As I grew up in the 1970s, my family ran a plant nursery next to our house. With inflation soaring and budgets tight, I sometimes wondered if people would spend money on flowers and shrubs.
But in spite of the troubled times, or maybe because of them, customers came. What I learned is that in the midst of worry and uncertainty, a lot of us need the comfort of growing things. It’s cheap therapy.
All of this came to mind a few weeks ago as I took my oldest sister to the neighborhood nursery. I didn’t need anything myself, but I went along as chauffeur and personal assistant. Even so, the trip did me as much good as anyone else. I always feel better about life after I walk the aisles of nurseries and hardware stores. They draw people who are native optimists — folks who are trying to mend what’s broken, build something new or spread a little beauty around. Their resilience, even when the headlines are dark, can be contagious.
Late summer is an in-between time at the nursery. Summer gardens have been put in, but the days are still too hot to think too deeply about fall. What you sometimes find are patrons making course corrections — finding what’s needed to help plants that are troubled, or maybe getting a few replacements for stuff that’s perished.
As we wheeled our cart through the bedding plants, I found another customer who had just given his petunias a reprieve. “I was thinking of pulling them up,” he told me. “I told them, ‘If you don’t perk up, I have a job for you with the city — in the dump.’ But I threw some fertilizer on them, and they’re fine now.”
I didn’t raise an eyebrow when my new acquaintance told me he’d given his petunias an earful. People do stranger things all the time, like screaming back at the cable news. I figured a man talking to his flowerbed ranked fairly low on the world’s list of issues. Truth be told, I’ve been known to offer a passing comment or two to my tomato plants over the years.
Whether the tongue-lashing, the fertilizer or some mix of both had put the petunias on their road to recovery, I congratulated my new friend on his perseverance. Anyone who can decently carry a garden through the blazing furnace of a Louisiana summer deserves, at the very least, a nod of encouragement.
As a gentle rain drummed the roof that sheltered browsers in the nursery display yard, we filled our cart with a caladium and some coleus, a tomato vine and a small celosia, also called cockscomb because its bloom resembles a rooster’s headdress.
With our treasures secured, we spent the rest of the day replanting my sister’s balcony. What she’s trying to grow, like any gardener in a strained season, is a little bit of hope.