Tuesday, May 14, 2024

A Love of Flowers

I have [somewhere] a vintage black and white photo taken on my 4th birthday. I am sat on the front steps of Grampa Mac's house, legs clad in the long brown stockings my mother favored for everyday warmth, long-sleeved jerseys layered over a woolen skirt. Mid-March after all, is still cold in Vermont.
My gaze is fixed on a pot planted with crocus.
My Mother's notation records that I paid scant attention to my other gifts, being taken up with the pot of blooms.

Elm Row Farm, Grampa Mac's home, was one of the older properties in town, the original house built in 1794. The strip of garden beyond the seldom-used west door had likely been enjoyed and tended by several generations of farm wives. It was anchored at one end with an ancient apricot tree, at the other by a bush honeysuckle which sheltered a carpet of lily of the valley. Thriving on neglect in the narrow grassy strip were lemon lilies, pale lavender iris, red peonies and a tidy shrub rose with pale pink flowers. My Mother recalled the rose, 'The Fairy,' was acquired by her grandmother in return for boxtops cut from cereal cartons and sent off with a fee to cover postage. 
I spent long quiet hours in that shaded garden, singing to myself, lost in imagination.

During the years that Jim and I with our two children shared a big farmhouse with his parents I began to learn more about plants and gardens from his mother. Nana's preference for summer flowers once the blooming of lilacs and peonies were over leaned toward begonias and 'double-ruffled' petunias set about in tubs and large planters. Though never a fan of petunias I did learn from her the skills of starting seeds, transplanting and nurturing, caring for houseplants and garden perennials.

I've left gardens behind in the many places we've lived, only occasionally being able to dig up and carry away some special treasure.
I've learned its not always wise to inquire the fate of a left-behind garden plot.

Each new location brings challenges and rewards. Delphiniums that survived through below zero New England winters languish in the humid heat of Kentucky; hollyhocks planted here succumb to rust. Still, a butterfly bush will make it through most winters, wild daffodils throng roadsides and meadows in March, pansies and violas seed themselves and cheerfully bloom after a February snow. 

My aging bones now protest strongly at hands and knees gardening, but the foxgloves, pinks, coneflowers, and Michalemas daisies started from seed several years ago are happily thriving and spreading without too much intensive labor on my part. There will always be weeds, but thus far the flowers prevail.

In 2020 I bought seed for several varieties of foxglove listed as perennials. Not all proved hardy, but some have thrived, dropping seeds which produced dozens of new plants to be lifted and cosseted in my tiny greenhouse until ready to place in the garden.

Clematis Jackmanii in bloom on the trellis son-in-law Matt ordered made for me. 

Poppy, 'Lauren's Grape' has moved with me through several locations. 

Beautiful and ephemeral.

A lone poppy seeded itself into a large tub of nasturtiums. When the tub was moved to its winter location by a corner of the barn, seed heads shattered and blew across the open sliding door. A plantation of poppies is ready to bloom on the barn threshold and inside on the gravel floor.
Note Willis-the-cat peeking at the edge of the door.

David Austin rose 'The Poet's Wife' blooming in spite of being pummeled by torrential rains.

A small shrub rose, name-tag faded and eventually lost.

This rose was struggling where it had been planted too close to the foundation of our Amish farmhouse. It spent several seasons in the rough strip where it was hastily interred here in late autumn 2018. Last summer I moved it to the raised planting at the west of our current house, replacing David Austin 'Roald Dahl' which succumbed to the brutal freeze early in 2023.

There was no tag on the rose when I rescued it, although it resembles a shrub rose called 'Cameo.'

Nigella--'Love-in-a Mist'--once planted a garden will never be without it.

My family members know that container plants, gift certificates to my favorite garden nursey, flats of annuals from the local Amish auctions, will be gratefully received. Several tubs remain to be filled.

Clematis 'Edita' has overtaken her companion 'Samaritan Jo' on the wonky fence.

Flowers for Mother's Day and beyond. Hot-house bouquets, garden flowers, wildflowers--all bring joy that outlasts their days of bloom.

Rosie-cat shares my appreciation of flowers--although she must sometimes be reminded that a vase of blooms is not there for her to rearrange.



  1. How beautiful. You can't go far wrong with me either with gifts of plants (or promises!!) I have always grown Love in a Mist and Nasturtiums as my mum did. I like to vary the Nasturtium colours each year.

    I had a naughty moment at the Nursery this morning and blew a chunk of hard-earned cash on an Azalea - first time I've even considered buying one but this was SO pretty - and orange too. Not normally "my" colourway.

    As always, in envy of your lovely Clematis. They struggle here against weather (too wet) and slugs . . .

  2. The Poppy "Lauren's Grape" is stunning. I surely would have missed seeing Willis if you hadn't mentioned him.
    My Love-in-a-Mist isn't up yet. I hope it will show up. So many things didn't after this strange winter. I thought I had lost all my Foxgloves but I'm finding tiny ones here and there. It's a good week to move them because it's cool and wet. I can only work for short periods of time but I do as much as I can.