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My Journey with Flowers

Flowers bring joy to my life.

Home picked flowers—double joy.

Flowers from a friend’s garden—deep gratitude.

I’m a long-time breast cancer survivor (fingers crossed). I’m very lucky. After my first bout, I started a business going to the flower market at 3 a.m., where I would buy bunches of magnificent seasonal flowers and create flower arrangements for private clients. I was in my element.

When I was diagnosed 3 years later with cancer in my other breast, just at the time that the medical community came to understand that this meant that I had the breast cancer gene, my oncologist insisted I give up my newfound career and offered this explanation:

Flowers were not considered food so the FDA did not restrict the use of pesticides or chemicals on them so they would look perfect for sale and would last longer than their normal life span. To make matters worse, flowers exhale at night, releasing those chemicals into the air.

This information was a blow to me. Flowers have always brought me the greatest happiness but now buying flowers became a threat, a danger, even life threatening given my history.

In a previous blog, I mentioned my mother’s home-grown wisdom regarding soil that I ignored. Well, this time, luckily for me, she was still alive to weigh in and her advice has stood the test of time. She suggested I visit a nursery every month and choose a perennial or bulb (a plant that survives multiple seasons) that’s flowering in that month. In this way I would always have something blooming in the garden. A branch or flower to cut and bring indoors through every season. And if it was grown with no chemicals and pesticides—safe to breathe. “The trick,” my mom informed me, “is to buy multiples. Odd numbers of 3s, 5s, 7s and so on.” Planting en masse is a gardening principle that creates a look of abundance, plus you get more flowers from one species to cut and some to leave in your garden for their visual beauty.

Camelias and azaleas are perfect for late winter. Narcissus, daffodils and hyacinth bulbs waft their fragrance in the evening during the darkest hours before the new season while deciduous magnolia tree flowers and orange or yellow clivia popsicles pop up in the earliest of spring days. When picked, one bloom can last a month in water! Full spring brings poets jasmine, hydrangeas that leaf out from twigs and produce continuous blooms, and blossoms on fruit trees, though short lived, attract pollinators to create summer fruit. Into summer with agapanthuses, salvias, lavender, geraniums, roses, bearded irises, yarrow and daisies to name a few. Toward the end of the season when all is dry and crisp, Japanese anemones rise out of their low-lying leaves and float in the cooling evenings before winter.

And then, there are the annual flowers, that are started from seed in seed starters or sown directly in fall or early spring to last and bloom for one season. Pollinated flowers left to dry out, scatter their seed pods so new flowers can grow when the rain expands the seed shell and the seedling bursts forth.

If you have a drought tolerant garden, or are thinking of creating one, consider creating a dry riverbed with rocks or stones in a depressed area of your garden. To do this, scoop out an area where water gushes during a rainstorm so water will fill the riverbed and slowly trickle down into the water table. The water will feed plants, create healthy soil, increase the health of your garden and ultimately mitigate climate change. A lofty goal, I know!

What, you may wonder, does this have to do with flowers?

Scatter a packet or two of wildflower seeds into the dry riverbed in the fall or spring just before it rains. If the rain doesn’t come, hand water them to keep them going and you’ll have your own flower cutting garden.

Flowers attract pollinators to create our food. Pests are attracted to growing leaves and flowers for their food. Beneficial insects are attracted to the pests as their food and to feed their young and keep the garden healthy. Recyclers eat the dead leaves and petals (their food) and poop nutrients that enrich soil. Bees drink nectar to create honey (their food too) and those are just the obvious ones. And in a healthy eco system like that, beauty abounds!

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