August 2017 – “Growing Up With Flowers”

Henri Matisse once wrote: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” … I grew up with flowers. I was trained to see them and appreciate them, and I am grateful for that.

My mother and my father loved flowers and growing things. We lived in a rural suburban area and our property bordered empty lots owned by the railroad that my parents welcomed into their yard and gardening expansions. They planted a huge vegetable garden every year inside a fence with a gate, just like Mr. McGregor’s garden pictured in Peter Rabbit. Besides remembering fondly the big garden with its neat, long rows of corn and vegetables, I remember lettuce flats, green peas climbing the fences, beds of strawberries, fruit trees, and grapevines rich with warm grapes. But most of all I remember the flowers.

The flowers were particularly my mother’s domain. She did most of the planning for them and I think loved them best, although my father helped in planting, weeding and taking care of them. It was Mother, however, who smiled over them and delighted in them. It was Mother, too, who walked me around the yard and among the many flowers beds, beside flowering shrubs, under trees blooming with rich color, and told me the names of everything. Looking back, I think she always talked about her flowers with the fondness a mother uses to talk about beloved children. She always made the flowers seem much more than mere plants. They took on personalities with her stories and soon became far more than plants to me, too.

My young childhood years were spent playing among the flowers with my friends. We built dolls’ homes in the creeping phlox, made the snap dragons “talk” by squeezing the blooms in just the right spot, sipped from honeysuckle blooms, floated mimosa blossoms in water to make lily ponds, and named the pansies with their “faces” like people. Flowers were a part of my life and my play. Inside our home cut flowers in Mama’s vases usually decorated our tables, and my brother and I often rode to church with a tall vase of flowers wedged between our knees, intended for the church alters. When I close my eyes, I can still see my mother with her broad straw gardening hat working in the flowers.

Some people have a gift for working in the soil and for growing things. They dream of planting in the winter and can’t wait to begin to put our plants and seed in spring, to plow up the rich earth to put in their gardens. I am not so gifted. I love to put words to paper, to paint or draw, to craft and create. But I carry the love for flowers even through I am not much of a gardener myself as my mother was. When I take my walks in the neighborhood I notice every blooming thing, stop to look at it, to “smell the roses.” In the spring I watch for the dogwoods and flowering shrubs to bloom. I visit gardens. I walk the Dogwood Trails in our area. In deep summer I especially love the crepe myrtle, which seem to thrive in the heat. I love flowers, as my mother did. They find their way into my stories and books. They whisper beauty. They are long-time friends.

In hiking I’ve discovered new flowers—the wildflowers of the Great Smokies. There I look for trillium, bloodroot, and purple phlox in spring, for mountain laurel and rhododendron in summer. In exploring the parks and outdoor areas, I slow my steps to look at coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, and other treasures. If I am feeling down, flowers cheer me. They speak of hope, endurance, determination, and beauty. Okakura wrote: “In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends.”

“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.” [Burbank]

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