The Glimmering Gardener

by ArgonMatrix

Bonus: "Intraview" Alternate

Price Back rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “You want me to write about plants,” he said.

“These aren’t just any old plants, Price,” Written Word—his editor—said. “You’ve never seen anything like them! Hardly anyone in Equestria has! That’s the point.”

“How did you even wind up seeing them?”

“My sister’s wedding.” Written Word rifled through a stack of paperwork. She pulled out a manila envelope and levitated a few photos from it. “She commissioned a bunch of things from Glimmering Gardens after her work trip to Elmshire. Cost her a brass bit, but…” She finished with a low whistle.

Price spread the photos over the desk. Intricate floral arrangements crowded much of the wedding floor. He glanced over a few of the more eye-catching pieces—translucent flowers of some description, floating white gourds with flames tipping their stems, and an entire tree of cherry blossoms glowing all the colours of the rainbow.

“They’re pretty,” Price said, “you got me there, Writ. But enchanted plants are still just plants! I already did that exposé on the Tree of Harmony a few weeks back. Next to that, who’s gonna care about some roses made of glass? It’s a neat gimmick, sure, but a whole piece?” He shook his head. “I can’t spin that.”

“They’re not made of glass,” Written said as she straightened her papers. “They’re made of water.”

Despite himself, Price lifted an eyebrow. “How does that even work?”

Written Word shrugged. “You have to see it.”

Price waved a hoof as if brushing the topic away. “That’s besides the point. I’m telling you there’s no story here, Writ. What am I supposed to do? Just describe a bunch of plants and write about how amazing they look? That’s a list, not a story.”

Looking over her glasses, Written Word cupped her hooves together and said, “Look, Price, I can’t make you write anything. But I’ve been writing back and forth with the owner, and she’s more than thrilled about us showcasing her store. The Grazette’s already arranged for you to head down to Elmshire next week. All expenses paid.”

“Whole lotta not-my-problem,” Price said.

Written stayed him with a hoof. “Let me finish. I think you should at least go to Elmshire. Even if the story doesn’t pan out, it’s a big city most ponies have never even heard of! Plus it’s a cultural goldmine: the astral art gallery, Swan Song’s Amphitheater, the Duchess’s Archives.” She slid an Elmshire tourist pamphlet across the desk. “You’re bound to find something worth writing about. Just try Glimmering Gardens first—that’s all I’m asking.”

She levitated an envelope over to Price. It had P.B. Travel Info scrawled on the front. “Call it a favour to me, if nothing else” she said.

The envelope hung in the air between them. Price looked from it to Written Word’s hopeful smirk and back again. He sighed and swiped up the envelope. “You drive a hard bargain, Writ.”


The bell above Glimmering Gardens’ door jingled—and promptly fell onto Price Back’s muzzle. It clattered like brass but had none of the impact of the metal; it felt more like a tulip. Price watched it drop noisily to the floor.

“Oh, my apologies!” called the mare behind the counter. She rushed ahead and took the bell in her magic. “Seems to be time for a new one of these.” She chuckled uneasily.

Price watched the bell crumple in on itself. “Is that a plant?” he asked.

“Brass bellbottom. My very own creation.” She levitated over an identical flower from one of the myriad gardens dotting the store and snaked it into the pot cemented above the entrance.

Price tapped his muzzle, where a real bell surely would’ve left a nasty bruise. He smiled and said, “Heh, suppose I should count myself lucky.” Price extended a hoof. “Price Back with the Equestrian Grazette. You must be Lilligold.”

Lilligold nodded and gently shook his hoof. “I’ve heard nothing but great things from your editor, Mister Price Back. I’m so happy your magazine is interested in my little shop. I never dreamed of such an opportunity.”

“The pleasure is all mine.” Price glanced briefly around the shop, noting a few of the more eye-catching specimens. “Mind if I just look around a bit? Get a feel for how I wanna get started, you know?”

“Naturally.” Lilligold retreated behind the counter. “I’ll be here if you have any questions. You’re welcome to explore the backroom as well. All I ask is that you come fetch me if you wish to open the door in the far back.” She brushed her mane back and quietly said, “You’ll, erm, need protective equipment for the sunflowers.”

