It was probably the first pansy ever to have its own publicity agent, but I couldn't help myself. As I carried it around the office in a tiny bottle-stopper vase for everyone to admire, I felt like a new mother. Not only was it beautiful, with a deep purple face and dimples of buttercup yellow, it was also the first flower I'd ever raised from seed.
Sometime within the past year I became a flower person. It may have happened last fall when I began to linger over ads for tulip bulbs in The New Yorkerm instead of keeping my attention focused on the cartoons. Or my interest may have germinated at Christman when I wrapped some seed catalogs and put them under the tree for myself. All I know for certain is that by early January my roots were down and our home was taking on a neo-grocery store decor, with milk cartoons and margarine tubs full of new-sown seed in every window.
My husband had survived my previous passing fancies, including a month of self-taught piano lessons, and he nodded understandingly as I burbled over each new geranium shoot. As seedlings continued to sprout throughout the house and I continued to water and weed and feed my small green charges, his patience turned to spousely pride. In February he surprised me with a secondhand utility trailer, which he hitched to our Volkswagen and drove to a friend's stable. Every Saturday for the next two months he hauled manure home and forked it into our flower beds-to-be.
While he was ankel deep in practicalities, I plotted every corner of the garden on graph paper, trying to fit as many petunias and mums into the tiny squares as possible. I wanted to fill our whole front yard with blooms: red and white nicotiana along the picket fence, yellow marigolds to hid the water meter, bright blue ageratum beside the steps.
When planting day finally arrived, my anticipation was exceeded only by the realization that there was space enough for all our seedlings -- and then some. I found I could squeeze four or five pansies under each hollyhock and tuck a couple of impatiens in between the shasta daisies, with room to spare.
As the summer progressed, I couldn't pass a nursery without stopping to see what was on sale. I picked flats of verbena and portulaca off bargain tables and dipped into our penny jar to buy a couple of gaillardia plants. Friends offered starts of dusty miller and marguerites, and I moved the zinnias closer together to make room for the new arrivals.
Some of our flowers were constantly on the move and seemed to thrive on it. In the process of laying a winding brick walk through the garden, we transplanted the bordering three times -- and still it bloomed in snowy profusion. The more we trimmed, the faster the scarlet salvia sent up new stalks.
Now that summer has drawn to a close and we finally have time out from our watering and weeding chores, I've been trying to define what it is about flowers that attracts me so. Unlike my purposeful friends who produce tomatoes and zucchini ad infinitum, I don't get anything edible out of our garden but rose hips and an occasional aphid. I do reap lots of intangibles, however.
Thanks to flowers, I'm reading more now than I used to, everything from agriculture extension service bulletins to esoteric brochures advertising the latest in synthetic snakes (to scare birds). My vocabulary's improving, too. At the peak of the crop in August I could converse quite freely about coreopsis and pachysandra, and I had a working knowledge of bee balm.
At the peak of our crop we also began to meet a lot of neighbors we'd never seen before. Some slowed down in their cars to yell enthusiasm for our coral bells, and others came by (perhaps out of pity) to tell us how much they liked the solitary bud on our rosebush. There was the youngster who spent a Saturday morning helping my husband plant myrtle, and the English setter that crossed the street one evening to smell the delphiniums. I'm sure I saw an approving smile on his face.
As the final chrysanthemum fades and we begin to lug our watering cans and rakes to the basement, what I think I'll miss most about our flowers, strangely enough, is the work that went into raising them. What will I do when there are no more weeds to pull, when the last Japanese beetle has scurried into the sunset?
As usual, my husband's come up with an answer. Last night when I thought he was doing the dishes, he was actually sorting through the garbage. At breakfast this morning he presented me with my first indoor winter gardening project -- a freshly scrubbed avocado pit.