Opinion: Farewell to flower beds

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Commentary by Ward Degler

It almost seems like we haven’t had a summer. March waltzed in full of promise only to be betrayed by endless rains during April. Ditto May. June, we thought would open up the sunshine so I could launch spring ablutions.

Didn’t happen. While it warmed up in May, June turned cold again. And brought tornadoes. One violent twister wiped out a big chunk of my hometown, Jefferson City, Mo.

Among the carnage was the wreckage of my old junior high school. I always believe that building with its palpable aura of permanence was as indestructible as the Great Pyramids. Turns out the place was mere brick and mortar, after all.

Back home the rain continued to fall. The sunny little plot in the backyard designated as the bed for cutting flowers remained under water. At one point, a pair of mallards floated and gabbled where the zinnias should have been blooming. The seed packets of marigolds, nasturtiums and cosmos mocked me from the back-porch table where they gathered dust with the hand trowel and the cultivator.

When the rains finally abated and the sun shone anemically in the afternoons, I began daily inspections. At first, the soil was “too thick to drink and too thin to plow,” as a South Dakota farmer once observed.

Finally, one afternoon I was able to pinch a clod of soil between my fingers and watch it crumble instead of mush into a mud ball. I manned the trowel and ripped open the seed packets.

A week later, tiny green spikes showed up as the zinnias, marigolds and cosmos began to identify themselves. Yes! Then, more rain came, and the plants gasped for air. A few days later they were still there but looked ready to throw in the towel. Slowly, they recovered. Finally, it began to look like they might have a chance. I crossed my fingers and pulled a few perfunctory weeds.

Then, it got hot. Ninety-in-the-shade hot. The marigolds started gasping for air again. The cosmos wilted. The zinnias drooped and looked pathetic.

Last week, I surveyed my domain. Huge sections of the backyard remain bare and lifeless. They were the low spots where the standing water remained the longest. Weeds were sapling-high along the fence (why can’t seed companies develop flowers that have the stamina of goldenrod?)

I took stock of the flower bed. I counted five zinnia blossoms, two marigolds and three cosmos. Were there more buds ready to open? I couldn’t tell.

So much for this year. One thing gardeners have in common with farmers is, we have the ability to be optimists and pessimists at the same time.

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