This week I worked in a lovely small garden, the pride and joy of its owner. She had several older plant varieties and one was a perennial sweet pea on the fence. They make me think of my great-grandmother who also had one. Women, and certainly men, did not raise a lot of flowers where I grew up in Nebraska. Maybe the people did not have the time for them, or flowers were just too frivolous so the flowers that people had were special. Those sweet peas were that for me. They have no fragrance, like the annual sweet peas and come in only a soft lilac color, but they bloom all summer even in the heat of Nebraska and they come back every year!
She also had a trumpet vine (campsis radicans) and we loved to pop the buds. They are like tiny balloons but, of course, this destroys the possibility of a flower so, if caught, we were in trouble.
There are other people with a special flower that come to mind. My mother and her German Iris and my grandmother and the big block of peonies she brought from the farm to town when she moved. She and my grandfather had a vegetable garden but these peonies were the only flowers she had. Those and mom’s iris were put into mason jars on Memorial Day and taken to the graves of family members. [expand]
My Aunt Helen had 4 o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) along the path to the milk house. She was a farmer’s wife and raised a large vegetable garden and the 4 o’clocks were the only flower she grew. In the afternoon, their sweet fragrance mixing with all of the farm fragrances was like a treat for the day’s work done.
My Aunt Freda had a small group of phlox by the gate and Aunt Amy always planted petunias and grew African violets in the house. Aunt Marvel had a small patch of portulaca and Mrs. Robinson had red geraniums by the front door. Mrs. Adams, across the street had no flowers at all.
Mrs. Warniky was the one who was known for flowers. She was a farmer’s wife but she had a large bed of just flowers and people would go to visit her and the flowers. I remember the bed as a blur of color but distinctly remember white and tiger lilies. When she moved to town, she moved the flowers and had Mr. Warniky build a greenhouse room for her on the house. I never got to go into that room but I could see from the outside that it was regularly abloom.
The man who was my neighbor in Sag Harbor when we first moved here grew Chinese Lanterns (Physalis). In the fall, we picked them, stripped their leaves and dried them. He then gave small bunches to selected special friends. He had a vegetable garden and each year he and I would experiment with some garden challenge like raising melons on the fence or growing “the three sisters.” He had a few other flowers but the lanterns were his special ones. They are so invasive that they are still creeping into my garden under the fence years after he has gone and I think of him fondly as I pull them out!
I know that small or even single-flowered gardens are special and precious to their growers. The garden does not have to be big or splendid to be treasured. [/expand]