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Posts Tagged ‘Flowers’

The mountains beckoned. I had to get high. My daughter in Virginia lives on the west side of the Blue Ridge. The trip there usually takes me two days, but I had to get away from the low country’s heat and humidity and mosquitoes, so instead of my usual route I took US 441, which tracks further to the west. I spent the night in a national forest campground and the next day I was in the mountains. I consulted my roadmaps and my GPS for a good route to my daughter’s and could have driven there in one day, but I couldn’t resist. When the highway intersected with the Blue Ridge Parkway, my heart soared and I turned right and drove all day.

(Disclaimer: You who are familiar with the Rocky Mountains and other lofty ranges may wonder why I find the Appalachians so spectacular. They may appear modest by comparison, but these are old mountains with ancient stories you can feel in your bones.)

This part of the Parkway snakes through the Smokey Mountains, with more ups and downs, twists and turns, than any other part of the road. Heading north, I found the afternoon sun on my right. What? Wasn’t it supposed to be in the west? That was the west! At the moment, the winding road had me going south. The speed limit is 45 mph, but a flatlander like me isn’t going to take hairpin curves at that speed. Fortunately, there are scenic overlooks every quarter mile, it seems, so I could pull off to let more mountain-savvy drivers get by.

Whenever traveling, I try to stop every hour or so to stretch my legs. I reached Waterrock Knob Visitor Center late that afternoon. A good place to stop, I thought, where I could get a new map and inquire about camping. But once I stepped out of my van, I was assaulted by a magnificent view, wildflowers, and mile-high air. On my way to the Visitor’s Center, I was waylaid by a trail. Why not? I’d been driving too long. A long walk would do me good.

 

The sign at the beginning showed options: a two mile trail and a shorter one, only a half mile. The sign didn’t mention that it was half a mile straight up.

I took the asphalt-paved path. Before I reached the first bench, I was out of breath and had to rest. I forced myself to breathe deeply, filling my lungs with the rarified air, and once my heart stopped pounding, I pressed on. The paved path gave way to stone steps which twisted up the side of the mountain. Some had been placed there by mankind, but most appeared to have been graciously set forth by the mountain itself, inviting me to a higher realm.

I made use of every bench beside the path and finally came to a round lookout area enclosed by a low stone wall just the right height for sitting. Had I reached my destination?

A group of young women came down the path. Foolishly, I asked them how far it was to the top. “Oh, it’s a ways, not really that far. It seems farther than it is. We had to stop and rest a lot.” Did I look doubtful? “But it’s really worth it. You’ll be glad you went up.”

I thanked them. They were sweating and out of breath, but they had me—I couldn’t lose face. One was a heavy girl. If she could make this climb, so could I. Struggling to my feet, I resumed my ascent.

Beauty surrounded me—mountains, trees, wildflowers, rocks. I took pictures. Some of the wildflowers were familiar, a few I could guess at, and many I couldn’t identify as they were not found in Florida. The rhododendrons were in bloom. Their southern relatives, my wild azaleas, had blossomed in March. Was the season so late at these heights?

I met two more groups coming down the trail. Each time I asked how much further to the top. The second was a trio who answered as vaguely as the girls had. “Are you just going to the top or are you making the loop?” No! Not the two mile loop! “Oh, it’s a ways, but not too far.”

The third was a fit-looking middle aged couple with backpacks and gear. “You’re just going to the top? You’re almost there. When you get to a wooden bench, take the path to the right and you’ll come to a big rock.” At least they told the truth.

I reached the bench too eager to sit down. The short path to the rock yielded its promised view of more and more mountains. Way down below, in the parking lot, was my van. Yup—a half mile straight up. But the air! I don’t know when I’ve breathed sweeter air. My lungs had blown out all of Florida’s humidity and discovered Oxygen on Steroids.

As I took pictures, the mist rolled up and thunder growled in the distance. Time to go down. I took my time. As I descended, I found more spectacular things to photograph. How did I miss them before? Once I reached the parking lot, my fatigue was gone. I felt good, ready to drive on.

 

But the mountains weren’t done with me. More overlooks, wildflowers, and the approaching sunset. I was higher than the clouds which crept among peaks and valleys below. Finally, I came to Highest Elevation on the Parkway, at 6053 feet, more than a mile high.

A silver car had kept pace with me, stopping to photograph wildflowers, pulling into or out of overlooks as I entered or left. They caught up with me here and the lady said, “We’ve been following you.”

They, too were from Florida. Although heading north on the Parkway, they were returning home from Ohio. The gentleman had never experienced the Parkway, so they’d taken a detour. Kindred spirits, we chatted. I took pictures of them with the magnificent view in the background and they returned the courtesy. “See you at the next overlook,” they said as we parted, but we didn’t connect again.

