November 12 2020
The world gave me flowers. Before I even knew that was what I wanted. I grew up on a farm-a practical world where everything you grew was for money or food. Even the windbreak lilacs had the practical use of wind protection, though no doubt my homesteading grandmother appreciated the flowers even more so because they were so rare in her world. One time when I visited a Montana ghost town there was one old cabin with a once white weathered picket fence and an old lilac bush. I thought that surely a woman had lived there who longed for beauty in her life. I have since read that lilacs were planted near outhouses to help stifle odors-kinda sucks the romance out of the story I think. It would only work for a few weeks anyway.
My first attempts at gardening involved vegetables (I learned what happens if one doesn’t weed regularly) and to this day when I say I am a gardener many, many times people assume vegetables. Like it’s the definition of gardening.
But over the years, flowers kept creeping in-whether on trees, shrubs, or as perennials or annuals. Clearly, that’s what I wanted all along. Not too many years ago I had a hoop house filled with tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables; if I ever have one again it will have dahlias, roses and any other heat loving, frost tender flowers I can think of.
Now that I am rid of ‘shoulds’-as my friend says-“don’t should all over yourself”, I shall grow flowers with abandon. I was doing it anyway, the difference is that now I am going to love them freely, because I have given myself license.
I have recently begun growing more cut flowers and discovered China Asters. These are annuals that I have to plant early in pots in the greenhouse, they need that 6-8 week head start to get maximum flowers before frost. By September, I am rewarded with prolific, many petaled, tousled three inch heads of lavender, purple, pink and white flowers on strong stems ready to cut. One of the best cut flowers out there.
I was recently given a lovely old copy of Celia Thaxter’s book ‘An Island Garden’. She used the word ‘opelske’ which is Norwegian and refers to the care of flowers. Literally, it means ‘loving up’-cherishing and nurturing them into health and vigor. What a beautiful word-and concept! I remember that same grandmother had a row of African Violets on her windowsill late in her life- may the pursuit of beauty in our lives never die.
China Asters, Callistephus chinensis, 110-120 days, annual