When I See Cleome, I Think of You

The cleome reminds me of Alabama, of long stretches of green hill and field and wood. But it also brings to mind a tall, skinny boy and a stunning, unexpected romantic gesture.

The spiky flower that comes back year after year looks like the Wild Honeysuckle that grew in the woods behind my childhood home in north Alabama. My father tried to transplant a bush or two into the yard, but they never grew outside those woods.

I loved the flowers that cascaded from the Rhododendron canescens. The blush blooms and spiky stamens set the woods on fire. I’ve never tried to grow them here in northern Virginia because I can’t imagine they would survive. So instead I scattered seeds one year from some cleome I’d brought up from Alabama. They’re not the same, but they’re close.

And every year, when I see that first spiky pink bloom, it takes me back.

I remember the knock on the front door. My father opened it. He looked outside and no one was there. He went out on the porch. I followed. Then he said, “Well, there goes that boy, running off into the woods. He left you something.”

My father pointed to the porch step and a huge stack of Wild Honeysuckle, my favorite flower. Which that boy knew. That boy and I had exchanged taunts for ages, never saying a nice word to each other that I had recalled.

I was a young teenager holding onto my tomboyish ways. I was mad about the flowers. At first. I think I charged into the house, slammed the door. Then I went back and got the blooms, put them in water. I remember being puzzled. Why did he do that?

I never asked him about the flowers. He never mentioned them. We stopped taunting each other. Then, he moved away.

I forgot about the flowers, about the boy, for a while. But obviously they were a gesture that said so much more than the boy was capable of saying.

Something along the lines of: I care. I always have, that’s why I bug you. I have to leave now. I’m sad about that. I know you love these flowers. I hope you will remember me.

And I do. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, know this: Every single summer when I see the cleome, I think of you.

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My Dream Garden

My earliest memory is of giant pink petunias waving in the breeze near my face. Then I remember a hand, someone giving me a slice of apple. Sunshine. Smiles and laughter. A good memory.

I had the idea for years that this was a dream, because the petunias were so huge. But then I saw a photo from our early days in Texas, where I was born. I was a baby sitting in a little seat in the yard beside a bed of petunias. An arm was in the picture, at the edge, handing me a slice of apple. I was smiling.

A few years after that picture was made, we moved to Alabama, to a house in the middle of a cotton field. The field was awash in blooms, of all things. I didn’t know cotton started out as beautiful pink and white flowers that turned into hard green bolls, which later burst with soft, white, seed-filled cotton. Cotton that smelled like earth and sun and the sky and rain all wrapped up in a radiant white package.

If you ever see a cotton field glowing with white foliage, with cotton, stop, get out and pull off a branch. Risk it, just do it. You won’t be sorry. Smell deeply. Because then you will experience a small bit of why people who are brought up in the deep south can’t quit it.

It’s the giant petunias experienced as a baby, then seen again and again at the green thumb neighbor’s house in summer. It’s the way the cotton field smells after a hard rain breaks a brutal heat spell.

It’s the riot of color most of the year, even in winter, when the camellias bloom deep red against the houses.

The bounty never ends. The memories last a lifetime and beyond. You never get over it. No matter where you go, you fill your garden with those early flowers/memories, or you try, you approximate, you get as close as you can. Year after year after year you work on it. You feel like you are in a dream sometimes. And then your child bends down, his eyes closed, he is smelling a flower. And he is smiling.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 2:07 am  Comments (6)  
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Waiting For The Gilded Season

I don’t like to gild the lily as a rule. I had a bud vase that was perfectly adequate for the job. But today I decided to jewel this simple container with wire art, simulating the summer flowers that will be filling it in just a few months.

I’ve looked at seed catalogs and cleaned up my garden spaces. I’ve moved some of the winter sowing shoots out of their plastic containers into pots (yes, it worked!).
I’ve made plans with a friend to start a raised garden in the back yard of her new house. Other than that, I’m waiting. But in the Middle Atlantic area, gardeners who love hot weather best are in for a long haul, still.

So I took out the craft box. I selected colored glass and soft wire along with glue and wire cutters, the ones I use for jewelry. I went through a wire art obsession several years ago, fancying cheese and fruit plates and the handles of silver butter knives from antique stores. I jeweled glass butter domes. I repurposed oil and vinegar bottles with spouts as pretty liquid soap holders.

I didn’t think, then, about vases. After all, why gild the lily? But the winter has been so long this time. And my spirit needed some brightening. So I thought about the wire art. And I went to work.

I cleaned the glass with alcohol. Then I glued the colored pieces onto the vase. My idea was to simulate blue flower blooms with green pieces below, for stems. When the glue was dry, I started twisting the wire around the “blooms” and the “stems.” With a small vase, I had little room for flourishes. And that was fine.

Because I’m not ready, yet, to flourish. We have a break in the weather, the sun is out and it is warmer, but this thaw won’t last. I’ve been down this road, many times. The cold and gloom will return, endless chilling rain. But then it will leave, suddenly. And summer will be here. People all around me will be complaining that we didn’t have a spring at all.

And that will be fine with me. Because spring is just a means to summer. Summer, when my vase and I will be filled to the brim with the flourishes of the most gilded season of them all.

“Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue. “ Emily Dickinson

Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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