I camped at Mt. Pisgah and the next day exited the Parkway at Fancy Gap, ready to see my grandchildren, taking the exhilaration of the mile high drive with me.

(See: marieqrogers.com/2017/02/28/the-jewel-of-fancy-gap)

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Grandma Rogers loved flowers. On the south side of her house, where the winter sun warmed the cinder-block wall of the garage, she had a large flower bed. I could not name all she grew there, but I remember roses, and pansies, which she loved because they looked like little faces, and the bright yellow and orange blossoms we called snow flowers. We so named them because one autumn while they were in full bloom, we had an early snow. The snow flowers were undeterred. They did not turn brown and die, but continued to bloom through the snow, subsequent thaw, and past Indian summer, until winter claimed them at last. Later in life, I learned that our snow flowers are called Calendulas.

Last year I came across some Calendula seeds at a store. I remembered Grandma’s snow flowers and thought it would be nice to plant some. They grew and bloomed bravely in the cool weather. Calendulas like full sun and my yard is shady, but when the oak trees shed their leaves, the flowers enjoyed winter sunshine. Then came spring and the oaks’ new foliage cast shadows over the flower bed. With summer, my Calendulas seemed to melt in the Florida heat and humidity.

In the meantime, I learned more about these amazing flowers. Their petals and leaves are edible and Calendula officinalis, has medicinal properties. To my knowledge, my grandmother never used Calendula for food or medicine. This puzzles me. Dandelion greens were an annual spring ritual and, despite limited formal education, Grandma was a skilled practical nurse. I was a recipient of her herbal skills when, as a colicky infant, she soothed me with catnip tea. Catnip is still my favorite medicinal herb. One plant thrives in the same shady bed where the snow flowers melted.

Calendula is related to the marigold and called Pot Marigold because the Germans used the petals in soup. Other European and Asian cultures used them in various dishes, to color butter, for tea, and as a dye. The flowers are also an important nectar and pollen source for bees and other pollinators, including butterflies.

We planted Calendula in a butterfly plot at the local elementary school. The other day, the children and I surveyed the butterfly beds where cassia, fennel, and salvia had succumbed to frost. All that remained were dry brown sticks and a few seed heads. I explained to the children that the plants weren’t dead. Only the tops had frozen, but the roots, safe below the soil, were alive and would send out new growth come spring. I pointed out some leaves that had already emerged on brown stems and said we would wait a little longer to be sure what was dead before we cut them back.

Then, around on the south side of the school, in full sunshine, one Calendula stood against the brown of winter, bright yellow flowers and green leaves belying the season.

My grandmother’s Calendula came to mind and I told the children the story of her snow flowers. I am now resolved to plant more Calendula.

 

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When I was a teenager, we lived in Scrambletown, Florida, a small community in the Ocala National Forest. Scrambletown is a tale unto its self which I may tell one day. Living some twenty miles from the nearest city, there was little an adolescent without a car could do to earn money. Even the adults had to be creative to make a living. One Mr. Godwin, who lived a few miles from us, dealt in Deer Tongue, among other pursuits.

Deer Tongue, which goes by many names, including Vanilla Plant, is a wildflower. A rosette of basal leaves grows close to the ground. These are long and shaped, I suppose, like a deer’s tongue. In its second year, a tall stem shoots up and produces a spike of beautiful purple flowers. If you brush against the plant it emits a pleasant fragrance. In the past it was used as a tobacco additive and in some cosmetics.

Picking Deer Tongue was a way for us country kids to make spending money. My brothers and sisters and I would go out into the woods with burlap bags in search of the plants. We would collect the basal leaves and go home once the sack was full. My dad would take our harvest to Mr. Godwin, who would pay us by the pound. If you went to his house, you would see his front yard covered with Deer Tongue leaves drying in the sun. Once dry, he would sell them to tobacco companies.

Even as a kid, I was mindful of the need for these plants to reseed themselves, so I was careful not to disturb the flowering stalks, but I doubt that every picker was so vigilant. As the years went by, Deer Tongue became harder to find. But I grew up and went on to greater pursuits.

Deer Tongue grows in the woods where I now live. Occasionally I catch a whiff of its fragrance. One day I noticed some growing on the margin of my son’s yard, close to a stand of pine trees.

“When I was a kid…” I went on to tell him the story about picking Deer Tongue for money. He listened patiently as I related this bit of family lore.

Then he said, “When I was a kid, when I visited my grandparents, Grandpa would send me and my cousins out into the woods to pick Deer Tongue. Then he would pay us for it. He dried it and sold it somewhere.”

