Last summer's sweet peas on my window sill, caught by John.
This year's sweet peas starting their journey up the tower.
No matter how minimalist my gardening gets -- and I have become increasingly lazy over time -- one thing I insist on having every year is sweet peas. Their fragrance is an essential reminder that summer -- that passionately wished-for, dreamed-of, short, intense spell of heat and leisure of my childhood years -- has made its way around again. When I was heavily into gardening about 10 years ago, I raised sweet peas from seed, going to great lengths to find those with the best fragrance. Now I just buy seedlings, but I always search for "strong fragrance" on the label. On Tuesday, faced with four different varieties at Southlands Nursery, I asked owner Thomas Hobbs which smelled best. "They all smell good," said Hobbs, who is supposedly something of a sweet pea aficionado. "No difference." As I planted my purchases, I thought about how prairie farm women like my mother always included flowers in their gardens. Growing vegetables was a matter of course -- a necessity for keeping a family fed in those times -- but raising flowers must have seemed like adding beauty and pleasure to what was often quite a stark existence. I never asked mom about it -- it was just something she did -- but I suspect that her mother, an emigrant from England settling on a prairie farm, likely did the same. So I am probably the third generation to head out to the garden in the hottest part of the year to snip some fragrance from the sweet pea vines to scent my house with summer -- and home.