Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Garden Story

Plant and People Advertising

The "Lonely Hearts" columns in magazines and newspapers always leave me wondering why all these gorgeous, professionally successful people, who also love walks on moonlit beaches and holding hands, could ever have survived so long without having been snapped up by the rest of us. It seems to me that if I were lonesome for good company, any of these awesome creatures would suffice. Or all of them!

Not being lonesome, I focus my acquisitive greed on plant catalogs instead. The plants they list are all also gorgeous, vivaceous and splendidly healthy, no work is involved in their cultivation, and each and every one of them blooms "all summer" and, if perennial, comes back "stronger and bloomier" every year.

Everybody knows, of course, that personal columns and plant catalogs are full of exaggerations, omissions and marketing conventions. Lies, in fact. It doesn't make them any less titillating, for the reader wants to know how large the lies might be, and, if she or he is an optimist, might even risk a closer contact.

I have done so repeatedly with plants, although I should know better. It helps to know the translations of some of the most common euphemisms. "Blooms nonstop until frost" does not mean that you can "cut armfuls of flowers for the house" from May to November. It may mean that after an initial (and often totally satisfying) spurt of flowering the plant puts out one or two small flowers the rest of the growing season, so that, strictly speaking, it is never flowerless although that's what it looks like. Or it may indeed "flower its head off", but only if you are up at dawn every day with your magnifying glass and tweezers to deadhead all those minute flower heads one by one. Also, plants which can be kept at the brink of an extended climax using such artificial means tend to die out over the next winter (from sexual frustration, presumably).

"Just plant, water and sit back to enjoy gorgeous midsummer blooms" in a delphinium ad is only true if you like to look at flower heads lying down in the mud. Some plants, like some people, never stand on their own feet, but need support, which you, of course, are to provide.

"No need to transplant" about a plant with no growing zone indication (in a catalog where it is the only plant without such an indication) means that as it can't take winters colder than zone eight, it will be dead by next summer in your zone four garden, and the only transplanting needed is to the compost tip.

"Vigorous" plants take over the whole garden, your house, and drive your car to hiphop concerts every night. Ditto for "energetic", "healthy" and "easy care".

I am not blaming the catalogs or the personal columns for using such half-truths. After all, their business is selling, not giving psychologically or horticulturally correct information. It is the prospective buyers who must stay on guard and informed. Still, I have wondered if a more honest approach wouldn't pay in the form of more repeat customers (for plant catalogs, at least!). There are some honest catalogs, and I like to order from them.

But I also order from the more hyperbolic ones, because however exaggerated their claims, it remains true that the plants they sell are mostly good plants, not just quite as wonderful as they lead us to expect. The same is likely to be true about the people advertising for someone to date. These "good enough" people and plants are more interesting anyway, for what could a preternaturally perfect person or plant want with my pretty mediocre life or garden?