Writer’s Note: Sometimes a little break is in order. It is the beginning of the second half of 2020, and I want to think — and write — about something that is relaxing. I am weary of chaos. My guess is that you are, too.
Now fellows, before you look at the topic (flowers), don’t do the premature closure routine. There just might be something in here that you will enjoy learning about. Plus, in spite of the masculine personae you put forward, I’m betting more than a few of you have favorite flowers and precious memories associated with them.
If nothing else, all of you can join me in thinking about something that should (I hope!) be non-controversial. GP
The Flowers of our Lives
Former First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson once said as she was working on her wonderful wildflowers campaign, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” I agree with her. There is something about flowers that touches the soul. With that in mind, I asked a few folks to tell me if they had a flower that was a particular favorite, and why? Their answers were delightful. Most associated a particular flower with a special memory.
Precious Flower Memories
Katie Parker’s favorite flower is the simple zinnia because they remind her of her grandparents. They had a large garden just behind their home that always impressed Parker when it was growing. She remembers
“... rows and rows of potatoes, corn, tomatoes, squash, watermelons, and more! My grandfather ‘Chacha’ always tilled up the row closest to the house for Meme to plant her zinnias — a LONG row of them. They were so beautiful.”
Suzanne Dickerson Hall’s favorites are pansies. She loves their sweet little faces and wide variety of colors, but the memory she associates with them concerns her mother. “My momma used to make a little bouquet for me to take to my teachers,” Hall explains. She adds that her mother grew lots of different flowers so that there was seldom a day when something wasn’t blooming.
For Paula Walker, lilies are reminders of her grandmother and summers spent visiting with her in Blount Creek, North Carolina. Walker’s grandmother had huge beds of lilies that were her favorites. “Soon they became my favorites, too!” says Walker.
For some, favorites are reminders of experiences deeply associated with our homeland. Tina Hunter loves magnolias — those beautiful, white blossoms that are so indicative of the South. “We had one in our backyard when I was a little girl and the fragrance was amazing,” Hunter remembers. “I would sit under that tree. It was much cooler there during the summer!”
For Cheri Hicks, the honeysuckle is the best not only because of its beauty, but also (maybe especially?) because of the nectar that the delicate blossoms held. “We had neighbors who had honeysuckle growing on their fence for all of the neighborhood kids to feast on. It was great!” Hicks says. Turns out that several others responding did the very same thing (as did I), although most of us — unlike Hicks — had to search for ours!
Another flowering tree with a similar name — the saucer magnolia — is one of the first plants to flower as winter begins to wane. It is often mistakenly called a “tulip tree” probably because its blooms resemble tulips. For Wanda Simpson, they are favorites! “I love them in early spring — they seem to be the first to bloom and let me know that spring is almost here,” she says. Although she also loves iris and the huge traditional magnolia blooms, the saucer magnolia is the very best in her opinion.
Gardenias are loved for their signature fragrance — one that has been a part of some of the world’s most popular perfumes. Kevin Coon loves them because she associates them with growing up with them in her yard. Now she has several in her own yard, and always welcomes their sweet smell.
Romance — whether first “big dates” or wedding day bliss — is what many associate with gardenias. Joe McLaughlin says they are his favorite Southern flower because he associates them with proms and other dances during his high school days. “I also spent several years living in Hawaii enjoying the wonderfully fragrant flowers they use there to make leis,” he remembers. “The Hawaiians also love gardenias that blossom there all year.”
Sometimes flowers participate in little “miracles” in our lives that we never forget. Terri Boyett Ferris also loves gardenias and experienced one of those “miracles” firsthand. “When I was to be married, I wanted to use gardenia petals for the flower girl basket. The blooms didn’t open until the day of our wedding,” she remembers. “The bush was loaded with fresh blooms on that very special day. That was 28 years ago. I now own 12 bushes, several of them I rooted myself!”
Hydrangeas are Carolyn Trawick’s favorites — again because of a happy childhood memory. Her grandmother taught piano for most of her life, and spring recitals were always major “happenings”. “When recital time came in the spring, we would gather blue hydrangea, burn the stems, and decorate the stage at Ouachita Parish High School on Jackson Street,” Trawick explains. “As I child I never knew why we burned the stems, and I’m not sure that I know why we do now that I’m an adult,” she adds with a laugh.
I share Trawick’s love for hydrangeas. When I was a child living on Kenilworth in Tensas Parish, I loved grabbing a book and a couple of cats and crawling under my grandmother’s massive hydrangea bushes. There, in the presence of glorious blue blooms and several compliant kitties, I spent many happy hours. They were my grandmother’s favorites, so like many others, they became mine as well. That flower “love” was passed down when our daughter, Leigh, married Brian Grainger. For their wedding, I ordered bridesmaid’s bouquets of hydrangea blooms. It was a little gesture that added my own family memory to their special day.
Their Own Appeal
To my surprise, no one responding mentioned orchids. Orchids are certainly a favorite among many (especially those who master the art of not only keeping them alive, but also getting them to bloom)! Even though they are often contrary as houseplants, they remain one of the top sellers among gift plants.
There are more than 25,000 different orchids out there. They represent the largest group of blooming flowers on earth. Only Antarctica doesn’t have some. In every color except black, and coming in a variety of sizes and shapes, orchids are collected by international enthusiasts.
Orchids weren’t always sought for their exotic beauty, however. In traditional medicines such as Chinese, orchids were an ingredient used for lung problems and coughs. The ancient Greeks believed that by eating orchid blooms, a woman would bear a son.
Flower Myths and Folklore
There are many such myths about flowers that have come down through the ages. All are interesting, although many are puzzles.
Carnations were used to tell the fortunes of young ladies in Korea. Lilies were prized by the Greeks and Romans and images of them are visible in a Cretan villa that traces back to 1580 B.C. These cultures grew lilies specifically for religious ceremonies of their day. One bit of folklore about hydrangeas is that one shouldn’t plant a hydrangea beside a doorway or the daughters in the household would never find a husband.
The most interesting “old wive’s tale” about plants that I was told came from Stephanie Herrmann. She asked if I had ever heard that you should never say “thank you” when given a plant or the plant would die? I hadn’t.
“I said ‘thank you’ once to a neighbor who had just given me a Rose of Sharon bush,” Herrmann said. “My neighbor immediately said ‘NOOOOO’ and explained the warning. Sure enough, the plant died.” Herrmann quickly added that she was sure that death had nothing to do with the fact that she doesn’t always remember to water plants . . .
Flowers for the Soul
One of America’s premier botanists and horticulturists was Luther Burbank. His 55-year career earned him the distinction of being a pioneer in agriculture science. One of his observations about the role of flowers has always been a favorite of mine. I hope that you will enjoy it, too.
“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul.” — Luther Burbank 1849-1926