Beethoven’s Veranda

Anne’s snapdragons

When I was little, my parents ordered their seeds from Burpee’s, tilled the soil and planted their garden the old-fashioned way. But decades later, in the densely populated urban setting I call home, I have no soil to till—or so I thought, until I trained my sights on the tiny patch of dirt surrounding the pathetic sapling in the sidewalk out front. This, I decided, would be my flower garden.

As it turns out, there is a charming little garden store four blocks away called Beethoven’s Veranda, a self-styled “symphony of flowers and plants.” Indoors, classical music from Pandora plays all day long, creating the illusion that your garden will be just as perfect as the works of the master himself.

Told of my project, Keith the shopkeeper recommended the snapdragons and vincas, which he said would produce blossoms all summer long. I was immediately charmed. There was just one problem. My little patch of dirt has had nothing on it for decades but weeds and dog piss—and Keith had just sold his last batch of fertilizer. “That’s OK,” said my husband. “We’ll bury fish, like Squanto.” Huh?

My history-major husband had somehow dredged up the fact that back in Plymouth, Mass., when starvation threatened the Pilgrims, the Patuxet Indian Squanto advised them to use dead fish as fertilizer for their crops. “We have some sardines at home,” he offered.

“Oh, great,” I replied. “Every dog in town will be digging up my flowers.”

“No, they won’t,” said Keith. “Every cat will.”

OK, so I knew my miniature garden was going to be an amateur operation. I didn’t know it was going to be this half-cocked. 

I bought a tray of 30 little pink snapdragon plants and 27 white vincas, and I headed home, knowing that this was an iffy proposition at best. The soil quality is near zero. The ground is constantly trampled by neighbors coming to the dry cleaner’s on the ground floor of our building. The dirt has been absorbing toxic exhaust from traffic for decades. And that’s before you factor in the dogs. The tree our landlord planted there last year promptly dropped all its leaves and refused to grow.

Yet, as I started digging in the dirt, I felt instantly more connected to neighbors I’ve never met before. People stopped to ask me what kind of flowers I was planting. Others actually thanked me. In my mind, this venture suddenly became more than my long-shot attempt at a garden. It was my very own Neighborhood Beautification Project.

Well, maybe that was a premature assessment. Within a week, two-thirds of the snapdragons were dead—not just deflowered, but totally withered away. “It’s a good thing the Pilgrims weren’t counting on us to feed them,” said my husband. Perhaps it was the week of pouring rain that did the flowers in. Maybe it was the fish. Truthfully, I never expected them to last.

But here’s the good news. The vincas are doing splendidly. Even more amazing, a neighbor told me he no longer lets his dog pee there.

I can’t wait to plant some more.


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