Prelude to Summer

The first to bloom were the purple irises in a large clump.  From chiffon-shrouded buds, they curled their purple petals open, revealing a hint of glimmering gold.  They stood tall, their grape fragrance catching you just as you passed by, causing you to look again, surely that grape scent hadn’t come from them?  But it had, and as a slight breeze carried their fragrant symphony delicately forth, the bees buzzed and hummed, enjoying summer’s first taste of song.

Then it was a tight ball of a peony bud, bursting open with its huge, single petals as if proclaiming, “Look at me!  I am the first of the peonies, none can surely be as magnificent!”  And they may not be, because nothing is as amazing as that first peony exploding into bright bloom in the garden, no matter its color, its size or its type.  From atop strong, tall stems, my first-born peony of the summer looks across its counterparts in the garden, crowning itself with a golden center of bright stamens.  And nothing quite prepares you for the disappointment as its concerto quickly fades and one by one its petals lose their grip, and flutter to the ground.  Their beautiful interlude just a memory, as its dark petals stain the rocks pink with morning dew.

From tight-coiled cones, my white allium were next on stage.  Their stems swelled and swelled until one morning, feathery white headdresses emerged.  Theirs was a soft minuet formed with the slight scent of an onion and chive-like stalks, waving gently in the breeze.  And their small clumps throughout my garden performed long-blooming solos in white.  The only white blooms in my garden, they warrant a standing ovation for their brave deviance from the bright colors that take over later in the summer.

Without intermission, an heirloom yellow shrub rose performed a final, golden overture among its deep green, glossy leaves.  The morning sun’s light setting their petals aflame. In an instant, they seemed to go from bud to bloom to flailed petals, scattering on the ground below.  A brief, yet lovely, sonata of color, fragrance and thorns.  Here now, gone tomorrow, nothing but a golden dream blurred sharply in our minds.

There are certain times in life where the work just must stop, the music must be heard and the world’s most beautiful moments must be applauded.  The weeding could wait.  The watering could wait.  These were times to look over the first of my blooming bounty, cherishing the very magnificence of an iridescent, silken petal tempted open by the sun’s warm encouragement.  This was a time to watch in wonder as butterflies descended from windy heights, swirling madly, but somehow ending upright atop a pollen-encrusted bloom.  This was a time to feel excitement like goosebumps on my arms, for the magical, visual sound that is just beginning, each new bloom an instrument, only just refraining at the final stanza of their prelude.

And as all these instruments of a springtime garden came together, a late spring orchestra culminated in one grand crescendo, diminishing back down with sweet, soft notes . . . promising a symphony yet to come.


Searching for Signs of Life

It started with the red wine shoots of peonies, pushing up with Goliath-like strength from below the ground.  Raising whole areas of dirt above them as if doing push ups with the Earth itself.

It was this sudden appearance which led to my daily policing of the walkways through my flower garden.  Scouring, searching for signs of life.  I patrolled carefully and slowly, looking for any hint of green newness sprouting amid the dirt.

Have you ever sought one thing in life, and when looking closer, found something much different?  Sometimes the things we think we are looking for are simply the crumbs along the path leading us to discover things that we could have never expected.

I found my Raspberry Wine Monarda had been growing over the winter, with a much larger footprint in my garden than last summer.  I found myself feeling excited, then worried with its aggression, and thankful I had picked a fairly large area to plant it just a year and a half ago.  If I’m not careful, I may find myself with a flower garden consisting of only bee balm!

A humble daffodil stem suddenly pregnant with the swelling of a flower bud within one of its green leaves.  Then another appeared, then another.  I couldn’t wait for the birth of their yellow, double-ruffled offspring, their due dates surely just days away.

Spikes of purple Siberian iris leaves jut out in a large clump in the middle of my garden. Their sharp-shaped leaves cutting a bold silhouette against the blue spring sky.

Clumps of salvia began stretching their new leaves upward.  Beautiful, new zig-zag edged leaves as if cut out carefully with a pair of pinking shears.  I dreamed of the deep purple depth they add to my garden, their tall spires luring bees nearly all summer.

Like fluffy marshmallows halfway buried within the dirt, I spied the very tops of my Asiatic lilies pushing their air-puffed way out into the sunshine.

Max found my catmint clump sprouting new leaves and without restraint he began rolling, biting, sniffing and scratching at the plant’s brand new growth.  Such is the curious attraction between kitties and catmint.  Without the full dose he’s able to ingest and inhale during the summer months, the new sprouts didn’t sedate him into a sleepy, curled nap.  We’ll save those catmint induced naps for summer’s sluggish afternoons.

Even within the dense remains of last summer’s stems, I saw a brand new green curl of an Echinacea leaf squeezing forth.  I was already dreaming of their happy, summer blooms swaying in my garden with bees humming around them busily.

