Sunday, February 08, 2009

ZUCCHINI NATION - A case of Gardeners Gone Wild

Dear Mr. Burpee,

We want to compliment you on your catalogue's exquisite photos showing luscious red tomatoes that one might be willing to die for, sweet corn so yellow so succulent looking, bright orange crunchy carrots...well we could go on and on about your fine garden produce. In a word, the photos in your catalogue are intoxicating. Too intoxicating for some of us.

Now we are sure that 99.9999% of your customers have no problem keeping in check any tendencies they might have to indulge themselves and give in to every gardening whim that crops up in their minds while they thumb through your catalogue. Unfortunately, we belong to that minuscule percent of customers who can not keep such tendencies in check. Maybe it is because we are new at this gardening thing. We don't know the underlying cause of our problem. All we know is that we have a problem.

You can readily see from the humongous order we placed with you earlier this year that we have a problem and are prime candidates for some kind of intervention although we do not think such a program is in place yet anywhere in the world for gardeners gone wild. Consequently we are on our own in that regard and must devise our own curative measures for dealing with our excessiveness. We will begin by asking you, no begging you, to please not send us any more of your seed catalogues. We can't be trusted with them.

Mr. and Mrs. P


This was the letter we should have sent the Burpee Seed Company at the close of 1975. We were more than just budding gardeners back then. We were budding gardeners gone wild. We overindulged ourselves. We didn't know when enough was enough and we didn't know exactly what we were doing either. That year has gone down in our family history as the year of the zucchini. But it could easily be known as the year of the tomato too. And the year of the sweet corn. And the year of the potato.

It all started with an especially drab and dreary winter that year. It snowed a lot, but it wasn't pretty snow. It was the kind of snow that melts a little and then looks messy for days. The skies were a constant gray. A chilling mist that makes the bones ache seemed always to be seeping from overhead. You just wanted to hole up inside the house and let cabin fever have its way with you.

What made it worse is that we lived out in the country where the nights can be pitch dark and the only lights you might see are yellow specks in the distance coming from other farm houses. You get to feeling abandoned by humanity during those dismal winter nights and you start asking yourself "Is anyone really out there?" It plays havoc with your mind.

It was our second winter on our small plot of land and our second summer was coming up when we planned to get really serious about gardening. We had decided a few years earlier to buy the house and the parcel of land out in the country so that our children could be close to nature. A goldfish bowl and a few brightly painted bird houses hanging in our backyard in town might have sufficed. No, we wanted our children to experience chickens and goats and cats and dogs and field mice...and gardens.

So there we were struggling under the curse of this winter spell and showing significant signs that cabin fever indeed had set in when one day what should appear in our mail box but none other than the Burpee Seed Catalogue America's official reminder that spring is coming. You could almost smell April showers on its glossy cover. The catalogue seemed like a gift from heaven. A blessing from above. An answer to prayer. But the devil would be in the details that followed.

With the seed catalogue in hand, it was not long before its vivid colors of red tomatoes, yellow corn, orange carrots and green spinach splashed across our gray world. With each turn of a page, we gradually were lifted up out of our winter gloom and cast into the bright healing light of glorious spring. Enthusiasm took root in us and we began planning and plotting and drawing diagrams of our gardens to be. Yes, that it is not a typo. It is gardens. We ended up that year with three big gardens plus four acres of sweet corn...our cash crop. We needed the money from the cash crop to pay f0r all our gardening.

As I recall we ordered practically everything from A to Z out of that catalogue. Not one vegetable lacked the power to lure us. Not even those we had never heard of before.
"What's a zuk chin ee? " I asked my husband Gene as I studied the photo.

One vegetable that we had never heard of before and knew nothing about was the zucchini. But like all the rest, it, too, seduced us.

"Maybe it's a cucumber. I don't know for sure, but let's order it too." He replied.

"Yes, why not."

That winter we ordered a wide array of vegetable seeds for the spring planting and in considerable amounts. There would be consequences.