Each spring, about a week after I finish planting my flowerbeds and boxes, and everyone else’s—my third job, essentially—I start counting the days until first frost. My enthusiasm for bountiful blooms wanes real quick when I remember it’s up to me to keep everything alive for the next four months.
“Oh, whyyyy,” I cry, “did I buy all of these stinkin’ annuals!? What is wrong with me?” I sound like Elaine Benes as she breaks up with that idiot beefcake David Puddy for the seventh time on Seinfeld: “THAT’S IT!! I cannot take this!!”
I make this solemn vow every summer: “I really am doing the bare-bones minimum next year, the absolute minimum.” But, unfortunately, like a cat in heat who can’t ignore her very nature, flower fever is a real thing for me in May—as is my inability to walk away from a perfectly good-looking four-pack that’s just been given a death sentence on the sale rack at Walmart in June, or even mid-July. Some people collect shoes because they can’t help themselves. Or boyfriends. Or cats. I collect flowers. They are my bébés.
But in the dog days, my potted prettys become neeeedy little babies. The ravenous rabbits, hellish heat, speckly spots, aphids and beetles, crappy drainage, and leaky hoses are just the tip of my woeful iceburg.
July brings funky, fried-up leaves, stressed-out roots, and paltry petals that are constantly whining for water or food or soap spray or neem oil, seeming to barely notice the care I so tenderly provide, like ungrateful teenagers. Even worse, those pestilent, post-pubescent plants begin a race against what’s left of my personal time to create seeds, seeds, seeds—absolutely hell-bent on procreation. And once that happens, well, I’ve really lost the battle of beauty. A flower’s lust for babymaking takes the luster right out of it, and sure as anything, it’s lost its bloom.
The hundreds—and I do mean hundreds—of petunias I’m in charge of each summer become controlling, collicky chlorophyll aliens in my own Little Shop of Horrors, probing my every thought from across town and demanding from me more and more of my blood, sweat, and occasionally even tears as the summer marches on.
Have you ever seen a petunia that’s gone to seed? Not long after each blossom has withered brown and fallen to the ground, a petal-free pod poking out of a Kermit the Frog-like collar emerges, bearing a striking resemblance to Little Shop’s Audrey II, the man-eating monster-weed from outer space. And every single one of its beak-like, seed-laden mouths is thirsty for murder as it cracks open and vomits up a little pile of black death. Don’t be fooled by those remaining trumpets of color further down the stalk; that plant is trying to kill itself. Match the sadistic seed-making frenzy of a hundred prolific petunia plants with a sudden raging case of green aphids and you may as well hire yourself a NOLA brass band, because you’ve got yourself one hell of a funeral march on the way.
Petunia. Such a pretty word. So melodic. So innocent. Whatever.
She’s the one committing suicide, but I’m the one with 63 chigger bites, premature sunspots, and forefinger callouses the size of Guam—from months of pinching off dead blossoms to stall the inevitable decline of someone I used to love. But, hey, at least I have the sexiest farmer’s tan this side of the Skunk River.
This morning, August 4th, a shot of cold air came blasting through my bedroom window, an intoxicating cocktail of cool, reminding me that the end of summer is truly not far off. I got ready for my day, drunk with the happy thought of the sweaters I would soon be unpacking from storage, tucked away beside my favorite wool socks. Bring on the pies, the hot spiced teas, and the pumpkin everything. I dearly welcome the colorful gourds that will soon be replacing the chewed-up flowers on my porch. Those poor mangled blooms have been a constant, depressing reminder that the local herd of deer, the hungry zombies of the night, have at last invaded my neighborhood and have turned it into an all-you-can-eat buffet.
This month, or maybe next, I shall release my final caretaking tension with a satisfied cry, “Die, ye posies and fickle florets! I’ve given you the best of me … I’m taking back the rest of me!”
I can stop carrying water. And I will stay in bed as long as I want.