Editors note, this is a reprint of a story John did in December of 2010. The weather as we wait for the third weekend storm in a row, got us thinking of spring. That and the message board sign (allowed because they are a “farm”) at Shady Hill Greenhouse read “Seeds are In” this afternoon. We are sure many in our agrarian community will appreciate this as the snow flakes fall.
There is no such thing as a recovering gardener, especially in the winter.
‘Tis the week after Christmas and my Burpee Seed catalog just came in, along with the Jackson and Perkins book of roses and a magazine full of slick gardening tools – if gardening tools can be slick, which seems kind of contrary to the whole notion in some ways, but exactly on point in others. I’d like to note for the record that no matter what may be my other sins and transgressions, planting roses is not one of them, so I don’t know how I got on the Jackson and Perkins mailing list.
Unless they got my name from Burpee.
I confess a certain weakness for the Burpee catalog. It arrives just before the new year, when the ground is almost always frozen hard and frequently buried beneath snow. The daylight seems shifted toward the cold blue as though the sun was moving away, even though it has actually started moving back north in the sky. You understand from the calendar and the weathermen that the days are getting longer, but there’s nothing outdoors to convince you of that, yet there in your hand is a seed catalog and you know there will be another growing season.
Even if you’ve sworn off gardening. Several times.
It’s all the pretty pictures that do it. I used to know a guy who took photographs for a publisher of how-to books. They did books on knitting, on sewing, on gardening, on woodworking, and on just about everything else in the bookstore’s “crafts and hobbies” section, and they hired the leading experts in every subject to write them.
And my old friend would go to wherever they worked and take the pictures you’d see in the books. Except for every now and then, when he’d show up, the experts would look at him with surprise and say, “I’m supposed to actually make the things I wrote about?”
That’s me and the Burpee catalog. You open it to any page – corn, peppers, peonies, it doesn’t matter which – and there on the slick, shiny paper are glossy photos of big, bold, beautiful plants. County fair harvests. Pumped up produce. Veritable Roger Clemenses of juicy fruit. All that’s missing is the line from TV commercials for diet plans and cancer cures: “Results not typical. You should not expect cucumbers like these.”
But they do seem possible in the winter; in fact, the pictures and descriptions seem to promise them. All the work it would take to replicate the squashes and the gourds is sufficiently far into the future that the effort of doing it does not yet outweigh the prospect of the rewards. They told me in psychology class that it’s called an “approach-avoidance” phenomenon: the farther away a conflicting thing is, the more attractive it seems… but at some point when you get closer, the bad side shines through and you want to run away.
For me in a garden, that happens around June, when the mosquitoes are out and the sun is straight overhead and the soil doesn’t seem as rich as you remembered and the home-started seedlings turned out so scraggly that you bought some at Home Depot anyway. But the Burpee catalog works because comes to you at the farthest possible point from the last growing season that’s not close enough to the next one for you to remember why you swore off gardening. Again.
Even though I know all that, I can feel myself backsliding. I’ve folded down corners of some pages and folded up corners of others. Mail-order blueberries are not ideal – they come dormant with bare roots and take a year’s growing to approach the size of potted plants from Benson’s or Rockingham Acres – but they’re available for order now! And all the circumstances that conspired to to deprive last year’s garden of the attention you truly meant to lavish upon it (different from the year before but no less overwhelming) could never happen again, just like they could never have happened last year either, but let’s not get into that. The spade and rake await.
We make our plans a season in advance. We’re born to look ahead. With two-and-two-thirds of a month worth of winter still to come, I’m looking forward to sailing and digging in the garden beds. When summer arrives in its full thermal weight, we’ll think about cool days and football. And looking through the seed catalog is less about growing vegetables and flowers than looking forward to the next season, and that helps gives context to the season that is now, whenever now happens to be. That doesn’t make the now less important; it just reminds us that the things we do today adds up to what we can do tomorrow.