The Gardener: The Challenge - Part 2

21 Agustus 2015 Pojok Cerita   |    Vania Cheryl Antono

The sun was shining brightly from the crystal clear windows as Freya sat at the dining table with her family and the fleur family in the early morning.

Her cousins, Petra and Rosella were happily munching on the stack of toasted bread at each of their plates. Her mother, Mrs. Gardiniere was reading a book with the front cover title of ‘Hybrid Plants’.

Aunt May and Clarissa’s mother, Ms. Madeline Fleur were discussing about different cultivation techniques. The Gardiniere and Fleur family were getting along well, especially after the incident not so long ago in the competition’s round one.

However, there were still others, like Rachel and Lylia’s mother, Ms. Janet Fleur who was sitting alone at the far end of the table, refusing to mingle with her Gardiniere competitors. She was disapprovingly watching Aunt May and her younger sister, Madeline mingling together.

Clarissa, Rachel and Lylia were sitting closely to each other, each wearing a pastel colour of overalls-lime green, fuchsia and baby blue. Seeming content after seeing what everyone was doing, Freya focused on getting herself to finish her breakfast.

Freya looked at her bowl of oatmeal with slices of dry strawberries- her favourite. Somehow, she felt so full even if she had just eaten 3 spoons of oatmeal. The day of the second round of the competition was starting, after all, and Freya was feeling much more anxious than ever.

After breakfast, they all went to the office lobby where Mr. Thom, the governor of the nature protection department would meet them.

"Good morning, everyone! As you all know, the second round of the competition will take place today. I will be sending you to the National Botanical Greenhouse not so far away from here for the competition and Ms. Lena, the owner of the greenhouse will fill you in about the competition. Good luck to you all." Mr. Thom said with an excited tone of voice.

After Mr. Thom’s short speech, the group of gardeners packed their gardening tools and set off to the venue of the competition riding a mini bus. Aunt May spent the whole bus trip talking to Ms. Madeline.

Once they arrived at the greenhouse, everyone got off the bus. The greenhouse was huge, 5 times bigger than the greenhouse at Freya’s house. The glass walls of the greenhouse were glinting brightly, reflecting light from the sun.

Around the greenhouse were colourful potted flowers and plants. Butterflies and bees surrounded the attractive flowers and the floral fragrance of the flowers hung in the air.

Once everyone got in the greenhouse, more gasps filled the air. In the middle of the greenhouse, there was a shady, gigantic pine tree. There were small wooden trellis almost at every corner and clinging to it were grape vines and small pots full of soil holding flowers such as orchids, roses and tulips of all sizes and colours to grow. The whole place looked like a maze.

The 2 sides of the greenhouse had narrow stairs that led to a sturdy platform lined with wooden railing to avoid people from falling. The platform was stored with flower seeds, gardening tools and also a shelf containing rare books of plants and flowers.

There was an artificial waterfall that pours down crystal clear water. The sides of the waterfall were edged with rocks and pebbles. And at almost every place inside the greenhouse were planted with plants such as bird of paradise, snapdragon, sweat pea, amaryllis and hydrangea.

"Would you look at this greenhouse? It’s even bigger than my house." Freya exclaimed, astonished. Hearing Freya’s words, Petra and Rosella who were on either side of Freya, giggled uncontrollably.

Suddenly, a voice piped up from behind the group of gardeners, surprising everyone. Freya could promise that she saw the normally cold Ms. Janet Fleur lose her composure and jump.

"Good morning! I trust you have a safe trip here. I am Ms. Lena, one of the judge of this contest as well as the owner of this greenhouse." A woman with white jeans and cheerful striped yellow and black blouse introduced herself.

All the gardeners could do was just look at Ms. Lena with wide eyes.

"Moving on, I expect everyone to get along; no conflicts or fights involved while being in my greenhouse. Everyone must also avoid causing noises or disruptions and those who do not follow my instructions are immediately disqualified. Is that clear?" Ms. Lena continued in a strict manner as her hardened eyes stared frostily at each and every single person in front of her.

"I know judges are supposed to be serious and strict but how could she dress fun but not act cheerful or fun?" Freya whispered to Petra.

