None of my neighbors are actually named Jones, at least to my knowledge, but that doesn't mean that we're not in competition with each other. We are. We are at war, in fact, and the stakes are high. Who on Pearl Street is going to have the best-looking flowerboxes?
Let me back up. I moved into a neighborhood where the houses are fairly close to each other, and it's a well-kept neighborhood. People mow their lawns, keep their porches tidy, trim their shrubs, that sort of thing. When I moved in last November, I didn't need to worry much about any of this stuff because the snow came pretty soon after I moved in, and despite the fact that you need to shovel it, snow has one great attribute: it covers up everything. Come this last spring, though, I realized that I had to get a lawn mower immediately because my lawn was beginning to look like a meadow, and not in a good way.
The real issue, however--the one that made my neighbors give me slightly dirty looks--was the state of my flowerboxes. I had left the dead foliage from the previous owners in my two flowerboxes over the winter, thinking that I would deal with it in the spring. While all my neighbors were busy planting their flowerbeds and trimming their trees and such, I was grading the final papers from spring term, so I knew that I'd get a late start on making my street frontage look presentable. Finally, I got to a local garden center and got some petunias to plant in the boxes. Petunias are not my favorite flower--I don't quite see the point of flowers that have no real scent--but a friend assured me that they were drought-tolerant, and I figured I'd better play it safe; furthermore, they are colorful.
Well, they were beautiful for the first month, but now they are leggy and spindly looking, and there's not a lot I can do about it. My flowerboxes don't look bad, exactly, but they don't look great either, especially when compared with my next-door neightbor Katie's beautiful pots filled with all sorts of foliage on her back porch. I won't even go into my hanging basket filled with impatiens that looks pretty forlorn by the side of my front stoop. The fact that I live in a Cape Cod that faces east doesn't help. It is a classic Cape, which means there is no covered porch, so all these flowers get full sun for half the day, and the boxes dry out very quickly.
I suspected that when I became a homeowner I might become the kind of person who obsessed about how nice or bad his house looked, and I didn't want to. I vowed long ago that I would not be this kind of person, fancying myself to be so much superior to people like the men in the subdivision that I grew up in and who tied their manhood to the greenness of the grass in their lawns. And I understand that keeping up one's home is a courtesy to the rest of the neighborhood, helping preserve property values and keeping the entire street from looking shabby. Even so, I wanted to think myself above all this, living the life of the mind and not worrying about how green my grass was or how tidy my flowerbeds were. I would be superior to those kinds of suburban mortals who cared about such foolish things.
Well. When I found myself heading out early every morning to see what my house looked like from the street, I realized that I had in fact turned into my father. When I got some more petunias from Robert to root and fill in some of the blank spots in my boxes, I realized that I had turned a corner. (Robert's lawn and beds are absolutely beautiful, damn him.) When I started looking for a big crock to put on my porch and fill with geraniums for next year, I realized that I had somehow become a suburban dad. All I need now is a barbecue and an apron that says "Boy Meets Grill."
Much of the planning of my flowerbeds and boxes has been enjoyable, actually. I have decided that I should not need to spend a lot of money on flowers--indeed, I don't need to spend any money, given that my friends are most generous about splitting up their perennials. I am planting perennials everywhere so that I don't have to replant each year (flowerboxes excepted). The long-term visioning of what my yard will look like has been a great deal of fun; this first year has been devoted to finding out what the previous owners actually had, so the beds have looked a bit shabby all year. They were older and couldn't really manage their yard any more, so they let it go, and it's fallen to me to bring it back to respectability.
I am surprised at how much I am obsessing about how things look, though. I mean, we are talking about flowerboxes, not health care reform. And yet it matters. It tells the people walking down Pearl Street that I care, it does make the house look attractive, and it keeps my neighbors from sneering at me behind my back. When these things matter to you, there is no turning back: you are now a Homeowner, and you are staring at the concerns that will overtake you every spring for the rest of your life.
So, if anybody has suggestions for drought-tolerant, good-looking, colorful flowers for flowerboxes that get lots of direct sun . . .