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She Was Pretty as a Peach Among Those Old Pages

'Twas in the fall of 1927 that I met the young lady, and while our horticultural romance was passionate it was brief, but we did part the best of friends and for 68 reminiscent springs I have gazed in delight at the cherry trees hung with snow and wondered what became of her. Did she marry well and raise a family?

I have reason to remember everything exactly. The old side-hill orchard on our rocky Maine farm had been neglected, and as the new incumbent I needed to bring it back from desuetude. Somebody told me the experimental pomologists in Minnesota had lately introduced some new apple varieties that were worth looking at, so I sent to the Andrews Nursery in Faribault for their catalog. It came, and, as a seasoned veteran of nurseries, I had misgivings.

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There are reliable and trustworthy nurserymen eager to please and keep their professional reputations sweet and pure. Then, one day, a bundle of large purple grapevines highly praised in the catalog will arrive to be planted. You'll carefully place them in hospitable spots, in the abundant hope of a bountiful harvest and the anticipation of delicious jelly on home-baked breakfast toast that will separate you in joy from everybody else. It will take three to four years for these vines to mature and produce, and then as you get the jelly bag out you find you have 18 bushels of sour green grapes that won't ripen even after three snowstorms.

This did happen to me, and when I called the nurseryman about the ''true to name'' guarantee, he said he was overcome with sorrow and would replace the grapevines the following spring. There is no way, of course, that he can replace the three or four years I waited for jelly grapes, and he didn't say a word about the wear and tear on my gardener's shovel and my pruning shears.

So I believe that anybody who blithely buys botanical bargains by mail order from a catalog does so in the exuberance of blind faith and if swindled should not be astonished. On the other hand, my Hansen Cherry Bushes came through as advertised and pleased me.

I would guess that 1927 was about the time the fruit experts in Minnesota got the Hansen Cherry Bush tested and certified, and it was first offered to a panting public. I had never heard of a cherry bush but had been trying to find some cherry trees we could rely on in Maine. Our climate makes the sweet cherry out of the question. Some sour varieties do well indifferently but lose interest because the winter is too long or too short or too often.

The picture of the Hansen Cherry Bush appealed. It showed a sea of snowy blooms on a low bush, promising a bumper crop. The description of the eventual cherries was not overdone, and they could be eaten ''out of hand'' or used in other ways. That's honest enough.

And kneeling on the sward beside the Hansen Cherry Bush in full bloom was the young lady -- with a smile to banish all woe, and in every way offering a total commendation for the Hansen Cherry Bush, which should be included in every home garden. It took so little room and produced lavishly. The obvious integrity of the lovely young woman, urging me to send my money, overcame my suspicion, and without any doubt I contributed and asked for three Hansen Cherry Bushes. And I was never disappointed.

Without saying a word, the young lady kneeling by the bush convinced me, and I planted my three Hansen Cherry Bushes completely satisfied. She was a good person to have as a friend. The bushes grew and upon reaching a certain height remained just right for bushes. When they were ready they bloomed and were puffballs of white cherry blossoms so people driving by paused to look. And, best of all, every little blossom, no doubt because I set a beehive close by, formed its little cherry, which later turned a magnificent red and got eaten forthwith by a robin or a chipmunk, whichever came first.

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Using a hoe handle as a club, I was able to disperse the robins and taste a few or three, and the little cherries were tasty. We never got enough at one time for a pie, but I'd guess it would take eight days to pick a bushel of those little cherries, and perhaps three bushels to a pie. But we had Hansen Bush cherries for many years, and all those years the nursery catalog would come to cheer us in the hunger-days of February. And right by the flowery Hansen Cherry Bush, the comely lass knelt on the sward and smiled her welcome assurance that all were pure and honest, sweet and serene, guaranteed and true to name.

I never bought any more Hansen Cherry Bushes, but I looked every spring to find her kneeling as before. Then I didn't buy any nursery stock, and I was dropped from the catalog lists, and I lost my young lady, my pomological, mail-order sweetheart. And now it is 1995.

For a reason best explained by the folks who sell by mail, I have just received a nursery catalog offering me choice-quality fruit trees and berry bushes. It assures me everything is fully guaranteed and true to name.

Being so long out of touch, I never heard of this nursery and do not expect to buy, but I thumbed through it with curiosity and sentiment. What do you know! It offers the Hansen Cherry Bush, and there on her knees, in the same photograph of 1927, is my young lady as lovely as ever. Age has not withered her, nor has business staled her girlish charm. And after 68 years, she still doesn't know me from Adam.

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