Waltz of the flowers in winter

When the temperature hovers just above zero, garden catalogs hold the promise of spring.

SHNS photo by Joe Lamp'l; NEWSCOM

The farmer smiles out at me from the cover of the catalog. In his hand he appears to be holding fertile soil or perhaps some seeds. A riot of yellow sunflowers flourish across the glossy paper that reads, “Welcome to Wildseed Farms.”

I’m only going to glance inside at the first page. I don’t have room in my yard for wildflowers. But like a book of magic, one page turns and then another, and I’m hooked. Perhaps, I might have room for just one wildflower.

“Our guarantee – we want you to be happy.” I want bluebonnets, but they grow well only in Zone 7 or 8. My garden appears in the blue section of the zone map of the United States – Zone 4. Should I hope to grow bluebonnets or plant some more of their northern cousin – lupine – again?

Every winter, when the world outside my window is white, I dream in color – blue lupine, scarlet penstemon, marigolds.

Just as I’m sliding on cross-country skis across the snow, they begin to arrive. Some days it’s just one, some days two or three. Perky faces peer out of the pages of the Wildseed Farms catalog, the Park Seed catalog, the Seed Savers Exchange catalog, and more.

I dash inside from the mailbox, fix a cup of tea, and pore over every page while studiously ignoring the zones. I’m seduced by blossoms in riots of hues.

Maybe this year I can grow agapanthus – lily of the Nile – in my Rocky Mountain Montana garden! I turn another page, garden plan in one hand, pencil in another.

I hear a whisper of names like a siren song: poppy falling in love,   Rudbeckia 'Cappuccino.' How can they do this to me?

My inner artist drools over the palette of colors, over the names Dierama, “angel’s fishing rod,” with “lovely bell-shaped blooms of white, pink, rose, and magenta that dangle from arching stems like a string of fish on a line giving this South African native....”

I put on my glasses to read the fine print – Zones 7 to 9, it says. I wrinkle my brow. Why can’t all the seed and plant catalogs use the same format and make it clear on the first page what the climate tolerance is for each flower or organize them in sections?

Then I take a deep breath and begin to remember why I look forward to reading these beauty-filled magazines when the temperature outside hovers near zero.

I plant imaginary gardens first. then I list the plants I already have and love – butterfly scabiosa with petals that emerge one by one like wings; the blanketflower loved and admired by Lewis and Clark; the iris that dance through spring like belles at a ball.

I dog-ear pages of possibilities and pencil in a wish list.

Last year baby bunnies ate my marigold border. Should I plant them again? Perhaps a row of lettuce or carrots would draw them away from the flowers.

The deer love hostas the way a child loves candy. A low border of sages might be a deterrent the first time they pass through with their speckled fawns. Or maybe I can learn to share my borders.

This time of year, I don’t count sheep while I try to fall asleep, I list flowers: LiliumFort Knox’; Hosta ‘Lonesome Dove’; Dianthus ‘Frosty Fire.’

Outside, crystal petals fall, covering my sleeping garden in a gown of winter white. Inside, I’m warmed by the oranges and reds of a flickering fire. The waltz of the flowers dances in my head.

(Editor's note: We invite you to visit the main page of the Monitor’s gardening site , where you can find many articles, essays, and blog posts on various garden topics.)

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