You must understand, though, that I did not come from a gardening people. My father was first generation Irish-American, and he grew up a city kid, on the Southside of Chicago. My mother was a city kid too, although there must have been some farmers somewhere in her middle-American background. Essentially, my people were talkers, dreamers, jokers, and bon vivants. Neither of my parents had much talent or interest in gardening, and it showed, since we generally had the raggediest yard in the neighborhood. My Dad could and did kill even the hardiest grass, and my mother just wanted to be in the air-conditioning with a good book and a glass of instant Nestea.
Mr. Mary Kay’s people, of East European extraction, were fishermen originally, although his parents were also city kids. His mother loved plants and had some success with roses, but his family yard wasn’t especially scenic, either.
Still, we’ve always piddled around with gardening. And by we, I mean, he. He is the one who toils endlessly over the lawn, fertilizing, seeding, re-seeding and aerating. I love the idea of gardening. I really do. But I seem to have some kind of magical attraction to bugs, who will fly hundreds of miles to bite me. And then my back hurts and I get big itchy welts and I say the hell with it and go back inside to a good book and some home-brewed iced tea. See? I have evolved a little.
My role in our gardening drama these days is to go to the garden shop, pick out some pretty plants, and sprinkle pink flowers around the landscape. I have had my occasional triumphs,though. There was the year our son and I double dug a perennial flowerbed in front of my little office cottage, and planted it with zinnias, cleome, cosmos, sunflowers and pentas, which all flourished that one, amazing summer. And we’ve always had an arbor with pink New Dawn roses clambering over it. Even my father could have probably grown New Dawns, they’re that easy. I usually manage to keep the geraniums and fern baskets on our front porch alive for the duration of summer too.
Yesterday,I planted four dozen little peat-pots with four different varieties of sunflower seeds. I love the poetry and optimism in the variety of flower names: “Mammoth” “Ebony and Gold” “Skyscraper” and “Evening Sun.” In my mind’s eye, I see a row of tall blooms, their bright happy faces turned skyward. I see our little Molly, barefoot, in a hand-smocked white linen dress, toddling amongst the blooms, like one of those Anne Geddes greeting cards.
The reality, I know, is that even if I get some of those seedlings to grow and flower, they will probably be just as raggedy-ass and scraggly as my father’s lawn in St. Pete. Molly, it must be said, is not yet walking, let alone toddling. And even if she were toddling, would we let her do that barefoot, in a backyard that’s essentially a dog-run for our two English Setters? And then there’s the matter of that hand-smocked white linen dress. So far, I don’t know how to smock, and there is very little likelihood that I will learn that much-admired skill, what with trying to write a new book and grow those sunflowers. Still, I have my hopes. And isn’t that what gardening is ultimately all about?