We take good news where we can get it these days. Old news will do. Even some of the oldest, most eternally recurring, shot through with fungi, moldering-from-the-lingering-damp news: the arrival of spring.
Has such a stale bulletin ever been greeted with such close attention in Seattle?
Here, as elsewhere, the locked-down world has produced a sudden and intense renewal of interest in the "Victory Garden" movement, which dates to two far-off eras now being pointed to as comparisons for the current moment: the first and second World Wars.
Back then, at the urging of the federal government, Americans began tending millions of tiny plots that would help both their dinner plates and the war effort by increasing the country's supply of vegetables. No one in the nation's capital is asking for such a collective effort today. Yet seed packets are selling like crazy across the country as job losses and death tolls mount, talk of a victory garden comeback is rampant, and helping things along here in Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee's list of essential businesses that can remain open during his "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order includes "garden stores and nurseries that support food cultivation."
I learned years ago to be happy with small victories in the garden—or p-patch, or indoor pot. I've done them all, and believe all should be considered paths to lockdown "victory," whatever that may mean to you, especially in a time when the lived experience of our required social distancing is so unequal from person to person.
One recent triumph achieved at minimal cost, taking up minimal space, and grown completely indoors: the out of season amaryllis.
Expert indoor gardeners will time the cycles of their amaryllis bulbs so that their huge blooms appear around the holidays, a bright beacon during dark seasons. I'm no expert gardener, either indoors or outdoors, but I've managed to keep the same onion-sized amaryllis bulb going for two years now, nurturing it through several flowering cycles. In 2019, I'd hoped to force it into fall dormancy (via dark paper bag in basement) and then back into holiday life (via rich soil in clay pot near window), but no luck. My amaryllis just sat there throughout the winter of 2019, a big wet onion in dirt as the new year came and went. Then, as spring arrived and the human world began going into its unexpected, ever-deepening levels of dormancy, a new shoot appeared.
There is no getting around it: in spring, the shape of a sprouting amaryllis turns a young man's fancy to thoughts of things other than flowers.
But as you've seen above, the growing amaryllis then marches onward, upward, and into a very O'Keeffe end of the non-binary spectrum. Over the last few days it entered its final growth stage and became to my eyes, for this time of allusions to World Wars, the kind of air raid siren I'm happy to have around:
Since they're so firmly associated with Christmas, you may have trouble finding your own amaryllis bulb right now. But there should be no shortage of bulbs that you can plant and guide into a summer-time bloom, including gladiolas, lilies, and ornamental onions. Local garden supply store favorites like Sky Nursery and Swansons are open, with Sky allowing only drive-through pickup of orders and Swansons offering by-appointment, in-store shopping to comply with social distancing rules.
And what about real onions? Can you grow them in your neighborhood's traffic roundabout, along with some potatoes, because this flowery nonsense isn't going to fill your belly during another Great Depression? It's a great and important question, and I'll answer it on Slog soon...