It’s Not Just a Flower

Do children gift their teachers with bouquets of spring flowers anymore? I hope so. It was a spring ritual in my family to present our teachers with lilac bouquets cut from the back yard hedge. The teacher always had a vase in the closet, and she would set the bouquet right on the front of her desk where the whole class would be able to enjoy it. Even some of the naughtiest boys could be caught sneaking a whiff as they walked past the desk. To this day I can’t smell a lilac without being transported back to my third grade class. Mrs. Davis made such a fuss about the beautiful bouquet and how it would brighten the day for our whole class.

My mother and grandmother were gardeners and flowers were a coveted prize after a long Minnesota winter. Tulips, lilacs, peonies, poppies, iris, roses, delphinium, snaps, petunias and more marked time as they entered and exited the gardens at the direction of the summer sun. Mums were the final hurrah of the season, one last shout out to the heavens before winter’s shroud entombed the skeletal remains of summer’s blossoms. As the combines hummed in the fields, farm women tucked tulips into the soil in anticipation of the return of warm spring days.

I married a man who also grew up in a gardening family, and we planted flowers and perennials at both the houses we rented in our early years. There were some who thought we were silly, but it made us happy and the neighbors liked it too. When it came time to move, we dug up what we wanted to take with us and replanted it at the new house.

Years later, we decided to try our hand at growing fall mums to help our kids earn college money. In the early years, we grew them in the ground and dug them up, wrapped them in wet newspaper and sent them on their way. The kids and I hand weeded around all  those mums during the summer and moved the overhead sprinklers during dry weather. Not very efficient, but that’s how it was done in those days. I never will forget the late fall afternoon an older lady was here, walking up and down the rows of mums, exclaiming how beautiful they were and “how did we get them so big?” She settled on a plant and  asked me to dig it out.  “How much will that be?”,  she inquired as she reached into her purse. “Six dollars,” I replied. Her eyes opened wide with shock as she exclaimed, “My God, girl, it’s just a flower out of your garden! Don’t you think that’s a little high?” We were able to find her a plant with a broken side and struck a bargain for four dollars.

Each spring I get an anxious feeling that maybe this is the year that people won’t come and get their flowers. I even have bad dreams about it. But then I’m reminded that it’s not the flowers that people crave, but the memories their fragrance evokes, the way they connect us to the earth with its cycling seasons, and the anticipation of the beauty we can share with family and friends. Flowers are the tie that binds us. Without them we’d be a sad lot, indeed.

It’s really not just a flower.

Thanks for reading!