Hooked!

A plant catalog addict confesses.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY JEFF CROSBY

Each year at the end of December, when my self-esteem is low (having been eroded by parties full of people who are younger, thinner, richer, and more charming and more successful than I), and when faced with a house full of empty boxes, crushed ribbons, the carcass of a large turkey, and the needles—millions of tree needles!—I feel a bout of Winter doldrums descending like a nasty cold. Alas, at this time I am especially vulnerable: easy prey, a pitiful creature ready to surrender to anything that offers relief.

What sort of villain would offer a drink to an alcoholic? Or a new drug to a wasted addict? The very same type of opportunist who sends me seed catalogs at the end of December.

On a gray end-of-year day, I hear it—the plop of mail falling through the door slot.

Skulking around the house on a gray end-of-year day, I hear it—the plop of mail falling through the door slot. I force myself to walk nonchalantly to the door. I gather up the assortment and paw through the pile. Flinging aside a nice envelope from my favorite cousin, a refund check for something I returned in October, and a late-arriving present from a dear friend, I find them—oh, boy, three of them!—glowing in a riot of primary colors. A Territorial, Scheeper’s, and Baker Creek!*

I know, I know, I should throw them away, as I pledged to do last August. But I am weak, I’m no good. My hand doesn’t even hesitate. I reach for the first one and drink in that cover photo. Reds and greens and yellows—oh, my!

*What great sources these and other regular GREENPRINTS advertisers are for seeds, plants, and more! Hint, hint!

I take a farewell look at the drab world outside the window. There is no fight left in me. Sinking into my easy chair, I begin to slowly turn the pages.

If you have never been down this road, you can’t know. We are different from other people. We can’t stop with one flat of petunias, oh no. We must have seeds and cuttings and plants from exotic places. We must try everything. Flowers from New Guinea, cabbages from Siberia, yard-long beans, and seeds that have been to the moon. Plants brought down from the Alps, bulbs of an exotic lily that is worshiped in China. The world’s first white marigold—oh, I must have it all! I plunge on, page after page, mesmerized. The morning slips by, the beds unmade, dishes unwashed. The dog could die and the roof blow off—or the other way around—I wouldn’t know it. I’ve sunk to a level of depravity that dwells in eternal Summer.

But not real Summer. That is the cruelty of it. I am led down paths that have no weeds. I taste unblemished fruit. I drift through a world without bugs, without black spot and mildew, where mornings are always sunny yet the rain gauge is full. Down the garden path I ramble, drenched in wonderment and wanting, blocking out failure and frustration—things I don’t see in my reverie.

After ogling all three catalogs, I know what’s next. Up to this point, it was only harmless fun, but now I cross the line into serious trouble. I reach for a pencil and paper. I shouldn’t. I know I’ll hate myself in July, but I can’t help it. I make The List. I jot down all the flowers and vegetables that I must have, listed alphabetically and with prices and page numbers duly noted, along with each one’s preference for sun or shade, season of bloom or harvest, and such pertinent information as height and best time to plant.

Salivating now, from the master list I make others, indexed according to seed company and purpose (vegetable, cutting gar-den, perennial bed, etc.). And then, as a sop to a very weak signal from the common-sense nodule in the back of my brain, I break all this down into three more lists: what I really “Must Have,” those I “Could Probably Do Without,” and finally, those I “Definitely Should Reconsider,” because they need an eight-month Summer and take three years to germinate.

Finally I can take in no more. I lay aside those well-thumbed pages and vow not to touch another catalog until I am stronger and have built up resistance.

Give me credit. I do try. As the weeks pass, I force myself to look out the window at my backyard, to note that it is only 30’ x 50‘, much of that taken up by a swing set and a concrete patio. I also make a trip into the cellar to look at those shelves of pest-fighting sprays and powders and remind myself that they were bought to fight a war I cannot win. (The promo copy on their la-bels seems to have been written by the same optimists who write seed catalogs.)

Oh, but I feel good! I’ve beaten it! This time I won’t order anything!

A trip to the cellar is an important part of my cure. While I’m down there, I cannot miss taking a good hard look at the rows of pickle jars, empty because a blight killed the cucumber vines. If I’m not too shaken after this, I check the freezer, wherein reside several bags of carrots I grew myself—twisted, wizened little things that took two hours to clean and peel and have as much flavor as shoestrings.

I recall the hours I spent transplanting, ordering, and fertilizing my delphiniums, the kind that in catalogs stand gallantly blue and straight. Mine succumbed to a thunderstorm and crushed three kinds of annuals in front of them.

Ever so strong now, I get out The List once more and cross out some 20 selections on the Could Probably Do Without list. Then I crumple the Definitely Should Reconsider list and toss it in the wastebasket. Oh, but I feel good! I’ve beaten it! This time I’ll make it. Yes, hey, I’ll go all the way! I won’t order anything, I’ll just buy a few tomato plants and a pack of zinnia seeds at the hardware store next May, and that will be it. I can do it!

Then I look out the window, it’s sleeting. I hear some-thing at the front door. It’s the mail dropping through the mail slot.

Let me go check.


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