I’m remembering the beautiful May morning in Atlanta 2008 when our son graduated from Emory University. The commencement speaker was Bernard Marcus, one of the co-founders and first CEO (for 19 years) of Home Depot. Though Mr. Marcus’ speech was not exactly legendary (as say Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford in 2005), he told enough about his life and his experiences that you knew he was very bright and very rich and to his credit, very generous with his money.
As a first generation American, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants living in Newark, NJ, young Bernie was accepted to medical school at Harvard University. But because he was Jewish and at that time there was a quota of how many Jews would be allowed to attend Harvard’s medical school, Bernie Marcus’ admission had a “little” prerequisite. He was required to make a “special” contribution of $10,000 to Harvard before he would be allowed to attend medical school, an amount that was simply impossible for the Marcus family. As I dig in the clay containing the offending grass rhizomes, I’m thinking such discrimination is sickening and I sure wish that the Bernie had been treated fairly and gone on to medical school and a great career in medicine. I guess I’m also wondering why he couldn’t have applied at some other institutions but apparently this prejudice against Jews was quite widespread among medical schools at that time.
Bernie thought he wanted a health career so he went on to become a pharmacist but couldn’t have spent much time filling scripts. Instead he found his niche in the retail part of the drug store business and eventually ended up as the head of a home improvement chain based in Los Angeles called Handy Dan’s. Bernie then 49 and his future partner at Depot both got fired from Handy Dan’s after some kind of management squabble. I am finding a lot of very well-rooted grass in the thyme. As I keep pulling it out I am thinking it’s too bad that Handy Dan’s was so stupid. Why couldn’t they have kept things going and like my favorite fast food chain, In-N-Out Burger, just continued to do their thing in California or on the west coast.
The truth be told, I like Bernie Marcus and Home Depot and the fact that people with a good idea can succeed and make oodles of money in our country. I think their philosophy of “stack it high and watch it fly” is great when it comes to lots of items—even some in the garden area; tools, pots, fertilizer, chemicals, seeds and the like. I’m not so sure how well it works in so called green goods, especially with most of the live plants, but of course it doesn’t matter what I think. We have been told by suppliers to the industry that Home Depot alone does as much garden related business as all of the independent garden centers in the country.
Bernie and his team and his successors are great marketers. They have established a network of stores that are easily accessed, full of well-displayed merchandise that lots of folks can use. They have made the shopping experience relatively pleasant and made buyers feel that they are getting a pretty good deal. They are so big and so rich that sometimes you wonder why you would even try to compete with them. And how is digging out this damn grass going to help this little Garden Center on the hill above Redbud Creek be competitive with Bernie Marcus’ Depot and all the other big boxes conveniently located on major highways with paved parking lots and cartloads of factory grown plants stacked head high.
Actually the answer is simple. We are going to have a pretty place so if you are able to spend an extra 10 or 15 minutes getting here you will be rewarded with that simple beauty. Perhaps, my delightfully grass-free aromatic thyme will welcome you as you amble across the gravel from your parking spot. And from my perch on my knees, I am going to greet you and see how we can help you. If by chance you’re looking for plants I’ll direct you or (if I can get up quickly enough) I will walk you past all kinds of beautiful plants, most of which were grown right here, to what you are looking for. If you want I will suggest alternatives. I will show what combinations are really stunning. I will help you to find the look you are seeking with colorful vigorous plants and the price will be very fair. And I will not let you plant creeping thyme bordering Kentucky bluegrass. Ever.