I did have Valentines flowers to arrange and deliver Friday, most of which got away from me before I could photograph them. But the process of arranging gave me some time to think about them-the flowers, that is. In the dead center of February, in the middle of a too cold snowy and icy winter, I had tulips, roses, alstromeria, waxflower, ranunculus, lisianthus, tracelium, white button pomps, black red carnations and godetia in my hands. Just the smell of all of that fresh and living was pretty exciting. Like most gardeners, I am used to the dirt that nature dishes out. But this winter came early, and shows no sign of letting up, months later. I have to admit I am ready for a change of seasons. No wonder Valentine’s Day comes at this time of year.
This winter began for us in November. By Thanksgiving, the ground was well on its way to freezing, and we had snow. We are closing in on three months in which we have had snow entirely covering the ground, and cold that penetrates to the bone in a matter of minutes. Of course I am dreaming in color. And thinking about flowers. Nothing in my environment is green now, much less flowering. The work I am doing now revolves around design. This means black lines on white paper. Ideas. Representations of places. All of this work is abstract. I am not standing on a patch of dirt, with the sky overhead. I am not digging holes. I have not one patch of green, anywhere.
This is as good a time as any to talk about flowers. Did I evolve from a person to a person of gardening inclination from exposure to flowers? It could be. I am not a botanist, but my quick take is that flowers make the process of pollination and seeding a visually sexy affair. Some flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds or bees, or moths. That flowers might be attractive to me is not nature’s intent. Some hybrid flowers are sterile. Though they are beautiful beyond compare, there will be no babies. Just me-I have been reduced to a baby state by the length and ferocious nature of this winter. I understand completely that plants do not flower to make my gardening life more beautiful. But they do. What they do for this garden starved person in February-enormous.
There are many things about gardening that satisfy, beyond the flowers. I am interested in outdoor spaces designed to embrace people. I like grass to lay down on, after a long day. I am awed by trees of age. I am interested in texture, mass, motion, rhythm, line, color, and form-in the landscape. There is a fondness and respect for every green plant. Is one better than another? Not really. I may like peonies better than delphiniums, but that is a matter of taste, not worth.
There are some years when the flowering trees enchant. Last spring was the first spring in two seasons that this magnolia bloomed. The previous year, every bud was frosted off by a long late spring cold snap. I was so ready for those flowers to emerge. Other years, I feel like flowers on trees look silly. How could any tree as sculptural and majestic as a magnolia go the frivolous route of tarting themselves up with big blowsy pink flowers? Are the big glossy leaves and pale gray bark not enough? The magnolia stellata outside my window this morning is making ready for spring. How can I tell? The snow this morning is accumulating on the enlarged buds. The snowbuds tell me March is not so far away.
White flowers are not tough to love. They have a fresh and pristine look so unlike the dirt they came from. The white of this double flowered hellebore is all the more striking, given the pale yellow stamens and green flares. I like single flowered hellebores, but I would grow this double without hesitation. Why? I like flowers. Ugly flowers-could those two words ever be side by side? The flowers of butterburrs, Dutchman’s pipe and American ginger are not exactly what I would call lovely, but they are flowers none the less.
Roses fall in and out of favor so fast a gardener can hardly keep up. They can be easy to dismiss, given their ungainly habit of growth, their affinity for disease and Japanese beetles. Not to mention that they are so, well, girly. This overblown pink Carefree Beauty flower is not to everyone’s taste. I grow this rose in spite of all the work they require because I like the flowers.
There are lots of other roses I cannot grow, that are only available to me as cut flowers, grown by someone else. My Carefree Beauty roses would never be available as a cut flower. They last no longer than a day or two when cut. The history of the romance of the rose aside, a flower which can last for a week or better in water is especially welcome in mid February.
I like cut flowers in season. When the tulips are in bloom, arrangements with cut tulips have that extra from the garden cache. But there are no flowers of any description in season in my February. How great it is to have the opportunity to put vegetables and flowers in a grocery cart in February. Tulips, Dutch iris, delphinium and sweet peas in February? Bring them on. Buck brought me a dozen Confetti roses for Valentines. As much as I love the yellow flowers whose petals are edged in orangy red, I am most fond of how willing they are to open wide and flat – this a memory of the roses in my garden. They look so beautiful this morning.