(Note: I am working on a borrowed computer and can’t post photos temporarily. I soon will edit this with zinnia photos)
My neighbor J. is disappointed. Her zinnias didn’t come up. Everything else she planted did fine. She had admired my explosion of color for so long, this was her summer. She wanted those masses of blooms in front of her house, too.
We conferred all spring. Get seeds early at Target, or Safeway, I told her. Look for the giants, and the zinnias that look like dahlias, all spiky. Buy brilliant colors. Don’t be tempted by the swirls and the pastels. Go for the big ones, as big as plates.
Don’t plant too early. Northern Virginia is tricky. After a cold winter, a false heat will show up and with it the temptation to plant summer flowers. Don’t even think about it. Because after you get them in the ground, the cold will come swooping back. Maybe not a frost, but cold, dark and killing.
J. kept asking, “Is it time?” “Not yet,” I would say. “Be patient.”
And she was patient. She is a seasoned gardener and understands how to wait, which has been part of her recovery process after her husband was taken away too young by a devastating disease that struck a couple of years ago.
I think that’s part of the reason she wanted those zinnias. My flowers are a small stand of color that draws walkers from blocks away, stopping them in their tracks. Dreamy stares take over faces as memories slide into their minds. They tell me they are seeing grandmothers, aunts and fathers working in the flower beds. Vases of zinnias cut by mother in the childhood home. Neighborhoods unseen in decades. Streets that exist only in photographs now.
I don’t know what went wrong with J.’s zinnias. Years ago I did bring in some new soil to top off the existing bed. But it was just a few bags. J. gets full sun, as I do.
There is only one explanation, but it’s not something I easily talk about out in the real world.
My zinnias reveal something you wouldn’t know by looking at me. That patch represents my artistic side, also, the gentle rebel. The flowers pop from a sedate courtyard of traditional red brick townhomes softened by sedate shrubs, hostas, day lillies and small trees. The gardening committee doesn’t even approve, exactly, but the zinnias are popular so the members turn their heads.
I admit it, I talk to them. I can’t bear to thin the shoots, so I work long and hard finding places for every plant in other patches I manage to find and cobble together nearby. The house next door is a rental so I go to the tenants every year, hat in hand, asking if I can garden in their spaces.
If you are a seed, or a shoot, and your gardener can’t bear to lose one of you, wouldn’t you grow strong and beautiful too?
That’s my secret, I think, it’s love.
So before I leave the townhouse for good, for the new house, I plan to help J. again. I’ll dig up some of my zinnias, there are masses of them. I’ll dig holes in her flower bed and soak those with water and pop in the zinnias and fill them with good potting soil. I’ll have her join me.
We’ll tell the zinnias why we are doing this, talk to them about why they will grow well in their new space.
This will be my gift to J. A gift of love. I just know the zinnias will grow for her.