Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Early Planting

It looks like the long winter may finally be on its way out. Kicking and screaming, but on its way nonetheless. I'm not sure why this was such a hard one - was it the usual lack of sunshine, or perhaps the endless pummelings of snow, made even more dreary by the constant drone of political craziness and economic doom? That's possible.

Last weekend I headed up to the farmhouse for my annual ritual in optimism: the planting of the sweet peas. I'd never really thought much about sweet peas until a few years ago when Sweet Pea Gardens set up shop just down the road. I tend to pick my flowers based on emotional memory - the petunias planted by the driveway of my childhood home in upstate New York, the wisteria cascading over a stone wall in the French Loire Valley, the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms that marked the arrival of spring in Tucson.

When I finally "grew up" (can we ever make that claim?) and got to create my own garden, my subconscious pushed me toward plants that would evoke those emotional memories. Maine's coastal climate isn't particularly friendly to orange trees, so I've had to look elsewhere for intoxicating fragrance. One winter, Sweet Pea Gardens owner Sue Keating gave a talk and mentioned that our particular climate may be lousy for lots of other plants, but it happened to be particularly perfect for sweet peas.

So I dutifully followed her instructions and planted sweet peas, putting them into the ground the very minute it had thawed, carefully tending them and waiting, waiting, waiting to see what happened. My patience paid off with a spectacular harvest of extraordinarily, delicate and fragrant blooms.

The first year I planted sweet peas was in 2006, the same year I was working on my first book. That summer I set up operations on the porch, working from a heavy old wooden table my great aunt had tucked away in the barn.

Sweet peas need to be picked very day in order to keep them from going to seed, so every morning before sitting down to write, I'd go out into the garden with my old enamel bucket and pick new flowers. The bucket would sit on my table and perfume my every thought for the duration of the day.

The next summer I was once again out on that porch working away on another book that, quite thankfully, got scrapped at the last minute in favor of my wool book -- which kept me out on the porch for another summer of sweet peas. More summers, more peas, more writing, the fruits of which you'll see this fall.

Without realizing it, I've created a rich new emotional memory around sweet peas. I can't imagine a summer without them -- and I can't imagine a bucket of sweet peas without feeling like I should be writing a book. Now that the seeds have been sown, I shall sit back and see what the summer brings.


Amy McWeasel said...

Lovely! May your sweet peas continue to flourish.

Cathy said...

I have always loved sweet peas but haven't really tried growing them. Is there anything I should know? You plant from seed, right? And need trellis? Hmmm....will the deer eat them. I can put them inside the fenced garden. I'm gonna run out tomorrow and get started!

Liz said...

I'm wondering if deer will eat them, too.... off to google. Thanks for the idea!

Clara said...

They do best when planted from seed as early as humanly possible - if it's too late in the season, get some seedlings and hope for the best. (Sweet peas aren't totally fond of being transplanted.) They like very rich soil and yes, definitely a trellis. I use chicken wire. Deer have never touched my sweet peas - they're actually poisonous. Good luck!