Friday, May 4, 2007

My Garden Catalogue: Keeping a Tradition Alive

It's a rare occasion that anything interesting arrives in the mail these days. After all, how exciting can bills, fast food flyers, charity request forms and a note from my local MPP get? Oh sure, there was a time when getting personalized address labels and notepads was a fun novelty. Soon everyone caught on, though, and now even these "gifts" have been relegated to the junk pile.

But several times a year, the mail makes my day. You see, that's when I get my Lee Valley Garden Tools Catalogue.

The arrival of the catalogue is serious business. Its pages are not to be casually perused. They will require careful and repeated study. There's just so much to consider: page after page of products that will make me a better gardener. Do I really need an ergonomically designed stainless steel transplant spade? Absolutely. How about a "Make Your Own Plant Marker Stone Kit." Definitely. Or maybe a high-fired clay hanging bird home designed especially for warblers, wrens and chickadees? Without a doubt!

Of course I won't end up ordering any of these products (except maybe the bird home). But it sure is fun to imagine all the possibilities. In a world that offers up hundreds of tv channels, the internet, movieplexes, theme parks and endless distractions, I need look only as far as my catalogue for endless hours of entertainment.

I guess catalogues appeal to my childhood self. Doesn't everyone have a memory of flipping through the Sears Christmas catalogue, turning down the corners of the pages with the stuff you want and then placing your order? Roch Carrier's classic tale "The Hockey Sweater" beautifully depicts the anticipation that follows. After his mother places an order for a Montreal Canadians hockey jersey, a young boy experiences heartbreak when a Maple Leafs sweater arrives in the mail instead. Who hasn't felt that kind of crushing disappointment? And when you think about it, aren't all orders, even those that are right, a bit of a disappointment? It's just a fact of life: our expectations and dreams are usually a lot better than the reality. And that's why catalogues are so much fun. Lost in their pages, one can create one's world as one would like it to be.

Catalogues are a great reminder that longing for something is sometimes more satisfying than achieving it. They're a reminder that the journey is as important as the finish line. While many catalogues have gone the way of the dinosaur, its fitting that garden catalogues still exist. A garden, it seems to me, is always a work in progress. There's always a longing for lusher foliage, more abundant blooms, more potent fragrances, or a better overall design. And what better to inspire than a catalogue full of possibilities.

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