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Seed Catalogs Rooted in Optimism
January rolls around and once again I am swept up in a fierce love-hate relationship with seed catalogs.
I love browsing through a seed catalog. It’s so full of hope. When the temperature is struggling to get above zero, and the wind is howling down from the north at a thousand miles an hour, and the snow is turning the streets into ski runs, there’s nothing quite like settling into your easy chair, warm and safe, with the Horticultural Wish Book.
Every page is full to the margins with photographic possibility: Perfect red tomatoes, glistening slices of melon, dew-covered strawberries, fresh crisp lettuce, juicy ears of sweet corn. Did I say corn? Porn is more like it. Garden porn.
This is where the hate part comes in, as in “I hate that I live in the city on a lot where the soil is composed mostly of crushed brick, glass, old bones and pop-tops, and I can barely grow crabgrass, much less vegetables.”
And while we’re at it, you might as well throw in the fact that even with the best conditions there’s only so much horticulture you can do within the confines of a yard near downtown Indianapolis. For me to grow everything I check-marked in the Johnny’s Selected Seeds Catalog, I would need a significantly larger space. Another 35 acres ought to do it.
This is the curse of having, as one who knows me well recently put it, a rural soul trapped in an urban environment. It should be noted, however, that I had similar feelings when I was a kid trapped in a rural environment. Even at that tender age I knew that seed catalogs were a come-on, a wink and a promise, designed to lure gardeners into spending too much and, as a result, expecting too much. Perfect, crisp, juicy? In your dreams, maybe. In reality you were probably looking at misshapen, rubbery and bug-eaten.
Well, my reality, anyway. I wasn’t a very good gardener back then. I’m still not, but I have arrived at a solution, which I’ll explain in a minute.
Part of the problem in kidhood may have been my attraction to the most unusual plant varieties. Blue potatoes, black turnips, chartreuse cauliflower -- if it was weird, I wanted to grow it. The stranger, the better -- which, I realize, is simply a case of the produce reflecting the producer.
I guess this gets us back to the love side of the equation, or at least headed in that direction. Seed catalogs give us license to dream, to indulge that trapped rural soul, to imagine the world as it will be in a fresh, warm spring that seems so far from the snow-mantled dead of winter. Of course, it also allows us to forget just how much work is required just to grow a decent salad, but remember this is garden porn. We’re not dealing with reality.
And that brings up the solution I mentioned. If you have the same problem you can do as I did and get a job working for a produce farm, showing the place to visitors and telling them where their food comes from. Someone else does the actual work and you get to be outside in the fresh air and warm sun. Plus you get really good vegetables at the employee discount.
No blue potatoes, though.
© 2011 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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