Monday, November 27, 2017

Column: Flower power

A friend of mine lives near a large nursery, and every May the nursery puts out an enormous spread of mums, the sprouts in May just piercing the pots' soil. Yet as the spring turns to summer, the plants grow and mature until late August, early September when they are in full bloom. He has dubbed it in May – "the field of sorrow and sadness" – in that when the plants are yellow and pink and dark purple, the summer is over, and it is back to school, back to the tasks at hand, back to the everyday schedules that give structure to our daily lives.

And while we don't necessarily equate flowers with the direction of the year — I think in many ways we rely on perhaps the trees or what people are wearing — flowers in many ways are the perfect indices of where we are, what month it is. They point to our next seasonal destinations.

For me, in a corner of the yard where we didn't pitch the snow to clear the driveway and sidewalks, in late January there were snowdrops: tiny white flowers resembling stars, balancing on slender green stalks, appearing from beneath the leaves and other late fall debris. Low to the ground as well are the crocuses that follow in February, those purple flowers bursting through what appear to be impossible odds, such fragile things making their way up through the cold earth. They are fearless in the face of winter. If you touch a flower's petals, it is hard to understand how this weightless material has overcome the snow and cold.

Then, of course, come all those wonderful spring flowers: the daffodils, tulips, jonquils; the annuals we can plant because we're too eager to wait for all the flowers to bloom, so there are pansies in urns by the front door, beds of impatiens bringing light and color to the shady areas. The irises, although lasting but a week, are the most amazing flowers to behold in late May. How did they come to evolve? The deep purple buds suddenly explode into these flowers, their structures an engineering feat of nature. Some petals face up, others arc downward, some seem to be painted with the thinnest, finest brushes of color.

Along the roadsides and winding pathways up and down New England are meadows and marshlands, filled for much of the summer with goldenrod, Queen Anne's lace, purple loosestrife, set many times against a background of cattails or field grasses. These steadfast summertime wildflowers are the staple of fields, swales and waysides leading to beaches and headlands.

I know that the Fourth of July is near when the bright orange day lilies bloom, their strong stalks and stripped green leaves long ago appearing in late April. If you walk near any open field, you'll find red clover, thistle, and field buttercups, all straining for sunlight. In gardens, phlox, salvia, Russian sage, and lavender are in full bloom.

By August into September there are asters and black-eyed Susans, blooming zinnias and cone flowers, all brilliant harbingers of fall itself, with their showy colors of red, coral, deep yellows and ochers. You might plant additional spring bulbs before the first frost. Being a gardener requires faith.

Then come late November and early December, when the first below-freezing nights have shattered gardens, yet you can still find the meadows alive with seed heads, the last red berries of bittersweet, the tomato-colored hips of sea roses clinging on along a hedgerow.

Yes, there is a certain sadness equated with summer's end, and the appearance of mums in the containers that once held pansies. Yet there is also that one night or late afternoon by the harbor: you are walking the dog, and you notice off in the small cove you are passing, someone has positioned a tree on a raft in the harbor, decorated with twinkle lights, and you smile and think about all the flowers now dormant beneath your feet, thinking of springtime and when they will make their next appearance.

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