Greenhouses are the new toilet paper: a carding chronicle

You know, we live in history all the time. But we rarely think about that. However, this time is different. We all know that this moment will be captured in memory for a long time to come.

But life, like dandelions coming up through the cracks in a sidewalk, always finds a way.

Here in Vermont, everyone is itching to get outside and the whirr of lawn mowers fills the air. Let’s check in to see how our three favorite gardening friends in Carding, Vermont are getting into the swing.


You have to admit, reopening the world is a strange experience for all of us. Think about that—in  all the history of the world, never have so many people been simultaneously aware of and reacted to a threat to their health. 

As Alice from over Wonderland way would say: “Curiouser and curiouser.”

If you can stand back from the fear—a highly recommended stance—and watch the passing parade with an objective eye, it’s interesting to see how the global mindset moves through a country, a state, a province, a single town.

Suddenly, lots of seemingly disconnected people feel the same way at the same time. How does that happen?

“It’s the old collective unconscious at work,” Amos Handy said as he held forth at the coffee machine in the back of Cooper’s General Store. “Folks get arrogant and think we’re all nothing but a bunch of individuals with no connections to one another. Then something like this happens and you can see the mood of our whole species change like the wind without any individual communication at all.”

“How do you figure that?” Gideon Brown asked.

Amos tapped the side of his head with his index finger. “Toilet paper,” he said.

Gideon shook his head. “Okay, I’ll bite. What about toilet paper?”

“Have you asked yourself why, of all the things that people wanted to hoard when this corona stuff hit, did they choose toilet paper? If you’re going to be shut in for a while, wouldn’t food make more sense at the outset?” Amos asked. “And then it was elastic to sew masks. Here one day, gone off the store shelves the next. Then flour because so many folks started baking at home. Why baking? And now it’s plants.”

“Plants?”

“Yeh. I have a friend over on the west side of the state, near Burlington. Big gardener, Gus is.” Amos paused for dramatic effect, making sure he had the attention of his whole audience. “I was talking to him last night and he told me that there’s been such a hard run on the greenhouses and garden centers over there, you can’t even find six packs of marigolds. Marigolds, one of the most common garden plants ever. And the shortages are everywhere at the same time. Don’t tell me we’re not connected to one another.”

Ruth Goodwin had been standing on the outskirts of Amos’s listeners consulting her shopping list when his words hit her.

Greenhouse shortages? Why, she and Edie Wolfe and Agnes Findley always waited until the traditional date of Memorial Day (May 30) to do the rounds among their favorite plant emporiums. But if marigolds were scarce in the garden centers near Burlington, what did that mean for the greenhouses in the Corvus River Valley?

She rushed through the rest of her shopping and in the few minutes it took to get to her car, she’d whipped out her phone to get Edie on the line.

“You’ll never guess what I just heard from Amos,” she said breathlessly. “Greenhouses are the new toilet paper.”

“What? You’re kidding.” Edie pounced on the news like a cat on catnip. “If you come pick me up, I’ll call Agnes. I’m not missing gardening season, especially not this year. I’m just aching to get my hands dirty.”

“Yeah, you, me and a whole bunch of other people,” Ruth said as she turned the key in her ignition.

“No marigolds?” Edie murmured as she rounded up her purse and mask, “That’s disturbing.”

It took less than fifteen minutes for the three friends to pile into Agnes’s minivan and rush off in the direction of Harrington’s Greenhouse. 

“It’s off the beaten track so maybe it hasn’t been hit as hard,” Agnes explained her choice to the others. “Can you imagine no geraniums or petunias or impatiens? Cross your fingers, ladies.”

Silence reigned all the way up the winding road, all three women leaning forward to catch the first glimpse of their destination. As Agnes turned into the driveway, they sighed as one. The greenhouses were busy as masked gardeners wandered the aisles.

But there were marigolds. And lobelia and coral bells and parsley.

“Prepare your wallets,” Agnes said as they leaped out of the van. “Gardening season has begun.”


Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

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