Anne Horrigan Geary: Journey from first frost to last leaf


DALTON >> Death is always a sad event. For me, the death of all this year's annual plants is especially poignant. We had such a crazy growing season that some flowers and vegetables never reached their full potential. Because of the early stretch of 90 degree days, some of my seedlings in the little plastic greenhouse expired soon after they sprouted. Some seeds never sprouted.

Once they were moved outside, some plants rallied, others languished. Even the early snap peas were persnickety, and they are usually the most dependable of all. Lots of crops were just very late. I am still picking tomatoes and peppers. Potted plants on the patio often outperformed their cousins in the ground because I could monitor their water needs and more easily accommodate them.

I always have a bunch of hanging flower baskets under the pergola, and this is the time of year when I have to make the tough decision as to which ones will overwinter on my windowsills. Often I take cuttings because the new little plants take up less space and are hardier in the spring. Some plants are too messy, dropping lots of spent blooms and leaves everywhere. Some are just too far gone to save.

Gracing the pantry this winter will be a pink and white fuchsia and a yellow lantana. Six cuttings from a magnificent-colored geranium are nestled in the office, and a pot of Italian parsley soon will hop onto the kitchen sill.

I just can't live without some kind of growing things. Studies prove the efficacy of green plants in the house, so my house is definitely healthy. Oddly, I'm not a big fan of traditional houseplants, but I do keep a few flowering pots on my dining room/ sewing room sill. Currently, there are two oxalis in residence, along with a bright red-blooming cyclamen. They peacefully coexist with two heat-seeking cats and heaps of fabric.

Looking at living plants on the windowsill when the snow is drifted high outside always cheers me up. Botanically speaking, death is not forever; and the bucket list of plants I would still like to invite into my yard keeps me dreaming of the next spring and summer. Hope of gardens to come makes the winter seem more tolerable. There are always plant catalogs to read and videos to watch on the coldest nights. I am always hoping for another chance to grow the most splendid zinnias and cosmos on the block.

Hope is a good thing. Emily Dickinson said: "Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul " While I understand her idea, I think hope is always a thing with petals, stretching skyward like a prayer. Hope helps you hop out of bed in the morning, look out the window, and smile at the prospect of a great, new day. Hope is forward-looking and positive. We all need those two characteristics today.

The short story, "The Last Leaf" by O. Henry connected a plant's life and death with that of a human. An ailing woman, looking out the window, said she would stay alive until the last leaf on the nearby vine fell. As with all of O. Henry's tales, it ended with a twist.

In my mother's case, it was a tomato plant on the patio of her nursing home that kept her interested in life (along with the Red Sox). She insisted on being wheeled outside every day to check the plant for water and bugs, and wait for that first bloom. When she died, the plant went on to cheer someone else. That's the way it is with growing things, there is always more to give.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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