Our UPS driver leaned against the wind and trudged through the snow-covered field in front of our house, hesitant to drive his van any farther on our drifted driveway. He deposited on our front porch two large boxes that signaled the approaching end of winter’s siege.
The one narrow box sported a photograph of mixed vegetables: cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots, printed over a green background…the green that northerners crave by late February. Another photo displayed a three foot tall and twenty-five foot long ventilating, hothouse filled with lettuces. I’m always keen to experiment with new garden gadgets, and I hoped that the small zip-lock row tunnel would shift this year’s planting of melons into another growing zone.
I dragged the larger box into the small, attached greenhouse that embraces the south wall of our home. Numerous hours of deliberation, as serious as any juryman’s task, had preceded its arrival. For a month, a stack of seed catalogs had rested on an unoccupied corner of our kitchen table. I had memorized the symbols that represented Fusarium wilt race 1 or for Gray Leaf Spot, as I scanned the descriptions of tomatoes. Dinner conversations darted from Brussels sprouts to which winter squash to choose as my husband, John and I selected the varieties to nurture this year.
“Which muskmelon do you want to try?” I had asked John.
“Not one of those dinky kinds. Something big.”
Seed or seedless watermelon?”
“With seeds. We should plant some Crenshaws, too.”
I wrote out the order that rambled down one side of the form and onto the back. John tallied the total. We grow to fill Mason jars, a freezer and dinner plates, as well as to send home green gifts with gardenless friends. Finally, the packets that would fill my pantry had arrived.
Surrounded by pots of scented geraniums, a feathery rosemary plant and a stately bay tree, I opened the box. Hearing the rustle of Styrofoam, our orange cats raced into the green house. I raked through the white chips and pulled out a slim seed packet, the same color as the Styrofoam, only printed with a few green lines. I dug deeper and extracted another wad of envelopes. The order blank floated to the surface and reminded me that I should find a total of thirty-two packets tucked between the white shards. And somewhere in the strata, an envelope of free seeds hid, that yearly mystery gift, a special treasure that would introduce me to some glorious new variety of cosmos or a unique blend of mesclun.
The cats attempted to dive into the high container, but I shooed them away, knelt down, and fished further. My elbows brushed the rosemary that released its fresh scent. From its pot drifted the fragrance of freshly watered soil and that transported me to an afternoon in June. As if for a moment, I grubbed about for the first new potatoes, digging up creamy nuggets to add to a pot of peas, while trying not to disturb the tubers forming the fall harvest. The last seed packets surfaced, along with some free wildflower seeds. That night in defiance of a snowstorm, I planted a flat of geraniums and hollyhocks. The other seeds wait in a smaller box, hinting at the abundance that will soon sprout beyond my garden gate.