Dreaming of springtime

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 6, 2022

Memories of Mary Anna’s garden are like a seed catalogue. Photos by Mary Anna Harbeck

These really cold winter days recently got my wife Mary Anna and me remembering an essay she wrote a few years ago on a similarly frigid day. It was based on her love for gardening. But upon reflection, I see an important lesson for all of life.

MARY ANNA WROTE: Reader's Digest used to have a feature called Picturesque Language. A phrase they had one time was "optimistic as a seed catalogue." I’ve often thought about that when a new seed catalogue turns up early in the new year. All those colourful blooms seem to smile off the page, inviting the gardener to try new breeds of lilies or roses to make your garden the envy of all your friends and neighbours.

Just the other evening I was looking at a seed catalogue as I sat in bed before going to sleep. The first half of the catalogue contained page after page of mouth-watering vegetables, followed by a section of some tools and garden decor. But I flipped past all that. I grew vegetables for many years, but now retired, I’ve chosen to focus on a park-like garden where we can sit in the swing and enjoy summertime.

Most of the flower pages were of annuals, which only last for one season. The last few pages showed perennials. Already in place in my garden are perennial trees, bushes, and such plants as peonies, delphiniums, lilies, daisies and asters, which come up on their own each spring. They give permanent structure to the landscape and cut down on the work. Most perennials have their moments of bloom each summer, contributing greenery and texture for the rest of the time. I peruse the catalogue for new ideas to fill in spaces and give new shape in various areas.

Finally, I searched for flowers which provide colour throughout the garden for the entire summer. I looked at possible combinations of petunias and geraniums for the flower pots along the walkway, varieties of alyssum to border the rockery, million bells or bacopa for a hanging pot, and sweet peas to climb the fence.

Although I like to use the catalogue for planning, in the end I will most likely go to the local greenhouse for bedding-out plants. I don’t have space, especially with good lighting, in my house for starting seedlings. Also, I buy a few plants at a time as my schedule and the weather allows for me to plant them. Some will wait until later in June when they go on sale. That’s especially true of perennials, which cost more than annuals. After all, they last a lot longer, at least if they can endure our Alberta winters.

I close the seed catalogue with visions of flowers dancing in my head, and slip off to sleep, dreaming of springtime in my garden...

Mary Anna Harbeck

YES, VISIONS OF FLOWERS! That’s very much my own experience, too, but not from a seed catalogue. I find my inspiration by looking back over Mary Anna’s engaging photos of her garden. But there’s a lesson here for the new year for all of life, not just for gardening. In a certain sense, life itself is a garden. May your dreams for the new year bloom for you in hope and happiness.


© 2022 Warren Harbeck

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