Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday Soliloquy-- I Prefer Them Wild

My grandmother was known for her flower garden. She had gardening books. She pored for hours over seed catalogs. She knew exactly where each plant was, and she knew exactly when it should bloom. As one wave of color subsided, another wave rose up to take its place. Neighbors on their evening constitutionals would stop to talk with her, exclaim over the flowers, and ask for tips. It wasn't unusual for complete strangers driving by to stop and do the same.

After pulling up a few of her prized day lilies, my grandfather was banned forever from her flowerbeds. (Decades later in Arizona, after seeing his handiwork with a weed eater, I would ban him from mine.) When I was the age I was in the photo above, all I knew was that Butch's flowers were pretty, I wanted to know what they were, and I wanted to help her take care of them. (In case you're wondering, until her death at the age of 76, I always called my grandmother Butch and she loved it.) By the way, the lady sitting next to me in that photo is my grandmother!

When it came to her flowers, Butch didn't give her trust easily. It took me quite a while before she allowed me to weed and deadhead unsupervised. I felt I was Queen of the World when she did. I learned the names of all her flowers, but when we went walking in the woods, I must've driven her to distraction by pointing at all the wildflowers and asking their names. So, when I reached the age of nine, she decided to help both of us and gave me a copy of Thornton W. Burgess's Flower Book for Children.

It didn't take me long to devour the book from cover to cover, following along with Peter Rabbit as he learned about wildflowers. I wish I could say that my property is an equal to my grandmother's, but it isn't. The difference isn't just a matter of climate; it's a matter of attitude. I've chosen desert trees, shrubs and flowers that require little water and little attention. While I enjoy flowers and the joy they can bring to any landscape, my true interests lie elsewhere. I've found that my love of flowers is more in keeping with Burgess's dedication to his flower book:

I truly love seeing wildflowers in their native habitat, and I can roam for hours with my camera taking photographs. There's nothing like getting out of the Jeep on a lonely trail and seeing tiny beauties at my feet, although sometimes I need a helping hand to hold them still in a stiff breeze. (The hand and rings belong to my niece, Karen.)

I've come a long way from that one flower book when I was a child. Today I have books on cacti, succulents and other desert plants, but these three are on the shelf right above my head:

A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona
Wildflowers of the Desert Southwest
Sonoran Desert Wildflowers

I don't cultivate flowers. I seek them out where they grow naturally. Although I love photographing old favorites, nothing pleases me more than to find a new wildflower-- one that I have to look up in one of these excellent reference books. If you've ever thought of doing the same thing, make sure your reference book is divided by color. I once bought a reference book for British wildflowers sight unseen and discovered when it arrived in the mail that I had to be an expert to be able to find what I was looking for. I was more than slightly peeved! If your book has the flowers grouped by color and you find a new-to-you bloom that's red, all you have to do is go to the red section and begin paging through. Easy peasy.

As you can see, once again one book fueled a lifelong interest. This time, flowers. Did you receive a book as a child which did the same for you? I'd love to hear about it!


  1. What a beautiful story! I'd like for you to do a post on why you called your grandmother Butch!

  2. Wonderful post, and wonderful what grandmothers pass on to their grandchildren.
    My grandmother (whom I loved very much) gave me my first crime novel, - and what happened; now I own more than 500.

  3. Kathy--the story is simple. She was a very young grandmother and wanted nothing to do with being called any form of the word. Don't ask me why, but as soon as I started talking, I started calling her "Butchie". She had never had a nickname and absolutely loved being called "Butchie" or "Butch". Go figure!

    Dorte--now we know who started you on your "life of crime"!

  4. Cathy- What a great story! I love this. I am putting it on my Marvelous Mondays post. :D

    I got Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever when I was young and this simple word book fueled a love of words, reading, and imagination, as I would create my own stories using the pictures in the book and learned how to spell every word in that book in a short time. I loved the creativity I experienced with it. The book that never told the same story twice.

  5. What a wonderful post. My Grandma always had beautiful flower gardens (still does actually). I loved going over there during the summer and looking at them. I do like flowers myself and plan to have a very nice garden. I love emailing my Grandma and asking her flower and plant questions, such as how to plant them, when to dig them up, etc. I think she secretly looks forward to them.

  6. Rebecca--thanks so much for sharing your book; I loved reading about it! Thanks also for including this post in your Marvelous Mondays!

    Kris--I used to ask my grandmother for advice when I bought this house. My grandparents came for a visit, and my grandmother and I visited the Desert Botanical Garden. We both fell in love with a blooming sweet acacia tree, and I bought some seeds there. The tree is alive and well today, and whenever I look at it, I think of her.


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