Garden Porn: Seed catalogs should come in
plain brown wrappers.
Many people who want fresh, affordable food and who
believe local eating is better for themselves and
the planet are making the highly rational decision
to plant gardens this spring.
On the conscious level, gardening does make
perfect sense. But the garden is not just about
whats happening above ground. Just as much is
going on below, in the mysterious world of the
subsurface and the subconscious. The garden is a
scientific place of soil chemistry and botany. But
its also a very sensual place. Flowers are
opening voluptuously, luring pollinators and us
with their erotic pistils and stamens (see
OKeeffe, Georgia). Pollen is wafting around
on the breeze. Love is literally in the air.
Along with the logical reasons for gardening,
the reemergence of all that life outside stirs deep
emotions in us too. This time of year makes us
think not only of rebirth, but also what comes
before and leads to it: sex.
For a human entering this world, the first step
is often perusing garden catalogs.We may think
were dispassionately analyzing climate zones
and days to maturity and making rational purchases.
But the decisions we make are based at least as
much on raw emotion. To put it in terms of Freudian
psychology, which I have studied over the course of
many seconds onWikipedia, theres more id than
ego in the garden. The ego represents ...
reason and common sense, Freud wrote in The
Ego and the Id, while the id is responsible
for our basic drives such as food, water and
sex, which is actually a pretty good keyword
description of a garden.
The seed companies understand that sex sells.
This is fine, but theres a word for looking
at pictures of unattainably attractive things and
fantasizing about having them. So to control our
expectations and our spending, we should
acknowledge what seed catalogs really are: garden
Come on, admit it. You feel a confusing mix of
excitement and shame as you furtively page through
the catalogs, imagining yourself in the garden with
those fruits and vegetables.
The photographs present idealized versions of
vegetables, like impossibly red, perfectly shaped
tomatoes that surely must be airbrushed. And the
suggestive varieties and descriptionsthe
Honey Girls and the Cherry Belles with their
rosy smooth skinare about as
subtle as craigslist classifieds. As Michael Pollan
taught us in The Botany of Desire, many plants have
co-evolved with us and reproduce by appealing to us
so well plant them. Well, the seed catalog is
where the plants place their personal ads.
Since it seeks to arouse our primal urges, a
seed catalog should be read with the same caveat
emptor skepticism wed bring to a TV
infomercial for an exercise gadgetthe
Abdominatrix or whatever. We know its not
going to work, but because were acting on gut
feelings, millions of us order them anyway. I did,
and the closest Ive ever gotten to six-pack
abs is a bit of a beer belly.
Likewise, we suspect the vegetables we grow will
not look like the pampered super-plants in the
photos. Its not that the infomercials and
garden catalogs are being deceptive. Theyre
just showing what happens under ideal conditions: a
supermodel who works out five hours a day and eats
rice cakes and celery, or seeds growing in perfect
soil and monitored round the clock by a team
of professional horticulturalists.
With these images playing to our emotions,
catalog ordering can easily get out of hand. But we
can embrace our gardening passions without going
crazy with the credit card. The best way to limit
spending is to focus on the plants that really turn
you on. All the pictures and descriptions are so
attractive that youre tempted to order one of
everything. But if you buy seeds for plants like
corn and zucchini that are cheap and ubiquitous at
the store, you dont get as much satisfaction
when the harvest comes. So if you have limited
budget and space, go exotic and grow crops they
dont sell at the supermarket. No, not
Cannabis sativa. Im talking about unusual
vegetables that are popular in other cultures but
less common here.
For example, I really have a thing for Asian
greens like komatsuna and tatsoi. Theyre
healthy and delicious. They look great in the
garden. And you cant buy a big pre-washed box
of them at the grocery for $4.95. Ultimately, the
only way to escape the siren temptations of the
garden catalog is to forgo seeds entirely.
You need seeds, of course, but with my foolproof
system, you wont have to buy any this season.
First, I go out to the garage and find the old
shoebox into which Ive tossed all the mostly
full seed packets Ive bought over the years.
Gardeners almost never use the whole packet of
seedssure, I wish I had room for 200 broccoli
plants, but I dontso we all have our
own personal seed repositories.
Most of these seeds will still sprout, even if
theyre several years old. Recently,
scientists in Israel successfully germinated a
2,000-yearold date palm seed. Ill feel so
inadequate if I cant get my packed for
2006 turnip seeds to grow.
Heres a fun idea for all the seeds that
have fallen out of their packets into a big pile at
the bottom of the box. Plant them randomly and
enjoy the surprise when you see what grows. Think
how fun it will be when a tomato plant springs up
next to a cucumber vine, which snakes along amongst
the chard, which is shaded by the Cannabis sativa
hey, how did those seeds get in there?
With this more realistic approach to gardening,
your vegetables may not look as perfect as the ones
you drooled over in the catalog. But for all their
blemishes, theyre better because theyre
real.When you spend a whole season with them, you
build a personal, intimate relationship with the
food you grow yourself. And thats a deeply
fulfilling experience that you cant get from
empty fantasies about pictures in seed catalogs or
any other type of porn. From what Ive
© 2011 John
Other Father Issues,
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Parents are the bones on which children sharpen
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is a dad, a writer, and a lawyer (in that order).
He writes a syndicated biweekly humor column about
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