Twice per year my wife and I escort her grandmother to one of two special events at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Each November we visit the Indiana Christmas Gift and Hobby Show, as previously recounted. Each March the highlight of her month is the Indiana Flower & Patio Show, which features numerous displays of colorful flora, booths where gardeners and homeowners can peruse and pick out their new seeds, plants, implements, and accoutrements for tending and cultivating their yards in the forthcoming spring and summer. Assorted horticulturists and lawn care companies show off bouquets, sample gardens, and ostentatious flowers you’ll wish you owned.
It’s my understanding that the average adult is into that sort of thing. Retirees in particular seemingly transfer their forty weekly work-hours from their former rat-race grind to the soil beds surrounding their houses instead. With all that time on their hands, I imagine such handiwork is both fulfilling and possible.
My wife and struggle with this concept.
Don’t get us wrong. We realize that gardens improve quality of life, spruce up any neighborhood — from the swankiest gated cul-de-sac to the bleakest ghetto war zone — and send two clear messages.
Message #1: we don’t hate nature. Message #2: this house is not abandoned.
In our respective childhoods, neither of us was trained in the arcane arts of floral arrangement, simple gardening, or basic lawn care. After we became homeowners, it was all I could do to teach myself how to mow a lawn. My initial attempts to control the grass population with an old-school push-mower were the stuff of humiliating tragedy. To this day the lawn has yet to recover the lushness and vitality it achieved at the hand of the previous, more competent owner. I suspect he had parents who covered that curriculum for him.
In my case, I learned that when your first thirty-five years are lived entirely in rental complexes, you don’t develop a green thumb. You thank the management that hires guys to beautify the neighborhood for you. My own grandmother taught me a few things about life, but none of the gardening lessons took. She tried to teach me when I was too young to care. Even in the little plot afforded our HUD-funded townhouse, she managed to grow tomatoes, string beans, watermelon, and, yes, flowery flowers all a-flower with their flowering. Such art was lost on me. My hobby calendar was already packed. I had comics to read and Lego towns to develop and raze.
Sometimes people try handing us advice. We’re told we should stick with perennials if we’re uninterested in planting new seeds from scratch every year. We’re told spring is when the gardening season begins. We’re told a long list of flower names that mean nothing to me without accompanying visuals. We’re told flowers like food and water. We’re told weeds are bad. Because sometimes people need practical advice.
Neither of us has felt bold enough to take that first step and decided that now, now, NOW is the day that our garden shall begin. My wife believes — possibly unfairly — that anything she plants will die. It will starve from underfeeding, be attacked by angry insects, bring yet another summer-long drought upon us, commit suicide by uprooting themselves, or spontaneously combust.
As for me, I’m hesitant to deviate from my current outdoor chore routine. See growing things. Mow growing things. Repeat. Flowers may not flourish well under my system. Either my system needs to change, or flowers need to learn to cope. Clearly the problem is theirs, not mine.
Perhaps I’d be better motivated to learn the ropes if gardening were a more common motif in pop culture. If I could think to myself, “Hey, this super-hero likes magnolias. We should plant those.” Or, “Remember that one classic TV show, and how the one lady was a huge fan of orchids? We should plant those.” Or, “I read somewhere that one of my favorite punk singers owns a large field filled with rhododendrons. We should plant those.” So far, no such ideas have taken hold. If we heed the advice and examples of what we read or watch, our lawn would be choking to death with Harry Potter mandrakes, Pee-Wee’s singing sunflowers, Body Snatcher pods, Audrey II, and the narcoleptic poppies of Oz.
My wife’s grandmother keeps a few flowers going around the perimeter of her humble abode. I imagine in her 80s she’s downsizing her portfolio to more manageable numbers. Though she enjoys the Flower & Patio Show and loves seeing the exhibits, she never buys much in the way of gardening-related items. This year at her request we bought her a new straw hat. For arriving early we also received free goody bags that I think included a few relevant items. Our largest purchase was from the booth representing the South Bend Chocolate Company. Their primary products (things beginning with “chocolate”) don’t grow much if you bury them, but their other tangible qualities persuade us to overlook that defect.
My wife and I snapped all these photos at this year’s show. Partly they’re for memory’s sake, particularly in those unwelcome future years when her grandmother won’t be attending with us anymore. Partly they’re as hopeful inspiration, a sort of ideal we can hold up for ourselves when we finally tire of growing nothing but grass. Partly they’re just neat, colorful things that my wife insists are pretty.
She’s a step ahead of me in that respect. One of my more difficult issues to work through is that flowers don’t provoke much of an aesthetic response from me. I can look at a given collection of flowers, discern their colors, and conclude that anything beyond basic chlorophyll green is officially Pretty by definition. I think. But my reaction is more clinical than emotional. I look at a rose and think to myself, “Objectively speaking, this rose is pretty.” All things considered, though, I’m more likely to apply the term to art or poetry than I am to plants — to manmade things over God-made things. I’m fairly certain something’s not right about that.
I trust that my wife is correct and one or more of these flowers is quote-unquote “pretty”. Maybe someday we’ll muster up the gumption to grow our own and develop an appreciation for them. I just hope intensive, truly successful gardening doesn’t turn out to be one of those “acquired tastes” like bluegrass music or alcoholism.