off and folded his arms, feeling his face grow hot in embarrassment. “I am a real landscaper,” he repeated in a quieter voice.
Mr. Jacobs held up his hands in a calming gesture. “I’m sure you are. Just like magicians can do magic tricks that make it seem like they have magic. But they don’t really. They aren’t real wizards. You put out rocks to make it look like you grew them. I get that. I’m sure it looks lovely. But I want a real rock garden. Do you know anyone who does real landscaping and not just landscaping tricks? You know, an expert landscaper?”
Martin shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Jacobs. I’ve never heard of rocks growing on trees. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but I’ve never heard of it, so I really can’t help you.”
“All right then. Sorry to bother you. Thanks for your time,” Mr. Jacobs said.
They shook hands and Martin drove off, thinking that was the end of it. Six months later, Martin was in the same neighborhood on a job and remembered Mr. Jacobs. On a whim, he drove by. The yard was surrounded by a large marble wall that had an irregular, organic texture. He could see a few trees with amber-colored leaves that glowed in the sunlight peeking above the wall .
Martin parked by the curb and knocked on the door. No one answered. He left his business card with a note to call him wedged in the screen door. Mr. Jacobs never called, and Martin still wonders about his rock garden. Did he find an expert landscaper after all? The kind that could grow real rock gardens?