Floral visions extinguish winter blues

The timely arrival of a seed catalogue was all the inspiration this young gardener needed while caught in winter’s icy grip

Winter was long, and I had grown weary of nothing but plain white snowbanks, bare trees and gray skies. I craved a splash of colour in my drab prairie world, and one day it actually arrived in the mail — the annual seed catalogue.

This was heady stuff to read. Everything was guaranteed — every flower and every shrub “rugged, care-free, drought-resistant, disease-free, easy growing, dependable and vigorous.” Depending on the variety, they either “burst, erupted, exploded or glowed in a waterfall of shades, drenching your garden in bloom, a flowery haven of massive clusters, some approaching bushel basket size.”

Directed to me at a weak moment, I was taken in by those claims. The routines of life had become monotonous, the roads were all clogged with snow and the landscape was cold and forbidding. The prospects of growing a “living blanket, a sheet of flaming colour” warmed my heart, especially when compared to the icy cold bed that awaited me in the northwest corner of the house.

As I shovelled a path to the pump and took out a kettle of warm water to prime it, “an ocean of living colour, blooming in continuous waves” seemed a sharp contrast to the bleak landscape at hand.

Trudging in and out with armloads of wood to feed the gluttonous stove, I began to anticipate the warm, lazy days of summer when bright yellow roses would be “clambering quickly over the fence and up the side of the house in a rolling blanket of large golden blooms.” Ah, but who could resist? Best of all, their “intense fragrance” would be a far cry from that of the barnyard.

Caught up in my daydreaming, it never occurred to me that before I could “bask in such a gay profusion of colour,” I would have to borrow a small fortune for seeds, then dig, fertilize, spray, dust, powder, weed, hoe, prune back, stake up and generally forfeit a whole summer of my young life.

Paradise has its price.

To begin with, I had to overcome my mother’s pessimism. She had tried on numerous occasions to grow flowers under the shade of the towering elms in our front yard, only to be disappointed.

“But Mom, I want to plant them at the front of the house.”

She was no more enthusiastic about that, either.

“The soil is terrible there, hard and dry. Nothing will grow there either.”

I was not about to be deterred. I continued to pore over the seed catalogue. In my young mind there grew a distinct parallel between the size of the seed and the size of the blooms.

“Mom, which flowers have the biggest seeds?”

“Nasturtiums.” Her tone was jaded.

I paid no heed. Reaching for my piggy bank, I shook out five pennies, enough for a package of nasturtium seeds at the local store. They looked gorgeous on the picture, bright orange blooms against scalloped green leaves.

On a warm spring day I planted all 10 seeds in the banking under the bay window, and waited. And waited. Eventually one came up, and then another. Once in awhile when I’d remember to water them, I’d notice somebody else had already done it. One day I noticed a bit of orange peeking out from under the leaves.

“They’re blooming, Mom, they’re blooming.”

She smiled knowingly.

Alas, I waited in vain for my nasturtiums to equal the beauty of those pictured on the package of seeds.

Did my disappointment deter me from gardening? No, because from that day to this, whenever a new seed catalogue arrives, hope springs eternal. In my mind’s eye I can see the most perfect garden I have ever grown, the most luxuriant flowers that have ever bloomed, the most beautifully landscaped yard you can imagine. In the middle of an unforgiving prairie winter, seed catalogues have that effect. They are like ideals, and as someone has observed, ideals are like stars. We may never reach them, but we still use them to chart our course — or plan our gardens.

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