I enjoyed being the Posy Queen at work.
The daffodils were gorgeous this early spring, and this year, especially, I marveled at the different kinds I have in my yard. There are the big, lush, bright yellow ones–the traditional kind, a little loud, a little common maybe, but bold and true and cheerful. There are tender little daffs with creamy petals surrounding pale peach bells. Some have orange button eyes; some are pure butter cream all over. Shades of yellow, pops of orange–I went out to pick and experienced a sort of holy frenzy.
So I picked a LOT of daffodils, and still they budded and bloomed.
I put bunches all over the house–in blue-tinged mason jars and in dark green olive oil bottles with lavish, pretty labels, put them in sunny windows and in dark-ish corners. And still I had more daffodil blooms from my culling and cutting mania, tossed in heaps on the kitchen counter, awaiting determination.
That’s why I was driving to work with big bundles of fresh cut flowers cradled in wet newspaper and wrapped in cones of foil, rocking gently on my backseat. Mason jars rolled and knocked on the floor. In the parking lot, I scooped it all up, my work bags hanging from both shoulders, my arms full of flower cones, elbows pinning mason jars tightly to my sides. I carried it all into the employee kitchen, spent precious morning email time snipping and arranging flowers. I shared with my wonderful, wry, funny colleagues.
I put my own bunch of blooms, happy in a blue ceramic mug thrown by our artist friend Robin, in the middle of my little round office table and went off for a morning slate of meetings. When I came back, a wonderful friend–kind of a “Secret Easter Bunny,”– had left some bold red carnations and frothy fans of baby’s breath outside my door.
I grabbed my scissors, snipping stems.
Oh, I loved how the red carnations and the baby’s breath moved right in, nudged hips, stretched, and settled into that blue mug with those daffodils! They made themselves at home; they looked just like they were meant to live in that yard-cut, yellow-flower, world.
For our Easter celebration that weekend, I stopped at Kroger and bought a bunch of red carnations, and I spread red and yellow flower celebrations throughout the Easter house–a fine shout-out, I thought, to a new-life kind of season.
And every other day that Easter week, I would go out in the yards and pick some more. My goodness, there’s a never-ending supply of daffodils, and they’re in surprising pop-up spots–there are daffodils by the compost bin out back, and under the old pine tree; there are daffs by the rustic wood fence that the deer enjoy jumping, on the dividing line we share with Shirley. And then there’s the mini-Wordsworthian fields of daffs in the front yard. I supplied both house and workshop.
My colleagues loved me. People stopped by my office to ahhhhh at my flowers. Oh, it was lovely–that daffodilian notoriety.
And then Sunday morning, I bounded out of bed early and ran downstairs with the dog at my heels. I turned the coffee to ‘on’ and opened up the back door…and the world was white. Snow. Snow blown hard inside the car port, icing the cars’ hoods; snow on the walks, and snow on the grass. The little prissy dog looked up in complaint, but forged out into it, of necessity.
Snow sugaring the pine tree boughs. Snow highlighting the rough wood fence slats.
And snow, warping and heavy, on my daffodils.
Many of them scrunched buds and gave up. My reign as Posy Queen was over.
This little house we love so well was built in 1937, almost 80 years ago. And during most of that time–until we came along four years ago–it was lived in by the same family, the Normans. He was an engineer at the plant down the hill; at night, when the little dog and I go out for last daily rites, we look over the ridge and see the bright and busy factory lights. We hear the clash and chunka chunk of its still active machines.
I wonder if, as a young man, a newlywed, he would dress in his white shirt and tie (he was known, they tell us, for doing yardwork in his shirt and tie), read his morning paper over breakfast, then fold it up and kiss the wife, grab, maybe, a portfolio or a briefcase, and head off on foot, down the hill, and around the sloping curve on Norwood Drive, hoofing it to work in those Depression days.
I wonder about the young wife, at home with two little girls, keeping house in a home that was smaller then; the addition that added the family room and enlarged the kitchen wouldn’t happen until the 1960’s.
And the yard was smaller, too, at first. Townsfolk hint that Mr. Norman’s parents gave him a single, initial, plot of land, had the house built for him and his bride…but the jury was out on whether or not they completely liked her. When they decided, finally, that she’d do quite well, thank you, they threw in some extra land, doubling the sweep of the front-yard, extending the scope and slope of the back.
