Could We Survive Winter Without Garden Catalogs? ©

The Chicago Sun-Times
by Rita Emmett

I love kids. I especially love my kids … but not during February. As a matter of fact, I don’t like anybody very much during February.

February lands smack in the middle of the worst quarter of the year. January brings the letdown after Christmas. No holidays after new Year’s. Nothing.

February in other parts of the country may be glorious, but in the Chicago area it’s gray – gray sky, gray snow, gray streets, gray slush, gray clothes, gray cars, gray people.

March brings more nothingness, more gray, only windier. So how is it – year after year – people survive Chicago winters without going stark raving bananas? I have a theory.

Did you ever see a garden catalog? Those things have contributed more to our mental health during this dismal quarter of the year than anything else. Here’s how it works. After Christmas, the family takes down the tree and all the decorations. The house looks dismal, the family sinks into a funky slump and I get crabby.

The very next day, the first garden catalog arrives. Then another, then another. On the cover and inside are spectacular photos of bright yellow sweet corn, gorgeous roses, delicate snapdragons, dwarf apple trees, brilliant marigolds and zinnias, prolific zucchinis, giant pumpkins and the perfect flowering ground cover for the shady spot in your yard.

Who cares about the wintry wind outside? My mind is filled with hopes and dreams and plans.

Maybe we’re slicing orange-Styrofoam-store-bought-tomatoes now, but come summer, we’ll have red, ripe, juicy homegrown ones.

And maybe I’ll start a rose garden and fill the yard with a riot of color. Or maybe I’ll plant this beautiful purple climbing clematis and let it smother the fence with leaves and blossoms.

As I’m gleefully flipping through the pages, my husband launches into his annual (or rather perennial) recital of Murphy’s Law of the Garden: "Lettuce will cost more than a buck a head until the very moment your garden lettuce is ready to harvest, at which point all stores will put lettuce on sale, three heads for a nickel."

The man has no vision for vegetables, no fantasy for flora. Winter has withered his wishbone.

So what happens if all my gardening dreams don’t come to fruition? To me, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if the crops fail, if the bugs eat everything, if a disease kills the plants. It doesn’t matter if I never plant anything.

My favorite part of gardening takes place right now during this miserable quarter of the year – cuddling up with my catalogs and savoring the photos in January, selecting and ordering the plants in February and making a mental layout of where everything will bloom in March.

As I curl up with my garden catalogs and gaze out the window at the gray world, I realize they not only offer hope, and help preserve my sanity during this dismal Chicago winter, they also renew my faith in one of the most optimistic phrases in the English language: "This, too, shall pass."


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