No One Knows Best

On our farm, in our garden design work, we work as a team with a common goal. Everyone chips in for digging, washing, boxing, welcoming guests, and cleaning tools. But everyone gets to explore passions and develop skills.  Sam Engler’s writing talent has awed me since he started here – at 16 years old. Home from college for winter break, Sam did the dirty work and he wrote the following, insightful story after a gardening day – Jenks


No One Knows Best

I know of an elderly woman with hair so light that it still almost looks blonde. Not quite grey and not quite white; just a hint of yellow that often resembles a creamy daffodil, fading with warm weather.  It was undoubtedly blonde in her younger days when she didn’t know best, but now not so much is true. You see, at this age it is common, and often quite easy, to believe that what you know is best and what others believe is wrong. It is truly a stubborn idea that is bound to extract anger or fear when contested.

This particular elderly woman seems quite estranged in terms of her perception of the thought of perfection, and her emotions turn awry when a new “perfect” is proposed. When pressed to stray from this stubbornness, oftentimes by someone who is less than half of their age and bound by a contradicting style of thinking and perceiving, the elderly are compelled to fold from stubbornness into feelings of personal offense, and this can only be expressed through a multitude of other emotions. 

Given that the elderly, when in their right mind, are regarded throughout most societies as those who have acquired a mass of wisdom and knowledge that can only be obtained through the experiences of a lifetime; it is evident where this stubbornness has grown from. The idea that what our elders know and feel is the only option at hand is strongly reinforced from as early on as childhood, and grows stronger through certain life experiences, various religions or cultures, and as an inevitable death grows nearer. However, it is often apparent that the younger you are, the less this idea of the elderly is true. A fresh and youthful mind can be perceived as much less clouded by experience, and stubbornness, so much so that a youthful portrayal of perfection would at first anger or frighten those who know best, but by the time the upcoming spring has sprung, the youthful and unconventional vision of perfection has been made clear. The same goes for the minds of these elderly people; where anger or fear once stood shamelessly, now stands the thought that maybe no one knows best. 

The utter concept of perfection; especially within a garden, is extremely fluid and can be reached by utilizing a wide variety of concepts and manners, and sometimes it may take the youthful mind of a young gardener and their unconventional designs and tactics to clear the stubbornness of the elderly and make way for a more efficient and a more “perfect” means of reaching said perfection.

This woman, the one with the daffodil hair, utterly compelled by the thought of a perfect garden, has done her best to release her protective guise known as stubbornness, but it is never that simple. When work in her garden is done by those with a youthful sense of perfection, and new ideas are brought to the table, the underlying inflexibility that comes with age rings true and is often met with a curdling scream or moan that might be associated with a more violent experience. Beloved flora within the garden, that could very well date back to before the times of these youthful gardeners births, are pruned and altered in ways that portray the young idea of perfection, and yet her screams mirror that of the plants being cut back; if only they could speak for themselves. As the gardener’s hair, once blonde, now faded with the impressions of age-old stubbornness, flowering plants within the garden fade just the same. Old-growth, now dead, is removed despite its stubbornness in order to make room for new growth that is innocent and eager to bring perfection to reality. They have spent a lifetime together through the eyes of the garden, and by doing so, the plants are spoken for by their gardener, because they can not speak. 

It is unfathomable for someone of a young age to understand how the elderly so desperately desire perfection, while simultaneously denying the thought entirely. Maybe that is why they are there in the first place; ignoring the dreadful screeches of injured plants because the vision of perfection is much louder. Maybe that is why they are summoned back to the garden because the blonde, elderly gardener is aware of her stubbornness and how it will continue with her alongside the garden. She needs this youthful presence in order to extract true perfection that she once knew many years ago. The garden needs them too because, without this youthful presence and their accompanied ideas of perfection, it will also grow old and stubborn; striving for perfection that will forever be out of reach. 




The photo at the top is Boone Hall Plantation garden designed and planted by Ruth Knopf.


  1. Suzanne Butler on January 29, 2022 at 8:24 am

    Thank you for this writing. I am that older woman who let go of maintaining a city park that three of us ladies created 20 years ago. I’m the only one left of the three. When a younger man with an energetic vision and crew of workers asked to take it over, it was an answer to a prayer…until the digging started.
    After much soul-searching and prayer and with the encouragement of my husband, I was able to let it go. The park is almost complete now with a very beautiful new concept. It isn’t my vision but I can still enjoy it. Now I can wish him the same enjoyment I received over so many years.

