Tuesday, June 17, 2003

More Flowers

Flowers: Part 2, for Anne

The calla lilies, the ones I can see from my desk in the family room, are desperate. They want to be pruned and to be rid of the snails and slugs that are mingling amongst the spades and leaves. The butterfly bushes are leggy and overgrown. They need pruning too, which is why one of them snapped under its own weight on the last windy day. Let's cut to the chase and admit that there isn't a species out here that wouldn't appreciate a nip and tuck, a little off the top, a snip around the hem.

As urgent, is the need of fertilizer; some compost or Miracle Grow. The two gardenias outside my bedroom door, the ones I meant to shelter and nurture for their fragrant blossoms and glossy leaves, are turning an anemic yellow, dropping leaves and wilting pathetically. Acidic fertilizer for the gardenias, iron for the roses, mulch around the cucumbers, peppers and tomato. Some villainous creature ate through our watermelon vines. There are two listless flats of lobelia and snapdragons, waiting to be tucked in to bed.

It isn't enough to love the garden and the hoe, it isn't enough to know how to prune a rose bush or where it is best to place carrots and beans. My best gardens, my highest aspirations, are always in my heart, but there are also many obligations and distractions on my mind.

I have all but given up on cut flowers. In a vase, gracing our kitchen table or cheering a corner of our bedroom, they are lovely and romantic. And then comes the first dusting of pollen, from a slightly lilting stargazer, then a leaf drops, the water clouds; it's time to get the fading flowers out, re-cut the stems, freshen the water. Tomorrow. I am on my way to the bank, then the market. What's for dinner? And before I know it there is a stale pond smell in the room, and the stems are fuzzy and black. Quick, before company comes, I haul the vase to the laundry room sink, and I promise I will clean it out very soon, maybe even take the remains to the compost pile for a proper burial. Inviting cut flowers in to the home is a commitment, an agreement that must be carefully considered. There are consequences and responsibilities that extend far beyond that initial thrill, the spicy aroma of carnations, the lovers' blush of the opening roses.

My mother was my first and greatest gardening influence. She planted thriving vegetable gardens, covered homemade cheesecakes with her home grown strawberries, and kept zinnias and roses blooming all around. I worshipped her ability to name, seemingly, every flower. And she assured me that some day I would know their names too. For a time she really loved fuchsias, especially the ones in hanging baskets. She said the flowers reminded her of earrings, or Scarlett's ear-bobs. I was in high school when she came home with a large hanging basket of fuchsias. Our budget was tight and she was rationalizing her impulsive purchase, and I questioned her choice asking, "Why would you want a plant with flowers that are just going to die?" She sighed, and thoughtfully shared, "Beautiful flowers are like sex; sometimes the passion is irresistible and you don't think of the consequences until later."

The other gardener in my life has been my Grandmother. My mother's mother. She is passionate for geraniums. I never liked geraniums, mostly because of their pungent smell. But she collects every color she can find, and shape and leaf variety. She would be walking through a mall, or passed a neighbor's home and sneak a snip, snap a stem. Her kitchen window or patio table was always covered in jars and glasses of specimens she had acquired and was nurturing to root and flourish. We teased her, "Keep a quarter handy, Grandma, you may have to call us from jail some day!" My Grandmother sympathizes with every failing plant, pale leaf, sorry bud, and neglected flower. And I have seen her bring plenty back from the brink.

Now her days are mostly full of caring for her husband, and so I try to keep her roses happy, ridding them of aphids, trimming the fading blossoms. I have even planted geraniums along our driveway. I pull the snails out of them and take away the dry flowers, wilted leaves. They do have a pungent smell, but they come in a dazzling array of colors, they survive heat and cold, dry conditions, wind and some neglect. They are doing very well, spreading along our once empty property and making this a more beautiful place.

Tomorrow, before it gets too hot, before other things call my attention, I will plant the snapdragons and lobelia. I'll amend the weedy plot of dirt with the good stuff collecting under the rabbit hutches, and hopefully I will take the time to water them regularly enough, even cut some flowers and bring them inside. And I should write myself a note, and tack it to my wallet, another on my calendar for Fall: Do Not Buy More Bulbs! I only got around to planting 1/3 of the hundred or more I brought home last Fall.

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