Waiting To Deadhead

My zinnias look like hell.

Apologies if that expression offends.  I considered saying something euphemistic like “My once-lovely flowers have faded” or “My garden isn’t pretty any more” but somehow that just didn’t work. So I asked Herald-Citizen editor Buddy Pearson if it was okay to use “hell” in a family newspaper.  He said yes.

The zinnias’ stems have grown brown and brittle.  Their curled-up leaves are dry and mildewed.  Though some of the plants were—in their glory days–taller than I am, most have become bent or broken and lie on the ground as though pleading to be run over with the mower.  But I can’t do it just yet.  I keep cutting every halfway-decent bloom I can find and stuffing pitiful bouquets into vases and mayonnaise jars and anything else that holds water in a last desperate attempt to hang on to something I’m going to grieve for the next several months.

Summer.

On Mother’s Day next year, I’ll pull a worn brown paper sack from its place on the top shelf of my bookcase.  Its contents will have been kept cool and dry for six long months.  I’ll thrust my hands into the sack and gently work my fingers over the clusters of deadheads inside.  Thousands of dry seeds will fall off and settle at the bottom of the sack.  I’ll stir and stir and stir those seeds with my fingers until they’re all mixed up.

Because I like a messy zinnia bed.  Lots of different colors.  Lots of different sizes.  Lots of different varieties, all growing willy-nilly along the rock wall in my back yard.

Come spring, the ground in front of that wall will be ready and waiting.  Because after deadheading the zinnias in the fall, I pulled the stems up, laid them on the ground, and covered them with deep piles of chopped leaves.  All winter long, it rained and snowed on my flower bed.  Beginning in March, George tilled the earth three different times.  Each time, I attacked whatever weeds dared to show their faces and then raked the dirt smooth.

The second Sunday in May is time to plant.  I’ll wet the bed down with the garden hose.  Then I’ll reach into the brown paper sack, pull out a fistful of seeds and scatter them as though I’m throwing scratch to chickens.  Up and down the length of the flowerbed I’ll go until my sack is empty.  Barefoot, I’ll walk on the moist dirt until the seeds are buried.

And I’ll wait.

In less than a week, green specks will appear.  Specks so tiny I’ll wonder if they’re a mirage.  But sure enough, in a couple of days, I’ll know they’re the real thing.  Life has renewed itself.  There will be zinnias once again.

I’ll keep the fragile plants weeded and watered.  I’ll thin them in spots where they’re too thick and fill in spots that are too thin.  I’ll mulch.  Then, one wonderful day, there will appear a handful of blooms.  A week later, dozens.  Then hundreds.  Soon, every room in my house will be filled with zinnias and I’ll be reminded why June and July are my favorite months of the year. But August will follow, so hot and humid that I’ll lose my enthusiasm for weeding.  Or watering.  Or picking bouquets.  My zinnias will wilt and fade.  By September, they’ll be positively ragged.  Ugly.  In the way.

But I won’t pull them up and I won’t mow them down.  The zinnias and I will limp into autumn together, just as we’ve always done.  I’ll cut the last few decent blooms and stuff pitiful bouquets into anything that holds water.  Then I’ll wait for the first hard frost when I can, at long last, collect the deadheads.

And begin the blessed cycle all over again.

(October 21, 2012)

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