Price quirked an eyebrow. “Uh, duly noted,” he said. He proceeded to wander the shop.

The flowers were so plentiful, Price found it difficult to focus on any one display. The world around him bloomed with colour and shine and motion. All the smells swam together in a floral cocktail, making his nostrils burn. Plants of all shapes, sizes, and forms met him wherever he looked: daffodils that sprayed water like sprinklers, miniature oak trees that cycled through the seasons in a matter of seconds, and a cluster of cattails whose bulbs flowed with real fur in a multitude of patterns.

Yet as stunning as the array was, Price’s expression fell. He looked at row upon row upon row of plants, all of them unique, but blurring together. Each one seemed less mystifying than the last, and Price’s hopes were quickly sapped away.

Price rounded a corner and found himself mere inches away from the tip of a vine. Before he could react, the vine slithered through the air and coiled itself around his neck. It tickled his mane as it crawled up his neck and wrapped around his ear. “Uh, Lilligold?” he called, watching the vine through the corner of his eye. “Is this thing supposed to be doing this?”

She giggled from afar. “It would seem that the sandsnare has taken a liking to you.”

“Sandsnare?” As if bidden by the word, the vine instantly dissolved into sand and fell around Price’s hooves. An ethereal breeze lifted, and all of the sand flowed back into a nearby urn. Once it had recollected itself, a new vine grew out of the urn and spiraled in a different direction. Price blinked. “Huh. That’s an odd one.”

“Why do you say that?” Lilligold asked. She stepped from behind the counter and started towards Price.

“I mean, it just seems so different from the rest.” Price made a broad sweeping gesture over the rest of the store. “All of these other ones are colourful, or shiny, or just decorative in some way.” He turned back to the sandsnare, watching its hypnotic motion. “This one isn’t flashy at all. It just… moves.”

Lilligold’s ears pinned against her head. “I, erm, suppose that’s true. Many ponies like it for tropical-themed parties, though. And it’s always been one of my personal favourites.”

Price looked to Lilligold—she was watching the vine, just as it dissolved into sand and began anew. “Why’s that?”

Lilligold’s face flushed. “No particular reason,” she murmured.

“C’mon. I’m curious!”

Lilligold shook her head. “No, it’s quite besides the point. You’re here to write about the plants and the store, after all, not listen to my silly ramblings-on.” She smiled at him disarmingly. “What do you make of it so far? I notice you haven’t taken any notes yet.”

Price looked briefly at his saddlebags where his notepad resided. He’d genuinely forgotten about it. “I’ll be frank with you, Lilligold. I like to think myself a pretty good writer, but I’m having a tough time seeing how this can become a story.”

Lilligold frowned. “Oh?”

“I mean, your plants are gorgeous and all, and they’re all pretty exceptional in their own right. But there’s not much you can really say beyond that. At this point, the whole story would just be a sentence or two advertising your shop. Pretty lackluster.”

Looking away and scuffing her hoof, Lilligold said, “I, um… I’m not quite sure what to tell you, Mister Price Back. This is all I have to show, save a few works-in-progress in the back. I hoped it would suffice for your article…”

Price rubbed his muzzle, pinched his eyes shut, and sighed. “You’re killin’ me, Writ,” he said under his breath. “Look, I’m not a miracle-worker, but I’ll try to still make something out of this. If you’ve got more unique things like the sandsnare there, then maybe I can spin something. Let’s look in the back.”

“Of course…” The shine gone from her eyes, Lilligold led Price beyond the curtain and into the backroom. “There’s nothing too extravagant back here, but, um, I hope you find something inspirational.”

Price scanned the room. Just like on the shop floor, many glimmering flowers and fantastical plants littered the tables and shelves. A few seemed dull or incomplete, like a weakly thrumming cactus on the nearest table, but nothing much stood out.

Price Back sighed through his nose. “Looks like a lot more of the same,” he said. “Is this really all you’ve got?”

The lines of Lilligold’s face drooped. She shrank a little. “I… I don’t know what you expected, Mister Price Back. Written Word assured me that you understood what you were coming for: to showcase my store. And… well, this is it.”

