By mid-August, a lot of garden plants are exhausted, wearied by the effort of creating cellulose from sunlight, from expending organic resources stored over nine months, depleted of the power to produce flowers. They are starting to rest.
Gardeners are also tired in August, but perhaps more hopeful than people without plants to tend. My wife, Valerie, has been working her tush off since April. She only finished mulching in July, for heaven’s sake. She cares for hundreds of plants. Some people (ahem) think she has too many. She tells such people to buzz off. That’s also her message to harmful insects and to the wilt on the cucumbers and the roses. Some things grew like crazy, some things not enough. And now the chrysanthemums, anemones and the asters are setting buds. Gardening is a comfort when so much else has been nullified. There will be flowers in September.
A gentle rain has been falling since I retrieved our Sunday newspaper from the sidewalk. We sit at the kitchen table to read the Inquirer. The back wall of the kitchen is mostly window, offering a view of the garden. Bad virus news, bad political news, bad sports news. Will the Eagles play in the Fall? Will the virus restrictions ever end? Will we (oh let it be so!) banish Trump? If it wasn’t for the rain, Valerie would certainly be out there, completely distracted by the needs of her plants. She counts herself blessed to have a garden and a roof over our heads. There is still food in the grocery stores, and we have money to buy it, surviving nicely, but sad about all that we have lost so quickly, about the suffering of so many, uncertain about the future.
Why on earth would anyone keep having the Inquirer delivered when electronic media is so cheap and available. Why spend $40 a month to get a product – news – that we can get instantaneously for free on TV, a computer or a smartphone? Because it is the printed word, a medium that allows us to receive information in peace and quiet. And because ethical journalism needs saving. And because we like the blended aromas of newsprint and coffee. And because the arrival of the newspaper is predictable, a day-starting signal we’ve known through all the years of our lives.
So, too, is a garden comforting when so many of our routines have been nullified, when so much is unpredictable. The commute, the office coffee pot – gone. No summer vacation. The trash doesn’t get picked up on Fridays; you don’t know when it will. The mail can arrive at any time of day if it arrives at all. Every day of the week is a workday. We don’t gather with friends and relatives on weekends. As Lady Grantham famously asked, “What’s a weekend?”
This August, we predict that there will be a September.
The plants abide. In May, Valerie predicted that the new gardenia plant would bloom in August. The sun will come up, the sun will go down. It will rain. There will be fall, with or without the Eagles, with or without the Election. The maples will glow in the autumn sun. We will bring the plants in pots to their winter quarters in the windows and the little greenhouse. There is likely to be snow, to be shoveled from the path through the garden, across the patio, past the frozen pond, past the small greenhouse, to the garage. I’ll clear eight feet of snow leading to the door of the greenhouse so Valerie can be with her orchids on winter days. And there will be another springtime, and another August. Valerie knows what’s going to happen in the garden. Surrounded by her plants, she can confidently imagine the future regardless of who wins or loses football games or elections.