Lisa’s garden this week is awash in beautiful colors. The cool flowers she planted last fall and wrote about all winter are bursting into bloom. They sat with their small but growing feet in the cold and damp of a miserable winter. And now they are shining like this little face. As the child delights in her favorite purples, her brother is looking over the flowers to find a butterfly to chase. To him, a cabbage white is a rare and beautiful thing.
(“Know why I don’t want to go home? Because there are more butterflies here!”)
I didn’t know about cool flowers when I first started gardening. I’m sure my mother did, because she had seet peas romping over the garden fence when I was a girl, and this was in southern Virginia. She had huge stands of larkspur blooming every summer by letting them develop from seed over winter, even in the lawn. Somehow I had never put a name to what was going on.
When Robby and I scattered wild flower seeds in our yard 25 years ago, we had a visitation of sorts. In the fall, after the flower stems had browned and dried, the bachelor’s button seeds that had dropped in the summer took root and began to grow.
Not paying much attention, we were surprised when spring came by what looked like a rampant weed crowding out the grass. They weren’t weeds at all. They werehealthy bachelor button plants lifting jagged bluish-green leaves and sending up buds. We let them do what they wanted to do.
What they wanted to do was fill an expanse of lawn with gorgeous blue waist-high bachelor’s buttons. We loved their vibrant color and their wild willful behavior. The black cat explored their understory and took long sunny naps there, emerging sleepily with a seed or two stuck on her head.
At the end of the season, we mowed off the dried stalks and had a grassy lawn once more, until fall, winter, and spring came around once more and the blue bachelor’s buttons came back.
Recently, my father’s sister Helena told me that here in this very yard, her mother Irene—the grandmother I never knew—had the same blue flowers coming up in the very same place. What are the chances? Obviously it is just exactly where they want to grow and thrive—my natural heirloom garden.
But back to the sweet peas—here’s another happy ending. When we moved into the Yoder home place in our twenties, a wire fence separated our back yard from the neighbors. It was still open meadow; the trees had not yet grown up there. Remembering my mother’s sweet peas with their incredible fragrance, I imagined how beautiful it would be to have them romping over that wire fence.
I bought a pack of sweet pea seeds in variegated colors. I planted them after danger of frost just like the packet said. I watched them emerge and begin to climb the fence. But oh, the disappointment! First they began to straggle and then to struggle. Hot spring days discouraged them and they gave up. I never had a single blossom.
Last fall, Lisa handed me a couple of sweet pea plants she had left over from her cool garden planting. They were slight and fragile. I tucked them into the soil near a shrub that they could climb on. The winter came, harsh and cold. Wind whipped the little plants. Each morning on our walk we would check that they were still alive. No new growth was seen, but underneath, the roots were spreading, securing the plant for future blossoms.
This week I took my first breath of home-grown sweet peas. Already spoiled by the fragrance of magnolia and honeysuckle, I couldn’t imagine anything sweeter. But there it was–the sweetness of victory at last—another cool flower to warm the heart!
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected]