It’ll Take a Miracle, or Maybe Just a Flower Fairy
You know when you go to the dentist for the six-month check up? You’re in the chair, tipped back at a weird angle, wearing a pair of ill-fitting safety glasses. And the hygienist has just finished sand-blasting the plaque off your teeth, so the dentist comes in to inspect. Then, after cross referencing the x-rays with your two rows of what now feel like pretty clean and healthy teeth, the dentist says, “Remember that root canal we talked about?”
You don’t have to hear the next sentence to know this conversation is going in a direction that’s A) complicated and B) expensive. If you can picture this experience, then you understand exactly how I feel whenever my loving husband says to me, “I want to try something in the garden.” Translation: I have an idea that’s both complicated and expensive.
Ricky has battled and survived cancer. While he has pretty much always gotten his way in the garden, it’s safe to say that I’ll never give him a hard time about any of his goofy garden ideas, ever again, because…well… life is short and uncertain. Magic beans? Sure. Donut seeds? Absolutely. Puppy dog tree? Put it right over there. Space-age hovering garden boxes? Where have these been all my life!
Needless to say, I sort of had an idea what was coming when he pushed a magazine across the kitchen table and said, “Here’s something to try this year.” It was my favorite kind of weekend morning, sitting at the table, drinking coffee and dunking biscotti. Our thoughts ambled like a drunk sailor trying to get back to the ship. We chewed on the headlines and offered up brilliant solutions to the world’s endless problems.
I was enjoying the natural rhythm of our conversation and wasn’t particularly eager to get sucked into his next big idea for the garden. I mean, while I’m open to them, I like to quarantine the ideas to a certain place and a restricted time. The weekend breakfast table wasn’t it. I sighed heavily, finished flipping through my section of The Washington Post, and picked up the magazine he offered.
It was a flower catalogue. That’s right. I said flower. His next big idea was for me to try some different flowers in the garden. To understand the magnitude of this gesture, you have to understand Ricky’s if-you-can’t-eat-it-don’t-plant-it mentality. My standard response is the flowers-are-food-for-my-soul argument. We’ve gone round and round on this issue for years. The result is usually the same. He stomps and snorts about taking up precious real estate, while I ignore him and plant something with petals.
I looked at the magazine, looked back at him and said, “These are flowers.” I couldn’t disguise the bewilderment in my voice. This was neither expensive nor complicated, but puzzling all the same.
He acknowledged that they were, indeed, flowers, and added, “I thought you might want to try some of these native plants. They bloom. I personally couldn’t care less, but you’re in charge of flowers, not me.” I’m certain, in his mind, this idea was way more wack-a-doodle than anything else he’d ever put forward, including the propane flame-throwing weed killer tool.
To be fair, Ricky built me a flower bed a few years ago for the express purpose of getting the flowers out of the vegetable beds. “Working flowers,” like the marigolds that discourage rabbits, were granted permission to stay in place, but everything else had to go. And just so you know, that same year he crowded my designated flower bed with his herbs. Why? Because they obviously produce some very pretty blooms, so they could easily be classified as “flowers.” See how he gets his way?
As much as I love flowers, I haven’t been especially successful with them, and I feel like I’ve tried almost every choice out there. The Japanese beetles decimated my dahlias. The daisies, which are my all-time favorite, steadfastly refuse to even come up. Deer nibble my orange daylilies; the same ones that grow en masse, unfenced, and untouched, along the back roads near our house. And don’t get me started on that persnickety black-eyed Susan. I’ve planted everything from asters to zinnias, with nary a bouquet to show for it.
Now I have pages and pages of native plants to consider. Things like rose milkweed, downy woodmint, wild bergamot, Joe Pye weed, and violet wood sorrel. Will they work this year? That’s a question for the flower fairies. Yes, the flower fairies. They exist. And no, I didn’t make them up, although that sounds like something I would do. Hans Christian Andersen wrote about the Rose Elf, and I’m sure somebody wrote about them way before him. For a more recent overview, check out Ted Andrews’ Enchantment of the Faerie Realm. The flower fairies are responsible for painting the petals and saturating the air with fragrance.
I feel like it wouldn’t hurt to get these flower fairies on board, but I also recognize I can’t lose heart when it comes to growing flowers in the garden. The key is to keep trying. Try. That little three-letter word has more flexibility and forgiveness in the garden than most others. Try. Just try it. Try anything. Give it a try. The really gorgeous part of this word is that it’s not forever. It doesn’t demand the permanence of a word like “commit.” It also doesn’t involve the energy of a word like “succeed.” Try. Simply put a seed or a bulb in the dirt and see if it makes a flower. That’s not really all that complicated.
With Ricky’s blessing and the fairies on my side, I have a feeling this will be the year of the flower in our little vegetable garden. At least I plan to try.