Great gardening expectations


PLANTING SEASON: Every year, winter-bound gardeners flip through seed catalogs to decide which seed varieties to order, plant, and nurture.

Our UPS driver trudged through the snow-covered field in front of our house, hesitant to drive his van any farther on our drift-flanked driveway. He hugged two large boxes against his brown-suited chest and leaned with the wind. My husband, John, ran from the barn and intercepted the load that indicated the approaching end of winter’s siege.

“Here you go,” John, said, stomping the snow from his boots as he deposited the boxes in the kitchen. “Have fun.”

The narrow box sported a photograph of mixed vegetables: cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots, printed over a green background – the green Northerners crave by late February. Another photo displayed a 3-foot-tall and 25-foot-long ventilated hothouse filled with a variety of lettuce.

I’m always keen to experiment with new garden gadgets, and I hoped that the small zip-lock row tunnel would shift this year’s planting of melons into another growing zone.

I dragged the larger box into the small, attached greenhouse that embraces the south wall of our home.

Numerous hours of deliberation, as serious as any by a jury, had preceded its arrival. For a month, a stack of seed catalogs had rested on an unoccupied corner of our kitchen table. I had memorized the symbols that represented Fusarium wilt (race 1), a melon, or for gray leaf spot as I scanned the descriptions of tomatoes.

Dinner conversations darted from Brussels sprouts to winter squash as John and I selected which varieties to nurture this year.

“Which muskmelon do you want to try?” I asked John.

“Not one of those dinky kinds. Something big,” he replied.

“Seed or seedless watermelon?”

“With seeds. We should plant some crenshaws, too.”

I wrote out the order, scribbling on one side of the form and onto the back. Then John tallied the total. (We grow a variety of produce to fill Mason jars, a freezer, and dinner plates, and some extra to send home green gifts with our gardenless friends.)

For the gardener, the arrival of spring seeds is like a second Christmas. Surrounded by pots of scented geraniums, a feathery rosemary plant, and a stately bay tree, I opened the box.

Our orange cats, hearing the rustle of Styrofoam, raced into the greenhouse. I raked through the packing peanuts and pulled out a slim seed packet, the same color as the Styrofoam, only printed with a few green lines. I dug deeper and extracted another wad of envelopes.

The order blank floated to the surface and reminded me that I should find a total of 32 packets. And somewhere in the strata, an envelope of free seeds hid, that yearly mystery gift, a special treasure that would introduce me to some glorious new variety of cosmos or a unique blend of mesclun.

The cats attempted to dive into the tall box, but I shooed them away, knelt down, and fished, sifting through the seed packets.

My elbows brushed the rosemary, releasing its fresh scent. From its pot drifted the fragrance of freshly watered soil, transporting me to an afternoon in June.

For a moment, it was as if I was grubbing about for the first new potatoes, digging up creamy nuggets to add to a pot of peas, while trying not to disturb the tubers forming the fall harvest. Instead, the last seed packets surfaced, along with some free wildflower seeds.

That night in defiance of a snowstorm, I planted a flat of geraniums and hollyhocks. The other seeds wait in a smaller box, hinting at the abundance that will soon sprout beyond my garden gate.

(Click here to visit the Monitor's garden section, which links you to blogs, essays, and articles on many different growing topics)

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