The neighbors who’ve been here long days tell us stories, too, about Mr. Norman’s garden expertise. (They tell it in a sighing kind of way, and we hear it as a nostalgically longing lament: Remember how NICE the yards looked when Bill lived here?) The Mr., go the stories, was a garden and landscape wizard. The Mrs. was a cut flower display aficionado. Together, they grew the flowers and arranged the flowers and they swept the horticulture ribbons at the local county fair.
We have inherited much of their backyard bounty. So I have all those wonderful daffodils. I have something I call snowdrops, blooming now, big drooping waxy bells that look like giant lilies of the valley. I have regular iris and African iris. I have stubborn day lilies that pop up unexpectedly and bloom defiantly until the deer meander along and eat them. I have a little pink tea rose that’s just as stubborn; I look out the kitchen window and watch Baby Buck efficiently munching off every bloom, and then the next day, more buds explode. It’s a summer-long waltz of blossom and nosh.
Hosta rims my backyard, solid-leafed and variegated, and it is so thick and dense the deer eat their fill, and still it looks lush and vibrant. Every year I dig up shovelsful, separate the roots, transplant them out front along the retaining wall, and every year, when the leaves begin to spread, thick and glossy, the deer stroll by, dip their heads, thank me for fast food. But one day–ah, one day, those hosta, too, will be so thick and densely packed the deer can eat their fill and still I’ll have my glowing border.
We have rhodedendrons that aren’t quite making it and lilac, overgrown and woody, and a bunch of ragged forsythia against the rustic fence. We have a gardener’s bounty.
I wish I were a gardener.
I try to do my best. There’s a commitment passed on, I think, an obligation to tend what’s been planted in the past, a need to honor those earlier gardeners. All those plantings. All that work. All those visions of what will be, how it will look when the seedlings fill in, and the plants mature and the volunteers provide hundreds of extra blooms…
In every place I’ve lived in, I’ve always felt I owed it to the people who planted to honor their future dreams. I think of the house my parents lived in for twenty years, rented but lovingly tended, and how, if I drive by this summer, I will see the hosta my mother started from seeds burgeoning, thick and full and waxy along the side of the house. Marsha took some of those clippings when Mom and Dad moved to their little retirement apartment, and those hosta are still glorious, abundant, growing toward the sun around Marsha’s welcoming house.
We must, when we can, keep things going.
When we moved in, this house was shaded by five huge trees, front and side and back; think of Mr. Norman years ago, in his rolled up shirt-sleeves and tie, deftly digging holes for the root balls of tender saplings. Paying it toward the future.
Within two years, though, of our arrival, it became clear three of those trees were sick, were dying; they were dropping limbs in windstorms; their leaves were scant and spotted.
Tree cutters came and efficiently cut the trees away, and they hauled the wood; they returned the next spring, and rototilled the stumps and roots so thoroughly no trace of tree remained. I felt a little sense of mourning, and a sort of sense of fulfillment–the kind of feeling I have when some beloved aged person dies, almost–the end of a long, full, satisfying lifetime, youth to growth to maturity to failing…the poignant, pressing, proper scheme of things.
For trees, yes; for us, too.
Larry came to visit, lovely Larry with his artist’s eye and his green thumb, and the next time we were out his way, he loaded my car with saplings. They were carefully packed and accompanied by a neatly detailed list of what should go where and which would flower and what to expect in terms of growth and shade.
We used that list to judiciously plant those saplings. And then we lost that list. So little trees boldly grow, defying deer and weather, protected from mowers and lawn-walkers, stubborn and determined, in our yard. We don’t know what they’ll yield. The biggest one looks as though it will bud into flower, its first year of budding, in not so many days. And then we’ll get the plant guide out and identify its type, so we can say proudly, next time we see Larry, “Hey! The…whatchamacallit is blooming!”
But we didn’t plant those trees for ourselves. This house will have some other tenants when those saplings are mature; other feet will follow the mower around their sturdy roots, and other hands will harvest sheaves of daffodils. Those trees, Larry’s gift to us, are our gift to–and our belief in–the future.
Mr. Norman’s vision allowed me, for a bright and pretty moment, to be the office Posy Queen. I think I owe it to him–and to his wife, who arranged those blooms so deftly,–to nurture their flowering dreams.