“And what this is, Lilligold, is a bunch of glitz and glam plants with nothing more to it!” A familiar fire burned in Price’s gut, smoldering all the way up to his tongue. “Sure, they’re all unique and beautiful and all that jazz, but where’s the substance? The intrigue? The point?! You’re kidding yourself if you think this’ll make any kind of story.”

Lilligold shrank further. Her voice was little more than a peep. “Ponies… ponies tend to like my work…”

Price Back bulldozed on. “And you’re not just kidding yourself, you’re wasting my time! I took an eighteen-hour train ride down to your little shop because my editor thought it was an interesting story. But it’s just what I thought it would be! A complete friggin’ waste!” On impulse, Price whipped a hoof at the potted cactus. The pot cracked and went airborne, and his hoof surged with pain.

There was a sharp gasp, and a silver aura caught the cactus before it could hit the floor. Lilligold pushed past Price Back and eyed the cactus all over as she put it back on the table.

Price looked from his hoof to the crack in the pot to Lilligold. As his tirading tongue cooled down, he approached Lilligold and said, “Lilligold, I—”

“Now see here, Price Back!” Lilligold shouted. She whipped around and glared into him, making Price recoil. “I accepted your editor’s offer because I assumed it would be a good opportunity for both my business and your magazine. I did not do it so you could storm in and insult, generalize, and outright destroy my work! If you didn’t think yourself able to showcase my store adequately, you should never have agreed to come!”

“I didn’t actually want—”

Lilligold prodded him in the chest. “Let me finish. As far as I’m concerned, your visit here is through, but now I have a matter of personal pride to attend to. Come! I have something to show you.” She stomped back into the shop proper, he soft face morphed into a seething mask.

Price Back, seeing no alternative, followed.


They walked for several minutes through Elmshire’s winding streets. As they worked toward the city’s outskirts, the bunched up buildings spread out, and nature breathed in the absence of architecture. When they finally reached their destination, they could see where the city ended and the countryside began, rolling away in a vast emerald sheet.

A greenhouse loomed large before them—larger than any Price had ever seen. Its windows were a little clouded, rendering whatever lay inside as a mist of colour.

Lilligold stood before the door. Her demeanor had bled away over their long, silent journey, revealing her small and demure self. “Perhaps… Perhaps this isn’t such a good idea,” she said. “I’ve never allowed anyone else in here before.”

Price looked the greenhouse over. “What’s inside?”

Lilligold flinched, as though she hadn’t expected his voice—or had forgotten he was there entirely. She sighed and mumbled, “I suppose we’ve come this far.” Her magic reached out and turned the doorknob. Humidity swamped them as the door came open, like clothes bursting from a too-full closet. They crossed the threshold.

If Lilligold’s shop had been a garden, her greenhouse was a jungle. Greenery extended far into the distance where the back wall was just barely visible, and none of it resembled anything Price had seen in Glimmering Gardens. Many of the plants looked wholly unchanged, and where the shop had mainly consisted of flowers, the greenhouse was more diverse and exotic than he thought possible: there were dandelions bunched at the base of a well, a spherical cactus whose spines dripped with some kind of syrup, and even a few snowcapped evergreens towards the back.

“This is my personal greenhouse,” Lilligold said. Her voice was downtrodden, as though ashamed. “It’s where I house all of the plants that I don’t feel… comfortable displaying in my store.”

Price eyed her strangely. “What d’you mean by that?”

“Erm… well…” Lilligold shifted her eyes this way and that, looking anywhere but at Price Back. She retreated behind her mane and said, “The more I think on this, the more I think it was a terrific mistake bringing you here. It was a silly notion. I think we should go.”

“Not happening,” Price said. “You’ve got my interest now. I wanna see what this place is about!” He looked to the nearest corner and saw an array of four pitcher plants lined up in a row. Their grew in size from left to right, the smallest being as big as his hoof, and the largest standing taller than him. He started towards them and said, “Like these. I’ve never even seen a pitcher plant in person before.”

“Oh, no no no!” Lilligold rushed up beside him. Her cheeks flared redder than cherries. “Please, don’t go near them.”