"I hear you. I actually expected her to be warm and downright jolly, but she’s the complete opposite." Petra complained softly, her words barely a whisper, for fear of being heard.

"As I was saying, the second round of the competition’s objective is to make a hybrid plant. You can mix 2-4 plants in the hybrid plant and-" Ms. Lena began but she was interrupted by Rachel’s loud cough.

"Ms. Rachel, if you have a cough, maybe you should quit the competition and rest in bed!" Ms. Lena snapped, clearly irritated. Rachel lowered her head and nodded quietly.

"Anyway, the criteria for the second round are: 45% for creativity, 35% for the uniqueness of the flowers and the other 20% will be given to the one who finishes the fastest. The duration of the competition will be 3 months, enough for the hybrid plants to grow." Ms. Lena continued sharply, eyeing each of the gardeners in turn while explaining.

Once Ms. Lena was done explaining, the Fleur gardeners settled on their working station which is at the East part of the greenhouse while the Gardiniere gardeners settled in the West part of the greenhouse which would be their working station. The maze-like inside of the greenhouse makes it impossible to cheat the opposing group.

On each working station, there was a long, white wooden rectangular table. There were a few dozen small pots for the gardeners to practice making their hybrid plant. A neat pile of 3 sacks of fresh soil were stacked on the side of the tables.

A few feet behind the table was a ladder that would lead to the spacious wooden platform stored with the things that they would need, from various plants neatly placed in pots to handy gardening tools.

"Let’s start now. Since Freya and Petra are the best at cross- pollinating the plants, they will be the ones to do it. Rosella and Aunt May will be the one to make the decision on which plant combinations will go best together while I will help find the purpose of the plant that we are making." Mrs. Gardiniere instructed as she pulled out a pen and a notebook out of the sewn pocket in her gardening apron.

Every Gardiniere gardener nodded and followed without even sending a questioning glance. As Rosella and Aunt May went up the firm ladder slowly, Mrs. Gardiniere began scribbling down notes at the notebook, her eyes showing focus and determination.

Soon, Rosella came down from the ladder bringing 4 potted plants with her. She looked as if she were struggling to hold the plants in her arms but as Freya took a step towards her to help, Rosella shook her head lightly in silent protest.

"Here’s a Freesia, Gladiolus, Queen Anne’s lace and ranunculus plant. I’ll bring more combinations of plants down in a moment. But meanwhile, just cross-pollinate with these." Rosella explained, feeling a little out-of-breath.

"Alright. Thank you, Rosella." Freya managed to say with an appreciative smile as to show her gratitude. When Rosella left, Freya began to observe the plants.

The Freesia plant had funnel-shaped flowers in the shade of pink. The Gladiolus plant had about two dozen trumpet-shaped flowers on a single stem and is coloured yellow and orange.

The Queen Anne’s lace plant had small flowers formed in clusters that looked a lot like white snowflakes. Meanwhile, the ranunculus plant which has 5-petalled flowers, looks just like an origami masterpiece with its celery-like, grass-green leaves.

"In order to cross-pollinate flowers, we need to pick one plant to be the ‘recipient plant’ which is the plant that will be the one to fertilize the pollen, right?" Petra asked while she filled the pots with soil.

"Right. I go with the Freesia plant. What about you?" Freya replied. As a reply, Petra nodded and pointed to the Freesia plant too.

"Okay. And the Ranunculus, Queen Anne’s lace and Gladiolus will be the ‘source plant’, the plant that we’ll collect the pollen from. Let’s start!" Freya added.

After saying that, they got to work. As Freya used tweezers to pull out the stamen from the source plants, Petra looked for a clean brush that will be used for the next step of cross-pollinating plants.

When Freya had collected all three stamens of the source plants, she instructed, "Petra, quick. Give me the brush and get the recipient plant ready."

Petra nodded and handed Freya the brush. Carefully, Freya collected the pollen on top of the three stamens in the brush and brushed the pollen off onto the recipient plant several times.

"There, all done. Now we need to just be patient and wait." Freya exclaimed calmly. It would take about 3 months for the plant to be fully grown and Freya was patient enough to wait for the result.

