Uppermost House: The annual drive

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

Long about now each year, my wife Karen and I do the same thing that we’ve done for so many years that I can’t even remember when we didn’t do it; although it had to have been before 1982, the year we got married.

A few days either side of that magical moment when the interrupted ferns along our stone walls have unfurled, just as the ground warms enough to support annual life until the autumn frost, Karen gets out her notebook and marches around our old farm property, staring intently at each raised bed, border garden, window box, and, finally, the ancient bucket hanging ornamentally from the corner of our leaning shed, and takes down her flower stenography. Species, color, relative rank and file (tall ones in the back), sun or shade tolerance, habit and spacing needs, moisture requirements, and a host of other variables go into her annotations, diagrams, and arrows (so esoteric are these floraglyphics that if handed the notebook, I’m not sure I’d know which way to orient it).

Eventually satisfied, she calls to me and we get in the car.

For the next several hours, we forage from nursery to greenhouse to farm stand, visiting all and sundry establishments in the business of helping us all have foliated, blossomed and fragrant homesteads.

This year was like most: a predictable sequence of stopping, getting out, stooping, squinting, tag-reading, note-checking, and then head-shaking, standing, and leaving. Karen is very particular about her flowers and brooks no close-enough or substitutes. Either you have what she wants, or you don’t. If you don’t, we leave. She’s on a mission, and on she marches, focused and determined. Sometimes, I catch the perplexed eye of the gardener or nurseryman as we retreat, and although “You’ll just have to try harder next time” is what I would like to say, I simply wish them a nice day and follow.

We visited six plant vendors on our most recent expedition, logging less than 85 miles (which is actually pretty good; there are years when I wonder if we’ll need to go all the way to Bangor).

The first five stops were basically a bust (although I bought a few veggie starts, and we did find some nice Calendula officinalis). Each establishment seemed resplendent in floral splendor to me, but the names didn’t match the subpoenas, and so we trudged on.

The fifth was a bit of a surprise bust to me, since it had come highly recommended as having both an enormous selection and cheap prices, a combination I rather fancied. But, alas, “They haven’t even got alyssum!” came the exasperation, even as I waved my arms and said something along the lines of, “How fecund is this!” Apparently, if you haven’t got alyssum, you haven’t got anything, not matter what else you’ve got. Might as well be flower shopping at a dentist’s office.

Hummus wraps and elderflower lemonade on a porch in Casco followed this latest mis-forage, which was very pleasant, if a bit goose-bumpy, it being a rather colder day than the calendar might suggest it should be, and breezy. And then we headed farther south, to what would turn out to be the place where I would finally give my debit card a good hard swipe.

Having lost myself for a few minutes among the tomatoes and Brussels sprouts, I sought out Karen and found her pulling a cart…with something in it! This was a very good sign, and, like the golfer who politely averts his gaze so his partner won’t shank a drive into a swamp, I headed for the far country of the perennials for a few minutes.

I returned to the annuals after what I figured was about a hundred-dollars-worth of time, but could not find Karen. A very nice man wearing a grass-stained apron and carrying clippers asked me if I was looking for anything special, and I replied, “Yes, a very particular species called Wifeus wanderus.” Without hesitation he said, “Ah, yes, towing a big load and spending your money, right? If I see her, I’ll send her your way.”

The drive home was glorious and victorious, and only would have been better had we strapped our hard-won quarry to the front of the car instead of carefully placing it all in the trunk. It was raining when we got back to the homestead, so the pointing and digging and planting would wait until tomorrow; but we were bushed anyway.

Now, a savvy husband might, upon reflecting on the empty holes and tire spinning of this day, decide that next spring he ought to drive his wife to the mother lode first, and skip all the empty furrows and the hummus. But I am a sappy man, not a savvy man, and so next May shall again take a peripatetic joyride with my dearest wife and her sprouting blueprints, checking out every vegetative joint in this county, feigning frustration, cracking wry jokes, winking at bewildered nursery workers, and loving every minute of it.

Please follow and like us: