A garden is so forward-looking that it resembles sometimes a family or a business enterprise. I’ve even heard someone liken it to a crystal ball, making it surely unique. Seeds are literally prophetic: tiny crystal balls. Within 12 to 18 months, you’ll have exactly what was foretold. This makes gardeners a strong surviving force—we call it the “Burpee Army”.
Life is made up of gardenesque things: nest eggs, shareholdings, seed money, hedge funds, college funds, ancestral roots and family trees. Youth is soft and flower-like, maturity a great passion and fruition, and old age handsomely wrinkled and evocative.
At first glance, all is growth in a garden—there’s no thought of ripeness or harvest. Sooner or later, mistakes occur. We sweep them aside quickly to start over. Nutrition and above all steadfast care determine health and happiness—anything will grow. A tiny grain will produce a weekly basket of produce; a large seed, sound root or stocky bulb—a bushel.
Risks? In a word: “weeds”. In the household, the big weeds hold the most danger: new furniture (fatal at most prices), the second or third car (especially a young adult’s), the longed-for appliance or luxury or replacements thereof, the “big deal”—be it land, second home or proverbial relative’s investment tip. Do none of them.
The most precious essentials are often the very smallest: toiletries, socks, a hat, scarf, a haircut, a new suit, dress or coat, the daily bill for utilities—no small matter—and building maintenance. Bread and water. Speaking of the latter, I have a very good recommendation for those hooked on soft drinks, juice or anything else that, over time, costs a lot of money as well as wear and tear. Mix tap water half and half with club soda. The dullness of the still and harshness of the carbonated are magically replaced by a perfectly balanced, infinitely refreshing drink.
I can also help you with cream and butter—don’t eat it. Replace butter with a decent olive oil and a warmed breakfast baguette becomes interesting. Drop the cream from your one cup of coffee or tea. Don’t wimp out. And drink “George’s Magic Water” until you think you’re going to float away. You’ll be amazed how soon it becomes normal. You’ll save money and live longer. It’s the “raw vegetable” of breakfasts.
Our “crystal ball” here at Heronswood, The Cook’s Garden and Burpee illuminates the next year of about ten million gardeners. Unfortunately for us I’m afraid, folks are cutting back their ornamental gardens, not replacing dead plants or filling bare spots. Pardon the pun, but no new growth apart from existing plants. I hope this is a mere pause. It’s a pity folks don’t have fresh beauty in their lives. Flower gardens are an inexpensive grace, a cheap luxury.
In contrast, at Burpee and The Cook’s Garden, we’re awash with early orders of herb and vegetable seeds, transplants and fruit bushes. Also, while many of the “high end” flowers are lower than expected, easy-to-grow cultivars that often decorate a vegetable garden—sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias and nasturtiums—are up. Cutting gardens are almost as popular as vegetable patches, while petunias, begonias and impatiens—the large annuals and tender perennials that fill sculptured beds in the front yard—are even with last year, i.e., no increase.
My father told me that in the Great Depression most people had little or no money to spend. Folks on the edge of society dropped off. My grandmother kept extra soup for the hoboes who tramped by their nursery looking for work. The Elgin, Joliet and Eastern (the “EJ ‘n’ E”) train tracks nearby bent sharply, so the trains would slow down and a few men would see the glass houses in the distance, jump off and climb the hill to the house. Grandma would feed and eyeball them while Grandpa interviewed them.
It’s hard to imagine that this was less than four generations ago. The horticultural “crystal ball” sees only about one or two years ahead. But I’ve seen the future, and it’s millions of bumper crops of vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes and tall flowers, as well as a few thousand newly planted rare shrub and perennial borders scattered about like precious gems. Saving is the new spending. Dental care is the new decadence. Food, clothing and shelter are the new priorities. Vegetable gardens are the new swimming pools and hot tubs of tomorrow.