Brrr! Cold, in some parts of Texas, settles across the land. The days are short. The nights are long. Perfect for dreaming. What a time to garden!
Gone are the holiday gift catalogs, replaced by a bumper crop of gardening catalogs sprouting from the mailbox. Emails pop up overnight, luring me to garden websites both exotic and mundane. We have all seen zinnias and marigolds, but how many of us have seen a whipcord cobra lily? Thanks to online resources such as www.seedman.com, any of us could be first on the block to show off this 4-foot-tall lily with a jack-in-the pulpit flower and a foot-long tongue. That ain’t no Texas plant! And that’s just the start! No box of chocolates tempts me the way garden catalogs do.
The Burpee Gardening catalog offers more than 120 varieties of tomato seeds. Choose from the petite, 1-ounce green grape tomato or the humongous 4-pound porterhouse. Or what about the maroon black krim heirloom tomato?
Native American Seed, a family-owned business near Junction, actually makes me want to plant a scourge from my West Texas childhood: devil’s claw (Proboscidea louisianica). Listed online in the conservancy seeds section for “scarce and uniquely beautiful wildflowers,” devil’s claw has orchid-like flowers and fruit that can be eaten like okra. If I’d only known back then of its beauty and utility, I might have forgiven its vicious, grasping claws.
Winter is dangerous for gardeners. Not having to actually prep, plant, weed and water, housebound gardeners are inclined to run amok, dreaming and scheming way beyond reality. Good sense goes dormant along with the rest of the garden. Pest and pestilence are forgotten along with heat and drought. Time, money and energy are no barriers. I envision persimmon trees, bull’s-eye beets and night-blooming jasmine flourishing in my garden along with all the tomatoes, baby squash, berries, herbs and asparagus I will grow and share with friends and family. Hyacinth beans, showing off neon pinkish-purple flowers and burgundy seedpods, twirl around my 8-foot copper obelisk. The cucumbers strain my hog-wire fence. Mind you, this all takes place in a small suburban yard.
Then to bring this all to fruition, I check out garden-supply catalogs. Maybe I need a seed hotel to get my babies off to a good start. Surely the little seedlings would like a warming mat to ward off the spring chill and give them a good start in life. What about those spiffy copper plant nametags? Or should I go with the aluminum markers that tie onto the plants? Then maybe I need some seaweed fertilizer. A good diet is important to all growing things.
Without fail, seed and garden-supply catalogs that arrive in the winter tempt the compliant and eagerly misled gardener into dreaming big. Maybe too big, but then maybe not. Dreams are free therapy. It’s also been said that dreams are gifts we give ourselves.
Nonetheless, an intervention is called for. A small dose of reality might be in order. The strong light of day interrupts my daydreams. And the weeding of the catalogs begins. What can really work in my yard? What can thrive in 100-degree heat without daily watering? What plants and products deliver the best bang for the buck? What natives are showy and attract hummingbirds and butterflies?
I’m ordering a dog’s breakfast of seeds, plants and products. Some plants are for food. I will wedge these into my garden along with flowers and native grasses. Some plants are for show. I concentrate on tough butterfly-attracting natives but do slip in some purely ornamental daylilies.
My haricot vert (thin green bean) and lemon basil seeds are here. I better get cracking. Soon it will be time to put aside the catalogs and dreams and prep the garden. Clip the frozen plants. Mix in compost. Check the soaker hoses. Mulch the trees, shrubs, native grasses and perennials.
Each year, the challenge of bringing those winter dreams to blooming and fruiting reality makes my heart sing. Each year I get a tiny bit better. And isn’t that what life is about: getting a little better at whatever we do. Gardens, friendship, work, life.
And, yes, I did order the devil’s claw.
Suzi Sands, art director