Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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.