Just as Freya said that, Aunt May came down from the ladder. "Freya and Petra, I think it would be better if we make other hybrid plants and then, in the end chose which one to be presented instead of making just one. In that way, we have a better chance of winning."

The days were spent doing the same thing-cross-pollinating the plants to make different hybrid plants as well as tending to the plants so that it could grow to be exquisite and satisfactory.

Two and a half months later, Freya was in the middle of Ms. Gardiniere’s speech about working hard to achieve goals. When they were done, they went back to work as most of the hybrid plants are turning into adult plants.

As everyone got back to work, Freya wondered curiously on the progress of the Fleur gardeners’ group. She wanted to know what plants and flowers they were using and how quickly they were developing their plants.

Her curiosity ate her alive for the whole day. Despite all the warnings in her head, when afternoon came, Freya stealthily passed through the fences and stayed firmly there.

She could just see the top of Lylia head and through standing on her tiptoes, she could possibly see their work table. Freya looked again and saw an exotic-looking, exquisite flower.

Then, realizing that she was showing dishonesty as the rules indicated the no one was allowed to check on the other group’s progress, Freya straightened up and walked back.

Once she went back to her table, she kept on working, dismissing the slightest thought of peeking the Fleur Gardener’s hybrid plant. Doing it once was already a risk and Freya was not planning on risking a second time.

"Do you think we should mix the plants-aster, snapdragon and sunflower?" Rosella asked cheerfully, her hair bouncing on her shoulders as she clapped her hands together excitedly at the thought of her favourite plants mixed together.

Freya just shrugged absentmindedly, not bothering to look at Rosella as she was too caught up in her fit of guilt.

As Rosella left with a slight frown at Freya’s lack of enthusiasm, Petra hissed quietly, "Why are you acting so gloomy?"

"Nothing. It’s just that I have a feeling that the other group’s hybrid plant will be better than us." Freya replied, reminded of the Fleur gardener’s exotic-looking plant.

The rest of the weeks went fast. They had cross-pollinated a lot of flowers and they’re growing fast thanks to Petra who had found the bottle of fast growing for plants.

So far, they had cross-pollinated lilac, freesia, delphinium and chrysanthemum, alstroemeria with peony, bird of paradise and hydrangea. But the most impressive flower made by the Gardiniere gardeners was their first cross-pollinated plant.

The plant had grown to about 50 cm long with stems that flow out of the main stalk like a freesia flower and has long thin parallel- veined leaves, like a gladiolus, growing out of the main stalk.

The root of the plant was like the Queen Anne’s lace and they smell like carrot, just like a Queen Anne’s lace’s root. The flowers growing in this hybrid plant was like a ranunculus but with colour variations of all 4 cross- pollinated plants.

The flowers add a nice touch to the hybrid plant as it looks like an origami masterwork and compliments the dark green stem very well.

When it was time to present the chosen hybrid plant, Freya took a deep breath and placed their hybrid plant beside Ms. Lena. The Fleur family did the same thing.

After carefully examining the hybrid plants, Ms. Lena announced, "After careful consideration, I declare that the winner of the second round is the Fleur gardeners. It is because the Fleur Gardener’s plant finished 4 days faster than the Gardiniere gardener’s plants, thus receiving a 20% advantage."

All the Fleur gardeners squealed and hugged each other. Freya sadly looked at the Fleur gardener’s exotic hybrid plant. The flower was arranged in clusters and each flower has a different colour, from an orange with yellow tinted dots to azure blue with maya blue tinted dots. One colour of the flower caught Freya’s attention.

It has an orchid purple colour with cherry blossom pink dots tinted on the edges and the petals of the flower were curved a bit, like the waves at sea. The stem was coloured grass-green at the top and had a shade of shamrock green at the bottom, with small spring green, soft heart- shaped leaves attached to it. It was very beautiful in Freya’s opinion.

"Are you disappointed?" Rosella asked when she looked at Freya’s face.

"No." Freya replied, "Not one bit."

"Why?" Rosella asked blankly.

"Because we’ve tried our best and we’ll try our best again at the third round!" Freya replied, feeling determination shooting through her blood. When the third round will begin, Freya would be prepared and ready to give her best shot.