Dreaming of green and plant pin ups

In February, I dream of green.

This is when I reach into the depths of my closet and pull out the seed box. This cardboard box, left here by the teen-age daughter of the former owner of this house, is where I keep my garden seeds. Clearly, it is different than the clay pots and woven baskets where early Southwestern tribes once stored their precious seeds. However, the seed box hand decorated with such phrases as "Pete is cute" and


"John eats shit" is a cultural remnant of this house and land, where I sow my seeds each summer. Some of these seeds I have bought or traded, some have been given to me, and still more I have collected from my own garden and the local wild lands. Many are stamped with long past expiration dates that I ignore annually, because like the seeds of the Arizona mesquite tree, viable after 40 years encased in adobe bricks, most seeds are built to last.

I pour the contents of the box onto the living room floor. Rag tag packages opened and refolded countless times are so worn the planting information is no longer legible. With pen and paper in hand, I take inventory for the coming season, making lists of what I have and what needs to be ordered. I get no further than delineating two columns on the page before the stories start rushing in. Each seed has its own.

There in the makeshift envelope are the wild grindelia seeds gathered in the sage scrub in dusty, sun-lush August, while Dan was practicing at the nearby rifle range. Grindelia is nature's remedy for poison ivy, a good plant to have around. Prudens Purple falls from the tomato pile, the tomato seeds sent from my father-in-law in Canada. I remember nervously waiting in mid-September for these 2-3 pound behemoths to ripen, frost danger hovering dangerously close. Prudens goes to the "out" pile.

I finger the seeds of the "dwarf" sunflowers that grew 8 feet tall, luring chickadees, goldfinches and pine siskins to their seed heads throughout winter.

Definitely "in."

Then there are the stories yet to come. Will the season this summer be long enough for the sweet red peppers? Will the wild lupine from the Hogsback hills germinate in my garden? Where to plant the native corn seeds that Ben and Julia brought back from Bolivia?

It is not yet time for answers, nor for practical and responsible list making. With more snow predicted to quiet the farmer's longings, I turn to the favorite wintertime escape: seed catalogs.

Seed catalogs are first glanced at as they arrive in January, when summer is a distant, exotic animal. The photos of fragrant, climbing sweet peas are as unbelievable as the notion of craving shade, and the catalogs get shuffled away with the incoming tax forms. Now, in the heart of February, there are days when you can smell spring; its aroma is sun, dirt and dampness. And though the taxes are not yet filed, it's now safe to pull out the seed catalogs for a longer look.

While Dan points out pictures of elk herds on summer range from the magazine Bugle , I show him photos of crimson tomatoes sweating with juice. I circle 10 different kinds of peppers, knowing I will plant only jalape`F1os like always. I consider the basils: lettuce leaf, purple ruffled, spicy Thai and lemon flavored. I have completely forgotten, as I always will in February, that my basil is the first to be ravaged by insects.

If seed catalogs feature pin ups, then the tomato pages are the centerfolds. In one catalog, one has to decide between 49 different varieties of cherry, paste, slicers, pinks, purples, yellows, oranges and reds, with such descriptions as tart, sweet, low-acid, thin-skinned, dense, prolific, earthy, crack-resistant, early, juicy, tangy and lingering flavor. One tomato variety even claims to be high in gamma amino butyric acid, a body sedative that calms jitters.

Twenty four different kinds of lettuce, and just as I select wine by the bottles' graphic, I am taken by the red streaks of "lolla rossa," the spots of "freckles" and simply the name "butterking." Reading descriptions is so boring, takes too much time, who cares if a cucumber is powdery mildew-resistant, look how high it grows in the pictures!

I want to grow lemon cucumbers, licorice mint and mortgage-lifter tomatoes.

Ladybugs will flock to the floppy, rainbow-colored nastursiums, gobbling up all offending aphids. A preying mantis will feel perfectly at home in the Slovakian pole beans, each flower the sweet purple of a July sunset over the La Plata Mountains. Everything in my garden will grow as perfectly as the plants in these seductive pages.

But I know the real truth. I will plant what has worked over the years, resisting enthralling names and pictures and description. Some things will thrive; others will fail. The true allure will be stepping into the garden on a sultry August afternoon and smelling the fruity fragrance of a tomato plant and watching bumblebees dance in its flowers.

-Rachel Turiel Hinds



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