Price froze just a step away from the largest pitcher plant. “Why? Are they dangerous?”

“N-no, they’re not dangerous. They—”

“Oh, come now, Lilybunches,” said a deep, baritone voice. Both ponies turned to the tallest pitcher plant, whose opening had curved up to look like a smile. “Danger’s our middle name! We got voices so sweet, so succulent, so mamma jammin’ slick, it’s a damn miracle they ain’t killed nobody yet! Ain’t that right, boys?”

Oooooh yeeeaaah,” harmonized the other three plants.

Price Back blinked. “Is this seriously happening?”

“I—” Lilligold tried.

“You’d better believe it, sonny!” proclaimed the pitcher plant. “Feast your ears on the most mind-blowingly radical tones of the best parrot pitcher quartet this side o’ the greenhouse! We’re the Pitcher Perfects, and prepare to be aaaamaaaazed! Hit it!”

Each of the plants whipped out two vines, wrapped them together, and snapped them in rhythm. And in perfect harmony, they sang:

How do you dooooo?
Uh huh!
We’re the pitcher creeeewww.
Oh, yeah!
We’re singin’ here, gettin’ set to jeer, mop the floor with yoooouuu!
Sing it, child!

“Enough! Enough! Okay, that’s enough!” Lilligold stormed forward and wrapped all of them in her magic. “Mister Price Back gets the idea. Please stop.”

Somehow, the large pitcher plant shrugged. “Whatever ya say, Lily. Save it for practice tonight, fellas!” Just as suddenly as they’d begun, the pitcher plants fell silent and still again.

Lilligold turned to Price Back, but her eyes remained squarely on her hooves. “S-sorry about that,” she muttered. “I-I didn’t—”

“Sorry?” Price said. He was still gawking at the pitcher quartet. “Are you kidding? That was great!”

Lilligold shook her head. “No. No it was weird, and, and—”

“I mean, yeah it was weird. But that’s what’s so great about it! A barbershop quartet of pitcher plants! How’d you even think something like that up?”

“Th-they just came from my imagination—just like every other plant. I know they’re silly and stupid and weird—everything in here is! That’s why I don’t let ponies see this. We need to leave now.”

“Hold on,” Price said. He looked the greenhouse over. Between all of the plants here and those in Glimmering Gardens, there had to be ten thousand or more. Each of them had some unique trait—none of them were exactly the same. Price replayed Lilligold’s words in his mind: They just came from my imagination.

Something clicked behind his eyes.

He looked at Lilligold, who was still cowering behind her mane. “I think we’ve been going about this all wrong, Lilligold,” he said. “This story isn’t about the plants— it isn’t even about your shop. It’s about you.

Lilligold froze. “Me?” she squeaked.

Price nodded. “The mastermind behind all of it! That’s what ponies will want to read about: what you’re like, how you think it all up. Because the only thing more interesting than your plants is the pony behind the plants.” He bonked himself on the head. “That’s where our story is!”

From behind her mane, Lilligold looked at him. Her blush had only intensified. “Y-You want to write an article about me? I-I don’t think I’m comfortable with that. No, not at all.”

The hopeful expression Price had built up crumbled into a frown. “Why not, though?”

“I…” Lilligold took a deep breath. She managed to come out from behind her mane and stand a bit taller. “I never wanted this to become about me. It was meant to be about the plants, and the shop, not the… the freaky mare behind it all. I can’t handle that spotlight. What would ponies think of me?”

Price lifted a hoof to Lilligold’s shoulder, drawing her eyes to his. “They’d think exactly what I think. That you’re a talented pony with a great gift, and passion to boot. It’s like you said: ponies love your plants! Why shouldn’t they love you too?”

Lilligold shrank. “I don’t know…”

Price sighed. “Can you at least give me an interview—just to see how it goes? I promise it won’t get published if you don’t want it to, and you don’t have to answer anything you’re uncomfortable with. I really think it could make for a great story, but it’s your call.”

Lilligold looked at Price Back. She measured his hopeful eyes, then looked past him and across the greenhouse. It was rather majestic, when she took it all in.

She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll try.”