One of my friends was murdered Saturday. If you've been in the retail gardening world in Washington or Baltimore over the last 30 years, and you've bought baskets, terra-cotta, birdbaths, plastic pots, or elegant cachepots wholesale, the odds are that you'd met George Marshall or his brother Jack. It's almost a certainty that if you live withing 200 miles of Baltimore you have something in your house that passed through their hands figuratively and likely literally. On our front deck we have a strawberry jar I bought from George almost 20 years years ago that my son Peter planted with herbs. There's still an original clump of chives living in it.I haven't learned all the details but apparently George and Jack came upon someone trying to steal merchandise from their warehouse and he ran them down with a truck. The Baltimore Sun article says Jack is expected to recover. But not George.
I met George for the first time in the spring of 1982. I had begun working at Behnke's Nurseries Company in Beltsville, and George sold us terra cotta.....clay pots. One of my duties, my first taste of autonomy, was doing the weekly ordering that kept the clay pots stocked. George was the salesman for Patapsco Valley Sales and Supply, and, with his brother Jack, co-owner. Every week George came by and we went over the inventory together. I am a bit of an optimist and I can remember George reining me in as though he was worried my enthusiasm would get me in trouble with management.
When I left Behnke's, I went to work for George and Jack in their warehouse in Baltimore. I unloaded trucks, loaded trucks, and learned a lot about terra cotta pottery, baskets of all kinds, and the relationship between retail outlets and their wholesaler. It was a fascinating place; their cavernous warehouse held an inventory prodigious, not just in volume but in variety. Containers came in from all around the world. Jack specialized in baskets and had 1,000's of different baskets of all sorts: cocoa-midrib, rattan, split bamboo, seagrass, grapevine....in all shapes and sizes. Some had been in the upstairs of the odd old warehouse for years and years. All that had to go when they went "legit". Bookkeeping became strict and accurate and inventory wasn't allowed to sit around for years waiting for that certain buyer.
They sold clay pots from 1" to who knows how big, and ridiculously expensive Italian terra-cotta, soft Guatemalan animal pots, strawberry jars from Georgia, novelty clay from Florida....and on and on. Birdbaths from Zanesville, huge glazed ceramics from Malaysia, hand-thrown glazed jardinieres from California, and several lines of cast concrete figurines and fountains. Plastic too including pink flamingos. I bet they'd corralled a good supply of gnomes motivated Gnomeo and Juliet. They were sharp buyers that way.
I didn't make it to the MANTS show this year, we were in Florida, so the last time I saw George was January past. I'm sorry I missed him then. I miss him now but when I look at the Chinese bamboo chicken basket I'll remember him, or the odd Chinese terra-cotta apple planter planted with weird succulent in front of me now, or the French "frost-free" 18' clay grape swag pot in the bed outside this window window. Oh my.