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My Flower Friend

At last! Someone who loves my flowers as much as I do.

By Kim Rothrock-Mack. Art by P. Savage

I think it’s the way I came to flowers that makes them so important to me. I was looking for something joyous to balance the dread I felt within after 20 years in nursing, 20 years of watching people in pain and dying. Towards the end, I kept noticing how I remembered the names of flowers I saw. I don’t remember much these days and have begun to think memory highly overrated, but the flower names seemed a clue, a clue to something that might help me shake my depression.

So I planted a flower garden. That was two years ago. Now I have six flowerbeds and two herb beds. I compete with my husband and his vegetables for each new bed we establish. I am heavily addicted to flowers now, especially those with sweet scents. I think I’ve always appreciated scents because of my mother, who’s lived her entire life without the ability to smell. Somehow the flower smells help balance out the awful smells of my nursing past. The flowers flaunt life, filling the air with their flirty, sweet scents. I make daily rounds to examine every little change—finding a reason to get out of bed, to hope. In the solitude of the garden, everything is as it should be.

Except for one thing: my occasional desire to share it all with a friend. When I absolutely can’t stand admiring some exquisite new bloom alone, I’ll demand that my husband come look at it. He always thanks me for the opportunity, but after one or two flowers, he has wandered to the bean trellis to check how long the Romanos are today. I corral our rare visitors into looking at the flowers, but they, too, fail to give detailed, caring attention.

I was just about ready to give up on sharing my new powerful joy with another as crazy as me—when I saw her down in the lily beds. She was clearly on a lily tour, heading straight from one patch to the next. She knew right where they were without even looking for them. Clearly she had the garden memorized. My own heart fluttered in beat with her rapid wings as my desire was realized. She knows my garden as well as me, maybe better, and the flowers feed her life like they do mine.

Twice now she’s visited while I was watering. She dances tentatively at the outer edges of the spray, asking me to hold the hose still, which I do. The sun on the spray creates rainbows that she darts and dances through. Her own pastels milk in the watery arches of color. Other birds take baths, but my speedy hummingbird prefers rainbow showers. Other people and birds like flowers, too, but my flower friend and I live on them.

My Crop of Young Gardeners

I live several doors down from a guy named Larry. He and I have never exchanged more than a couple of sentences. His grandchildren, though—that’s a different story.

Three of them came up to the fence one day as I was weeding. The girl, who appeared to be the ringleader, said, “Hi, I am Dejah. This is my brother, DJ, and my cousin, Quan.” Then she got down to business: “Can we have one of those flowers?”

She pointed to my abundant supply of double-pink peonies. “Sure,” I said. They came around to my side of the fence and supervised as I clipped an enormous bloom for each of them. Flower in hand, Dejah asked the next logical question. “Why do you got all these plants?”

My answer led to a tour through the garden, with me pointing out things here and there. They showed polite interest until we reach the apple tree. Then their faces lit up like they had hit the mother lode.

I had to explain that the tiny green apples would need all summer to ripen. Still, Dejah  dragged Quan over next week to ask, “Are the apples ready to eat?” I shook my head. Unwilling to lose this rare appreciative audience, I cast around for other plants that do something.

We stroked fuzzy leaves of bachelor’s buttons and sampled the serviceberries. Then I realized that chocolate mint was a perfect offering:  It smelled like chewing gum, and they could eat the leaves. It went over so well (“Can we take some back to Grandpa?”) that I then showed them some lemon thyme for contrast. Then we went a few plants away to lavender, which we smelled more than tasted, then onto another bed, where we grazed on thyme and two kinds of oregano, thus completing a circuit of my herbs.

The apples didn’t ripen until October, and by then Larry’s grandkids were busy with school. But they came back the next spring to visit my garden, and the spring after that, as well. It became a pleasurable tradition to tour the garden with them.

Whenever I came across a new herb in a catalog or nursery, I’d catch myself thinking, “Larry’s grandkids will appreciate this one.” Over the years I added lemon balm, sage, peppermint, sweet woodruff, and my personal favorite, anise hyssop. I scattered them through the garden to create tasting opportunities at intervals along the main circuit. I practiced my urban tour on other visitors.

This past fall, for the first time, Dejah, Quan, and DJ happened to stop by during apple season. My tree had produced a bumper crop, but my live-and-let-live approach to backyard bugs resulted in the fruits being somewhat wormy and misshapen. That doesn’t bother me—I’m used to eating around the rough spots—but I was kind of embarrassed to bring the apples to kids who’d probably only seen perfect supermarket produce.

I stilled myself against their disappointment, but they just shrugged. “That’s OK,” said DJ. And Quan said, “Can we see the chocolate mint?”

They scampered ahead to the mint patch, where we chewed our leaves and smiled at each other. I congratulated myself that, while my apples might be sub-par, my crop of young gardeners was coming along splendidly.

—By Evelyn J. Hadden. Art by Linda Cook Devona