I tried to make a connection between the arrival of the first plant catalog and President’s Day. The only thing I came up with that fit was in the tree and shrub selections where cherries, usually dwarf, were offered. But Washington’s association with a cherry tree was cutting one down. No mention I know of says that Father Washington made young George make restitution by planting a new tree. We’d insist on that these days, along with a fine lecture on the importance of trees and on climate change, though I suggest garden suppliers might begin to use caution about who and what they call dwarf. Anyway, George Washington planted no cherry tree I know of and Honest Abe Lincoln (last of that political stripe) was, as you recall, known for splitting and cutting in his rustic youth. As a general and an attorney, neither one seems particularly agricultural. There seems to be no President’s Day connection with the arrival of the first seed catalogs of a spring so distant we’re still ice fishing on the big lake.
A possible explanation was that the seed and plant selling companies were located far south and had no notion of northern winter extending into an annual gestation of nine months that produces a sudden gout of black fly, tick, and mosquito that make us long and pray for the blessing of a good killing frost. By my reckoning, these companies would have to be in Panama to have the required amount of ignorance and optimism to offer shrubs and bedding plants to a northern Minnesotan in February. My suspicion on that account is furthered by the usual way these sellers hide or confuse the zone system. They’ll say what the zone number is but not what that means or where to find it. I’ve gone through the pages of some two or three times only to be no wiser on my zone. Of course they know this and plan on us taking a chance that Zone 1 is a good thing and that so long as they call their magnolia hardy, we’ll chance it for a mere thirty dollars of wishful whimsy.
Um, but when you see where the sellers are located (at least on paper), the hemisphere explanation falls apart. A catalog picked at random from the pile of seed and plant offerings so far having fallen like colorful leaves off the USPS tree says the parent company is in Bloomington, Illinois. What is that, ten or twelve hours south of Duluth-Superior? It’s not that distant. Do they not know that when it’s minus twelve in the morning, we are not going to thaw and germinate any seed for quite some time? It’s a torture sending us these impossible dreams. If I did order the special of two each of dwarf (there’s that word once again) varieties of peach, azalea, and climbing rose, I’d have to tell them to delay shipment until June 30. Do I want to give them my money four months before I get their prized stock to put in the ground for a miserable death or to become high-cost deer chow? Having done all those things, I don’t know why. Does the desire for spring simply overcome all sense and natural defense to make us brainless as a teenage boy leering at Dolly Parton? (I’m sure there is a more current equivalent of Dolly, but I do not know it, and am not going to bother a Google or Wiki search for something I care less about than a shortage of wax paper in Kiribati.)
Yes, I want spring to get here. I want it knowing that means a full month of mud, muck, and slop where everything looks as appealing as grimy socks until nature finally pulls some green fabric over her bare toes and limbs. I’d call the catalog senders crazy, but I bet the tactic works. They get us where we are least able to defend. They get us in the hope department. We are suckers for hope. We hope and believe that radical philosophies will turn nice if we throw kisses at them, which I’d call a poor defense if you’re to be beheaded. Nearer to home, we hope the drunken neighbor who throws loud parties every other day will find a better hobby and lifestyle. Later we’ll hope a DWI will cure him. Last we will wish he was dead, but not a hope or wish mattered, and no amount of plant ordering hope will bring spring any sooner.
But, in the odd off chance we can curry favor with the Gods of the Seasons (some of the most “devout” religions are glorified paganism), we may deny only to honor them in secret with offerings of cash and credit card to achieve the reward of the ever-bearing strawberry that is shade tolerant, resists disease and insect, needs no special soil, will climb, and best of all is delicious. We kow-tow, genuflect, and head bang in devotion so pure it makes us blind to the impossibility of the above, so pure that IF it were so every squirrel, chipmunk, sparrow, and tall white-tailed rat would spot “delicious” from miles away and would swoop in to carry it away, leaving us some nibbled berries for jam and a few leaves to dry for tea.
I’m inclined to advertise in Bloomington to sell homegrown frozen corn. A snow blower opens your rows. You follow with a hammer drill to make a hole for each kernel (or pea, as peas do well and don’t require creaming, as do the lower orders of corn) and plug with a bit of compost. The sit back and let it snow. Frozen corn is dormant in warm months and will finish to maturity between January 02 and 13 of the following year. I’ve had reasonable success growing frozen vegetables. Their cultivation is easy enough for children. The challenge, one I’ve yet to solve with sufficient success, is getting the frozen product into its box free of frozen dirt, which detracts so much from consumer appeal.
I’d wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, but wondering who might be offended I won’t say it.