Litchfield, Connecticut, is the home of White Flower Farm. It is the mecca for New England gardeners. Their catalog stays on the coffee table throughout the endless winters, promising plants that will surely be the Holy Grail of the garden. Hardy plants that can live in shade and sun. Clay soil or rich humus.
Virginia is a far cry from the well-tilled beds of Litchfield. Our soil is clay filled, acid, and has the nurturing ability of a bitter spinster whose second floor is rented to a family with six noisy children. No matter, we pore over the catalog and believe it all. If we home owners plant what Amos Pettingill does, then our plants will look just like his. But I do not have the magic of Amos. On the left is a hydrangea that is in its third Spring. It is not four to five feet high. It is about eight inches high. It does not have mopheaded blossoms nodding in the evening breeze. It has a few blasted buds struggling for survival.
The lilies did better. They popped out of the ground, in green leaves looking like an angry Muppet. They tossed out spiky leaves and then crowned
them with fat, waxy flowers. But the Virginia heat will roast them. They can’t last the ideal two weeks, I’m happy if they get to be a week old before fainting.
The catalog is not totally innocent. Many times the description makes plants seem eager to come live in a hot, humid climate and poor soil.
The catalog tempts with description of easy plants. Throw the plant anywhere; it will grow glossy green leaves that deer hate and mold won’t touch. In one summer it will grow six feet tall AND will give you peaches, cherries and sing your cranky baby to sleep. . .
But when the box arrives, there are stern instructions that pull up would-be gardeners short. The flier gives different instructions. They demand that you plant the delicate addition exactly 7.5 inches deep in a hole you dig with ungloved hands. The plant won’t grow if you dig the hole with a shovel. Water with your sweat and tears that you must distill or the salt will kill the plant. Give it only morning sun and light shade in the afternoon. This might mean constructing a special shelter out of virgin wings. If you don’t, your plant will die a horrible death, and you will hear it screaming in your sleep.”
For all that, I still buy plants from White Flower Farm. I like to dream. Quiet dreams of happy plants.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. Sadly, she is not a successful gardener. See her new journal-writing classes on QuinnCreative.com