THE DAM SEED CATALOGUE
BY JUDY POLLARD SMITH
“Has the Dam Seed Catalogue arrived yet?”
We start asking each other that question each December.
The Dam Seed Company is one of many of this area’s local treasures. It relaxes out there on Highway 8 amongst rolling grass and pristine white buildings as it waits for us to do our annual Spring shell-out. And this year it arrived just one day past Winter Solstice and we’re leafing through the bright pages planning our next garden.
At least I’m doing the leafing and The Mister is doing the speaking part that says “but we don’t have room for any more plants”. And just in case I didn’t hear it the first time he repeats, this time with feeling, “But we don’t have room!”
Environmental issues fill the newspapers and the tv screen. Unless one is an expert in the field it’s difficult to sort fact from fiction.
For regular types like ourselves, it’s easier to focus on what we can do in our own lives. We keep an uncomplicated footprint and plant a bold and beautiful streamer of zinnias every Spring in the back garden. The mildew-resistant Zinnia seeds blast into bloom in a brilliant ribbon of colour. They dance amongst the cosmos and the nasturtiums all summer long until late September. It’s our own tiny jewel box of a garden, with thanks to Mother Nature.
Henry James was the one who proclaimed that “summer afternoons” are the two most beautiful words in the English language. On those languid August days when golden rays weave in and out of shade, our zinnias pop like fireworks in the back garden. They need nothing to set them afire; in their own right they are light and colour and movement. The hummingbirds embrace them. Swallowtail butterflies and Monarchs, (yes! Monarchs!), sift among them in their own version of The Royal Lepidoptera Ballet.
Sometimes the red, yellow and hot pink zinnias prop themselves up in a clay jug on our pine table in happy bunches. On occasion we sit them in vases against the soft blonde wood of the altar table at church. The pages in this new catalogue offer a litany of florals that sing of Spring and rich soil.
Two entire pages are dedicated to celebrating Pollinators. The decline of insects is a global issue. If we were to buy some Borage seeds, it says, we would have blue flowers that bloom even in cool weather so that the bees might have a banqueting table even after other blooms have withered.
Borage! I’m right smack in the middle of a Barbara Pym novel when I hear that word. I decide I want some Borage in the garden this coming season. I mention it.
“But we have no more room.”
It’s right there on the list of pollinators: Basils, Borage, Buddleja…
And then I spy the list that starts with “P”; Parsley, Presicaria, Phacelia, Poppy…
I purr the words so that I can remember what Spring feels like when we hear the clear whistle of the returning Baltimore Orioles and see the rich green of the Cardinal Vine leaves, the lime of the moss around the old tree trunk.
And I spot a hybrid of Hollyhock I’ve never noticed before: Halo Mix # 2628! How did I miss this little beauty? “Brightly bi-coloured flowers that sparkle in the cottage garden”, the description reads. So there I am again, safely tucked in the bosom of Barbara Pym’s English village, loving the quiet of a summer’s morning. My sister and I made ball gowns of Hollyhocks when we were children by removing the blooms and turning them upside down. They whirled and twirled in pinks and maroons in time to our imagined music.
Larkspur, Lavender, Lavateria, Lupins. My heart jumps at the word “Lupins”. I’ve always wanted Lupins.
Oh the glories held inside those little white envelopes at Dam Seeds in the numbered bins! The miracle of it when I think of how dull, how plain are the thin, pathetic-looking little brown Zinnia seeds in the bottom of the envelopes…
On a recent visit to Edith Wharton’s gardens we bought a packet of heritage seeds in the bookshop in her historic house, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts. They, too, are zinnias and stand proud and tall under the front window of our small “Dove Cottage” which we named after the laments of the Mourning Doves that seep through the window screens on warm mornings.
The tomatoes, (from Dam Seeds again), wiggle their ways up the vine and with any fortune we nab them before the raccoons do. Their juicy nectar runs down our chins when we bite into them, whole.
What I’m describing to you is not special in the world of gardens; not one bit. Up against Edith Wharton’s cultured and formal garden or Vita Sackville-West’s English ‘Sissinghurst’, our garden rates not a blink. There will be no garden tours, no newspaper articles about this tiny bit of lawn we call home.
“Nasturtiums,” the catalogue continues, “Dwarf Jewel Double Mixed”. We buy them every year and thread the seeds in with the Zinnias. They bloom into a border of Happy just along the top of the soil, a carpet for the Zinnia’s tap-dance.
Isn’t the environment that we speak of every day more than just the hugeness of the universe?
Would it be more efficacious if we were all to start small, begin with the specific and move on to the general? We can’t save the earth unless we save the tiny bits we’ve been entrusted to care for first.
Pansies, Phlox, Portulaca, Primula…
Caring for the environment is like caring for our human family. When one member gets ill we rally round to find the cure. We amend what is depleted as we do with the soil. We offer extra nourishment. We wait for new growth. We don’t believe for a minute that adding poison to our lawns, or to our families, will bring healing. We look at dandelions and see glorious yellow as bright as the sun, not as the little nuisances that the keepers of North American lawns once deemed them to be. And when the harm sets in we do what we can to guide it outwards, away from doing further damage. Blooms appear. We rejoice, we sit back, secure in the knowledge that we’ve done our best, watching the results of our labours blossom in new directions, just like our children, sometimes running up and over the fence like the rambling roses I had to cut back a few years ago.
We’ll have to depend on the experts to sort out the huge issues for us. In the meantime we’ll keep looking forward to the Dam Seed Catalogue’s arrival at every year’s end. Then we’ll do our best with what we’ve been given.
Bit by bit.
That’s how it works.
Four O’Clocks and Foxgloves.
Snapdragons, Stocks and Sweet Peas….
Judy Pollard Smith’s articles and short stories have been published in the Globe And Mail, the National Post, women’s magazines in Britain, and by CBC’s Radio One. She was a contributor to Seraphim Press’ ‘In The Wings’. Her first creative non-fiction novel was published in 2014 (“Don’t Call Me Lady, The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris” which deals with King Leopold’s rubber trade in Congo 1899-1904). She is a regular contributor to Women Writers booksbywomen.org, and has been a member of The Society of Women Writers and Journalists in Britain for twenty-five years. In 2012 she won their Lady Violet Astor Rosebowl for her Creative Non-Fiction Globe And Mail article on downsizing. In 2015 Judy received an honourable mention at Hamilton’s SWP Awards.