  2. Richard Mullinax on January 29, 2022 at 9:01 am

    From my increasingly stubborn perch, this spring tinted prose is a beautiful reminder of the joie de vivre of youthful arrogance. The tweak of sadness being I will not witness this new crop of gardeners, now in their tender germinations, sprout into the fullness of overgrown paradise. With snow on the ground, only dreams of harvest available.

  3. Michael Zajic on January 29, 2022 at 10:06 am

    I am not sure a difference of opinion in a garden has to do with young versus old. However, I am thrilled whenever I discover a young person interested in gardening. It means there is hope for the future, young people connected to nature and not just to digital life.
    As an old gardener myself, I see gardening as confronting constant change, imposed by nature and time – storms, freezes, aging out plants, pests, climate change, floods. Once a tornado touched down in my garden and wiped out a big section. Many a Northeaster has removed trees or branches. Voles won and forced me to discover and change how to grow tulips, hosta, and other vole food again ( made a habitat winter home for garter snakes and they wiped out the voles in a single year!)
    The point is, even old gardeners are forced to be flexible, learn new things, try new things in the ordinary course of events. No garden is static in the long run,k nor can a gardener be stuck and still keep a garden going.

    Nevertheless, cheers to young Sam for doing, thinking, stimulating us all, and writing about it. Keep it up!

    • Meredith on January 30, 2022 at 7:07 pm

      I agree! Perfection is a dream. In reality a gardener, young or old, more importantly must be flexible to deal with whatever Mother Nature may throw at you.; year after year after year.Perhaps instead of age, one might consider the gardeners ability to persevere!

  4. BB Thurmond on January 29, 2022 at 10:23 am

    SAM is quite a good writer and I am so pleased that you continue to encourage
    his obvious talent. Great JOB Sam. great job Jenks. you both get gold stars
    from me.!!!!

  5. Taryn on January 29, 2022 at 10:43 am

    As a gardener whose hair has changed into something I don’t quite recognize and a self-confessed life long ‘mulch addict’ I was thrilled to read this young mans story on the topic.
    It was an uplifting experience to encounter such wisdom in a young mind.
    Carry on young Sam. The world is made a richer place by what you do.

    There is an old Seneca gretting that I wish to share. “Thank you for being”.
    Thank you for being Sam.

    With warmest regards, mulch addict Taryn

  6. Tom Brandner on January 29, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    I thought that I write long sentences. However, going over 50 words in one sentence does appear to be long. I guess I grew up with Hemingway and his short sentences.

    What would be a fall cover crop that geese could eat that would be healthy for them and improve the soil? 21 words When it gets cooler and wet enough, I do put out 200 pounds of rye grass for them to eat. 20 words

  7. Elizabeth Gillespie on January 30, 2022 at 9:37 pm

    I enjoyed reading the sensitive sentiments expressed by Sam Engler. He sounds like one who is eager to learn all you are willing to teach him, Jenks Farmer.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Suzanne on January 31, 2022 at 8:06 am

    Sam Engle may, or may not, be a good writer but his portrayal of “old people as stubborn and apparently standing in the way of younger people is just a little off-putting. “the underlying inflexibility that comes with age”….yikes!

  9. Sam Engler on January 31, 2022 at 9:31 pm

    Suzanne, Thank you for commenting and taking the time to read my article. I never said that “old people stand in the way of young people”, despite what your comment says, I believe you have lost track of the meaning of this piece of writing. I believe that new ideas should be accepted and praised rather than pushed to the side in situations that seem most too often, and this is not always the case. It isn’t truly about the garden but more so of life and the archetype of portrayed wisdom that comes with age. I hope that you read again and take something from my writing rather than choosing a stance of defense. This comment almost certainly backs the points I make in this article that are parallel to the ideas of true knowledge that I have tried so effortlessly to bring across. Thanks again, Sam Engler

  10. Katherine on February 1, 2022 at 11:43 am

    Your dad would be so proud!

    • Sam Engler on February 2, 2022 at 3:45 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read my article! This comment means so much!

      • AMy Engler on February 3, 2022 at 12:15 pm

        I enjoyed the article and I love Sam’s writings and all the other things he has been encouraged to do and learn over the years with Jenks and his family.
        I am however extremely biased – I am Sam’s mom.

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