Preparing to plant the many seeds of patriotism

THE REAL DIRT

February 09, 1991|By Mike Klingaman

As gardeners go, I'm a pretty smart guy. For instance, I know that snapdragons really don't bite. I know that girl seeds grow up to be flowers, and that boy seeds become vegetables. And I know that you should always plant bulbs with the pointy end up.

I also know that it is difficult to grow a garden made entirely of salad bar items, because bacon bits germinate poorly, and cottage cheese takes up too much space in the yard.

Do I understand nature, or what?

I have learned, through trial and error, those varieties of crops and ornamentals best suited for my soil. Gardeners who find this groove say it's a real kick, not unlike breaking a secret code.

In fact, correctly matching one's plants with one's plot can be a heady experience. As a thrill, I'd rank it somewhere between winning "The Dating Game" and deciphering the Rosetta stone.

Once you find the right combination, gardening is easy. Each year's seed order includes the same varieties. We learn to lean on our old friends. I can't imagine growing a garden without "Sugar Snap" peas, "Fordhook" squash or "Better Boy" tomatoes.

Until now.

This year's garden will be different. The old standbys are gone, replaced by varieties I have never grown, but feel compelled to plant.

This year I will grow "Patriot" peas, "President" squash and "Red Alert" tomatoes. Moreover, although I have never planted leeks, the variety known as "American Flag" sounds pretty darn good to me.

The nation is at war, and I want to show support.

I guess I planned this year's garden with my heart instead of my head.

I know what you're thinking: Surely he doesn't believe that growing Patriot peas in his back yard will help keep America strong. Will a 20-foot row of peas feed 400,000 U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf? Of course not. Can these Patriots shoot down Iraqi Scud missiles? Absurd.

And you're thinking: What's he going to grow next, a garden bathed in red, white and blue?

Funny you should ask. By midsummer, the bed of multicolored petunias planned for my front yard should resemble Old Glory. A vegetable flag is harder to produce. The best I can do is a combination of red tomatoes, white onions and purple eggplants.

Of course, I'll need yellow ribbons to tie up the tomato vines.

Lest you feel I'm daft, ask an old-timer why millions of Americans turned their back yards into vegetable beds during World War II. They called them victory gardens. Now, I'm not saying that Grandma's bush beans helped stop Hitler, but every time the old gal picked another bushel she must have felt like she was contributing in some small way to America's war effort.

Now it is 50 years later, and I want to be just like Grandma.

All I want is to make a token gesture of support for the troops overseas. I would like to do more. I would like to present the Air Force with a 100-pound zucchini, to be dropped on the head of Saddam Hussein.

I would like to retire my gas-guzzling Rototiller and dig the entire garden by hand, thereby reducing America's dependence on foreign oil. I would like to discard the lawn mower for the same reason, and buy a goat to trim the grass.

Alas, these options are unrealistic. The Rototiller is a godsend for my aching back, and our dog would chase the goat.

All I can do is plant a packet of Patriots, and pray for peas on earth.

I am desperate to meet this challenge, however symbolic, in a world where all we can do is sit on our hands in front of the television and watch as the war unfolds.

When spring comes and the ground thaws, I'll be out there breaking ground with a shovel, the best weapon I can muster against the frustration that many Americans have felt these past few weeks.

We all need to see signs of new life in a desperate world.

When the first seedling appears, I think I'll salute it.

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