There are not many things in the world more optimistic, in my opinion, than the seed catalogue. Here in New Mexico, it arrives in our mailboxes when it’s still impossibly, bitingly cold outside, the cover glowing unnaturally bright with shiny vegetables and lush herbs. The extraordinary beauty and simplicity of that cover photograph makes me lust after every single seed listed in its pages. I usually read the whole catalogue cover to cover over the course of a month or so, admiring the number of seeds available, consulting the growing information for each plant, debating with myself which varieties would do best, exclaiming over new things I had never thought of growing before.
Dreaming of my garden in February turns me into an ol’ cockeyed optimist.
I come by my enthusiasm for gardening honestly: my grandmother had a fantastic vegetable garden for years and years and my mother, in addition to the productive vegetable gardens she grew with us children, maintains extensive and exquisite plantings around her home that she designed and planted herself. I certainly don’t have the skills, expertise, and experience that they have, but these ladies are the ones who gave me the enthusiasm for the miracles that can happen with a little seed, patience, warmth, water, and time.
Some of these ingredients for miracles are a little harder to come by here in our new mountain valley home than in other places I’ve lived. Seeds I’ve got, patience I have, but warmth, water, and time are a little trickier to come by. While friends in our old Virginia home are going blueberry picking (blueberry picking!), it’s just become warm enough here for us to plant radishes and spinach outside. These little plants got a nice little sprinkling from a lovely thunderstorm all day yesterday, but we’re still in no small danger of it becoming an intolerably dry summer. And, of course, all the planting and maintaining takes an awful lot more time than a person would think that it would, especially if the gardening plan is a little over-ambitious! We recently re-covered the hoophouse on this property and have been planting our warmer-weather vegetables in there. Green beans and tomatoes, okra, zucchini, and cucumbers. But my greatest hopes and ambitions are pinned on the melons I planted yesterday – Crenshaw, honeydew, watermelon, and some very special cantaloupe seeds from a dear friend back in Virginia. They are a long shot – I know this. 110 days to harvest for the Crenshaw melon, for example. Will I get a melon by the 20thof September? Well, miracles do happen.
And isn’t that why we who garden do it anyway? Each and every hard little seed that I put into the ground carries with it the promise of something so much bigger – literally – than itself. We can water, weed, tend, and worry, but the potential bounty contained in that seed can’t be forced out, only encouraged. The birth of a cucumber, green and firm and crisp, is and will always be no small miracle to me. My excitement feels new every time one of those little seeds condescends to unfurl itself in my little patch of borrowed earth. It’s one of the gifts of being human, I think, for what other species is willing to put a seed in the ground and wait months on end for a reward that may or may not come?
Only an ol’ cockeyed optimist, I suppose.