Every year shortly before spring, the Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Co. catalog shows up on my doorstep. The cover is plastered with a WARNING label in big black letters informing me that if I don’t order now, this will be my last catalog. It also has coupons: $100 off with an order of $200 or more. Who can’t afford to save $100?
Being the good consumer that I am, I sit down with my catalog and start planning my garden for the summer. Have I ever successfully grown a garden? Nope. Will I be successful this year? Not likely. I start out with good intentions which quickly fade once the precious little seedlings sprout and are crowded out by weeds. Oh sure, the first dandelions pull out easily enough, but then life gets in the way, and by the time I remember to go outside and check the garden, the pesky invaders have turned into full-grown weeds and the precious Gurney’s seeds have all been choked to death. But I can grow a good weed!
I have even gone so far as to start the seedlings in the house weeks before planting them. I follow the instructions and spread the requisite number of seeds per square inch and make sure they have sunshine and warmth. They slowly break free from the soil and reach for the light. I wait until the last frost is past and transplant them outside, where they slowly die off and shrivel away.
Remembering past failures, I move on to the landscaping options in the catalog. Oh, what wonders will I find now? There’s the beautiful Rocketman Russian Sage, and the May Night Salvia guaranteed to lure butterflies and hummingbirds to my front yard. The sage is a “drought-tolerant choice,” which is a good thing, because the odds of me remembering to water them are slim. The Salvia is “very low maintenance” — also a good thing.
Unlike the garden seeds, the landscaping shrubs come as plants, so they are past the seedling stage, which increases the odds of them not dying due to their fragility. I sit down and plan out where I’m going to plant them. I add paving stones and containers to my list, because container plants are all the rage.
My husband walks in and sees me with my diagram and list of items I have to buy to make sure I’m not removed from the Gurney’s catalog mailing list. His eyes open wide when I ask him if we are able to get sand at the local hardware store so we can properly set the paving stones the way the catalog describes.
After being together nearly thirty years, he knows me well enough to slowly back out of the kitchen when I have my planting diagrams spread out over the kitchen table.
I yell at him, “But I have coupons!” He pretends not to hear, and the back-door slams shut as he rushes out of the house.
Oh, I’ll show him. We’ll have the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood, I think to myself.
I imagine the wondrous courtyard I’m going to have. Then I think about the time it’s going to take to dig, mow, weed, water, trim, and maintain. Maybe I need a five-year plan instead of a do- it-all-at-once plan. I look outside at the wintery yard. The wind is howling, and I see the mound of leaves I raked last fall, snow-covered and frozen, forgotten when I moved on to my next project.
Maybe I just need to buy a few containers and place them strategically around the outside of the house so people can ooh and aah at my wonderful green thumb. When I go out to check the mail, I see three containers with plants sitting on my front porch, the dirt frozen solid, dead branches sticking out above the snow.
The Gurney’s catalog gets tossed into the garbage can, along with the coupons and my drawings of where everything will go.
I think about how this little exercise relates to my life in general. I’m the first person to sign up for an empty spot that needs to be filled on the board, or the volunteer position for the organization that desperately needs more help.
I start out with big plans, full of ideas and diagrams. As the newness wears off and the work begins, I lose interest and find other things I need to do that are more important. I slowly let my interest die and the weeds come in and choke out my good intentions.
Perhaps next time I’ll sit back and think about it a little more before I jump in. Just like the endless opportunities to volunteer, the Gurney’s catalog is sure to show up again next spring.
Bio: Penny Devlin is a lifetime member of Writers' Village University where she started working toward her MFA in February of 2019. She has taken many writing classes over the years, including ones in creative nonfiction. She has been published in Village Square.