I grew up hearing story rhymes and poems about April Showers and May Flowers—but at my rural childhood home in South Knoxville, May Flowers were more evident than at most of my friends’ homes. My parents were avid, prolific gardeners. My mother especially loved flowers and grew all sorts of varieties in our back yard, side yards, front yard, and on the extra properties surrounding our rural home. People often came by to look at Mother’s flowers in May—when her displays were especially profuse.
I’m not sure where mother’s love for flowers began. She said she learned her love of them from her mother who also loved flowers—and from growing up out in the country where she was always close to nature. I was older by the time I really noticed that my parents were more enamored with yard and garden that most of my friends’ parents. I’d often heard my mother called “The Flower Lady” by then, too. She belonged to the local garden club, won competitions with her flower arranging, and created the table decorations for her civic groups and at church.
Looking back, I’m sure it was a disappointment to my parents that I didn’t seem to inherit or develop the same passionate interest in gardening, tilling, planting, canning, freezing, and cultivating …. but I was big on “appreciating.” I loved the flowers in our yard and I loved the big fenced vegetable garden, the strawberry beds and the glass topped lettuce keepers, the fencerows covered with grapevines, purple, white and blue Petunias, and Sweet Peas. While Mother and Dad looked through gardening catalogs in the winter and could hardly wait until Spring to get their hands in the dirt to plant, weed, and get the garden started … I was usually lost to other worlds instead, to imaginative worlds. Lost in a book or playing with words in some way. This makes sense now that I’m a writer but that latent gifting wasn’t well understood in my home or especially nourished. If I had been a unique variety of iris or a new tomato variety, I’d have been cultivated and fertilized more devotedly.
I don’t blame my parents for the lack of recognition for gifts they didn’t know how to recognize or develop. I was a loved child who grew up in a warm, nurturing, Christian home with my needs met, my friends welcome, good neighbors all around, a healthy environment to grow up in and the importance of good morals and a good education always stressed. As a psychologist now, I understand better that it’s difficult to understand in every way others that are different from us.
The legacy I did gain from growing up around flowers and with a mother who loved them was a rich legacy of knowledge about all kinds and varieties of flowers and about all growing things in general, plus a deep, genuine appreciation for the beauty of both flowers and nature. Mother saw flowers with a “grower’s eye” while I saw them with an “imaginative eye.” To me the Pansies had faces. I saw them with various fanciful personalities and I gave them names. The long rows of Iris looked like tall, lovely ladies to me—in dresses of purple, blue, gold, or white. The two-toned iris were the most fanciful, their dresses decorated with multi-colors and velvet trims. The Snowball Bushes and Peony shrubs provided lush round flower balls perfect for “pretend bridal games.” With scarves over our heads we’d walk down green aisles in the yard or dance with flowers in our hands.
Tulips and daffodils provided a beautiful backdrop for springtime play and games out-of-doors as did the Roses with their lush, rich scents. Amid the low-growing flowers like pink Creeping Phlox, my friends and I played with our small dolls, and the Phlox were a perfect home for fairies, too. Out in the fields we gathered Daisies and Clover to fashion into necklaces, bracelets and garlands. We sipped Honeysuckle flowers, picked Daisies, and made nosegays of Mimosa Tree blooms. On old quilts in the field, we watched the bees and butterflies weave in and out among the Red Clover, Goldenrod, Queen Ann’s Lace, and Bachelor’s Buttons of every color and we joyously gathered bouquets to bring back home to put in one of Mother’s old vases.
To me, flowers were the joyful setting for imaginative games and stories. My best childhood memories are not of gardening but of Mother pointing out the different flowers to me in the yard or identifying flowers, plants, and trees to me when we traveled and visited in other states. I loved the stories she told me about growing things, about the history and meanings of the flowers, the humorous tales about their names or growing traits. These are the memories I hold the dearest. I especially recall those times today when I walk the neighborhood, the hiking trails or nearby parks, enjoying the flowers. We often gain a legacy, a love and appreciation, for beauty in indirect ways as well as in more direct ones. The love I developed for flowers and growing things as a child continues to flow richly in me and now also drifts into my writing…. Thank you, Mother, for all that wonder you shared with me.