Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Finding hope in gardens of spring _lowres

If you want to get rich quick, it’s probably not a great idea to hold a plant sale in the pouring rain.

Maybe that’s the biggest lesson from last Saturday, when I joined other parents at my son’s middle school to sell some garden stock as a fundraiser for his class trip.

Flats of tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, watermelon, cantaloupe and squash plants, along with a few ornamentals, graced the carpool driveway, ready for business. The morning began cool and overcast, turning to a gullywasher as lunchtime approached. Most potential customers did the reasonable thing and stayed home.

But the threat of rain — or even a light drizzle — wasn’t enough to keep all the green thumbs away. The few customers we had at our plant sale were uniformly cheerful, reminding me that people who plant stuff are, by necessity, a hopeful tribe. It takes a lot of faith to tuck something into the ground and believe that it will grow.

Gardeners usually assume that things will work out, and there’s a quiet assurance from being in their company.

Working at the plant sale reminded me of an earlier life, when my job involved writing about local gardens. Being around gardeners so often did wonders for my emotional health.

These weren’t the sort of folks, after all, who cowered before the cable news all day, fervently convinced of pending Armageddon. They were out in the yard, shovel in hand, tending to some tender shoot that might not flower or fruit for weeks. They were banking on the future, and their optimism was contagious. Notebook in hand, ambling through rows of pole beans or sniffing the occasional heirloom rose, I couldn’t help feeling better.

I spend much of my time these days sorting through political news, a corner of life not known for optimism or good cheer. I think wistfully of my years as a garden writer, when the sharpest arguments concerned the relative merits of chicken manure, or the best way to deal with hornworms.

Our politics would be better if it connected with the sense of possibility that gardeners have. A few years ago, in a book called “Founding Gardeners,” author Andrea Wulf pointed out that many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, liked gardening. It sustained them spiritually and emotionally for the hard work of building a nation.

After mulling over the grim state budget the other day, participants in the annual conference of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana found small packets of sunflower seeds at their lunch tables, a tribute to the late Alison Neustrom, a lovely young public policy expert who also loved sunflowers.

I’ll plant them soon and do what all gardeners do, bet on better days to come.

Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.