These are days in which we find out how good we are at new things and new methods. And we can rediscover some old things.

It dawned on me that going out to buy bedding plants is not essential, at least not in the strict go-get-groceries, go-see-the-doctor sense of the stay-at-home orders.

Let’s be clear: This is the least of concerns at a time when people are sick and dying, when people are out of work, when the coronavirus peak is unclear and a return to something normal is even less so.

I cannot make the economic or medical case for marigolds and vinca being essential. I can make the case that beauty is essential for the soul, but good luck with that in the moment we’re in.

But as Obi-Wan told Han, there are alternatives.

My wee brain recalled that you can grow flowers from seed. You can start them indoors. Seeds can be ordered by Burpee and delivered by the blessedly non-quarantined U.S. Postal Service.

The BNQUSPS used to deliver me a Burpee catalog, and others, shortly after Christmas, a small boon to the economy and a major lift to the spirits in the depths of winter.

But I haven’t grown a vegetable garden for years (long story), and some time ago I went the route of buying bedding plants for flowers.

In theory I still have the skills to nurture seedlings, and I even found some of the gear in the garage, so it can’t have been that long ago that I last did this. Or meant to. I just can’t remember when.

It occurs to my rusty brain that I’m probably quite a bit late in getting started. Burpee’s website said it was out of marigolds of any variety I was interested in, so I went with a rival, which is giving me a one- to two-week window for delivery. That’s just getting the seeds.

So what gets transplanted to the ground in May will likely look a good deal less robust than the flat of vinca I would have grabbed at the hardware store.

When I was a kid, Burpee had a contest – $10,000 to the first person to produce a white marigold. In certain circles, this was kind of a thing. My mom and I talked about it. I was intrigued, but I also had read a biography of botanist Luther Burbank so even then, I knew my limits. (Someone did crack the code. You can order white marigolds.)

I am feeling my limits now. I figure the main thing I’ll get out of this from now until first frost is comic relief – for myself and the neighbors – at my bumbling efforts to remember what I think I once knew.

The beauty of marigolds and zinnias is secondary.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at