Well. What can I say?

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“Treat people as if they were flowers and you will have a happy life.” I recently came across this quote by a man named Jacques Romano. Largely forgotten today, he was quite a sensation in his time, chemist, traveler, philosopher, and psychic, who maintained his down to earth personality even while hobnobbing in the salons of the rich and famous. He died 50 years ago at the age of 98. I believe he deserves lasting renown on the basis of that one quote alone.

“Treat people as if they were flowers.” How do we do this? There are so many  flowers and their lives are so very different. Some are beautiful, some smell nice, some are useful, some are unpleasant, and some are downright treacherous. But all have their place in the world.

Take the hybrid tea roses. They are cultivated for their beauty. Some have a romantic fragrance and some have no scent at all. But like the beautiful people in this world they have needs. They can easily be devastated by insects and disease and thus they require our care.

Some people are more like azaleas. They bloom their hearts out each spring, then they fade into the background for the rest of the year. They are quite hardy and require little care, but be wary of stunting their growth. I have seen azalea bushes pruned like ordinary shrubbery. They lose their form and grace. When spring comes, a few brave blossoms try to emerge from the squareness and they look sad, if not ridiculous. Leave them alone. Let them grow.

Some flowers of course need to be pruned. My Cherokee rose blooms in profusion for a few weeks in early spring then spends the rest of the year trying to take over the world. If I did not cut her back, she would. When I approach with pruning shears, she fights back with thorns that can deeply wound an ungloved hand. The runners seem actually to lash out at me, tearing at my face, arms, and clothing. I have to treat her with respect, but I keep her around because of her beauty.

Many flowers are not only showy but useful. Think of fruit trees. After the lovely petals drop, the blossoms are pregnant with new life – to sustain us and to perpetuate new generations. Other useful flowers are not as showy. Think of the many vegetables without whose flowers we would starve.

Speaking of starvation, think about our pollinators, the bees and butterflies. We have learned to plant flowers to attract these insects and hummingbirds to our yards. The canna lily is one. Not a true lily, it is so called because it looks like one. The native varieties have small, bright flowers rich in nectar. New varieties have been developed that have more showy flowers but our nectar loving neighbors are unable to get past the big petals to drink the life-sustaining fluid. Do not disdain the modest but useful. Nurture them.

Many plants that we call weeds have beautiful flowers. Some of these we now call wildflowers because we have learned to appreciate them, such as the Florida state wildflower, the coreopsis. We actually plant them on roadsides now, but once I saw a work crew mow down a bank of black-eyed Susans in full bloom. I’m sure the men were told to mow down those “weeds”. No flowers ever bloomed in that place again. Some other less showy weed replaced them. Do we sometimes treat people that way?

I have learned to appreciate a cursed weed called Bidens. It is also called Spanish needles because of the barbed seeds that will attach to every thread of your garment if you get too close. They don’t hurt, but the seeds are a devil to pull off because there are so many of them. But the Bidens has a small daisy like flower which is edible. So are the leaves. The plant’s most saving grace, however, is that it’s popular with the butterflies. I have seen Bidens bloom in winter when they were the only food available for the butterflies. Be sure to include them in your butterfly garden. Or just leave a patch along the edge of your driveway or in a corner of your vegetable garden. If you don’t want them to spread everywhere, just pinch off the spent flowers before they go to seed.

Bidens may deserve its bad reputation but goldenrod does not. These yellow spikes that brighten roadsides and waste spaces in the fall are blamed for people’s allergies. Do not prejudice yourself with rumors. The real culprit is ragweed which blooms invisibly at the same time. So enjoy the goldenrod.

But what about the ragweed? They are a nuisance in your garden and to your sinuses and they are not even pretty. Maybe the world would be better off without them. Do you know people like that? But wait – the larvae of several moths feed on ragweed and the seeds are an important winter food for many birds. So don’t obsess over your bird feeders. Leave some ragweed in your garden for the birds.

Sometimes as I walk around my yard I catch a whiff of something that causes me to check the soles of my shoes. No, nothing there. The smell is from a variety of viburnum whose blossoms smell like dog poop. Do you know people like that? But the viburnum is a native shrub. It belongs here. Other than its unpleasant odor, it is an attractive shrub which produces berries that are food for wildlife. Sometimes we just have to put up with a little unpleasantness.

Treat people like flowers. Each is unique. Treat each with love and respect. Appreciate them for their virtues, have patience with their shortcomings, and be wise in handling their vices. When we treat our flowers this way, they make us happy. How much more happiness would this world have if we would treat all people like flowers?

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