Around a corner I even saw buds on my Ash Leaf spirea bush.  Sharp, red-edged green leaves uncurling slowly upon branches still grey with winter.

That initial sighting of my first peony pushing up out of the dirt prompted a full-scale search for other signs of life within my garden.  Searching and expecting to find some things, and instead stumbling upon other discoveries seems such a fitting metaphor for the week ahead.  As we begin the final week leading up to glorious Easter, what have you found yourself searching for?

After Jesus’ death upon the cross, followers probably thought the search was over.  Despite taunts from the crowd, there was no visible miraculous rescue from his torturous death upon the cross, no angels swooping him up and into the heavens for all to witness, no ground breaking rumble of thunder to shake him free of the stakes piercing his hands and ankles.  It was all over. Nothing more to hope for.  Even Christ himself cried to God:

  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”      Mark 15:34

However, Mary and Mary Magdalene quietly sought out His fateful tomb three days later to prepare and anoint His body respectfully.  As they must have timidly approached the tomb that morning, with the sun still low and pink the sky, they were expecting to find a tomb blocked by a rock, shrouding the death of their beloved within.  They must have wondered, impossibly, how they would move that giant rock away.

But where they were expecting death, they instead found life.  In the form of a rock moved away, an empty tomb and a risen Christ, they found life that would be everlasting.

So during the upcoming week, may you seek and find new life.  An everlasting life through Christ, who died so that we might be forgiven.  Sacrificed so that we might be saved.  Betrayed, punished, beaten, humiliated, spat upon, taunted, cursed and crowned with thorns so that we might live eternally.  May this week inspire you to seek and find, to hope and believe that life continues, even when it may seem to have ended.

And just like in my little flower garden, may you search and be happily amazed at the life growing both around you and within you.  And may the hope of things to come, ever inspire you to continue seeking, for your reward lies in faith that there is life beyond this earthly garden.


“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  2 Cor. 4:17-18

Heirloom Blooms

What is better than a beautiful bloom on what may otherwise be a dark day?  Today my “bloom” was an unexpected email sprouting from my inbox.  While this winter has been unseasonably mild, it is still winter in the sense that I cannot spend hot afternoons eyeing my flowers dreamily, I can’t float along the paths of my garden rejoicing in its bright blooms, I can’t be uplifted upon the sweet grape scent of a huge clump of iris’ or gently transplant a tender, new plant into the warm earth.  Despite the lack of snow, it is still winter and I long for the spring sunshine again to beckon hibernating perennials to life.

My unexpected “bloom” today was receiving an email from Klehm’s Songsparrow Nursery. While all seed and plant catalogs may seem equal, they most definitely are not all created equal.  Klehm’s is truly in a category all its own.  I first heard about Klehm’s while attempting to educate myself on the planting and care of peonies online.  I ran across a video piece from Martha Stewart touting Klehm’s Songsparrow as the foremost authority in hybridizing peonies, and Martha’s “go-to” for a wide variety of top quality peony specimens.  Who am I to argue with Martha?  I visited their website immediately and was not disappointed.  I couldn’t believe the different hues, shapes and sizes that were available.  I felt I had died and wound up in a glorious, peony heaven.

Ahhh peonies . . .romantic swirls of tulle-like petals invoking visions of princess bridal bouquets.

As a child, I fell in love with peonies.  They were huge, romantic swirls of tulle-like petals invoking visions of princess bridal bouquets.  I remember their heavily-petaled heads drooping nearly to the ground under the weight of an evening rainstorm and their tight buds opening to colorful enormity almost overnight.  It seemed amazing that their stems could withstand the great layered weight of their blooms.

The peonies of my childhood will always remind me of Memorial Day in a small town.  We would walk to the cemetery up the hill after cutting a few blooms and placing them ever so carefully in a small coffee can covered in tinfoil.  As we would weave our way through the headstones, it would become evident that there were a multitude of peony plants in our small town and Memorial Day seemed to be it’s crowning day of glory.  Peonies in golden white, pale pink and dark, pinkish red could be found all around the cemetery in coffee cans just like ours, covered on the outside in tinfoil.

I once had a conversation with one of my college writing professors about peonies.  I’ve always found it mysterious that peonies have such a seemingly flamboyant, look-at-me confidence, yet they rarely have any accompanying sweet scent.  It seems almost like an unexpected juxtaposition.  The most beautiful and regal of flowers, yet lacking a beautiful scent to waft upon the sweet springtime air?  My professor had studied peonies briefly and told me that it is only after years and years and years that traditional peonies begin to give off any fragrance at all from their blooms.

Max searches for fragrance from a peony too!

That’s one of the things I find so alluring about peonies.  To me, they are an heirloom.  A gift left from one generation to the next, and the next, blooming the same today as they may have one hundred years ago.

It is said that peonies often outlive their owners.  May we all be so lucky as to leave a thing of blooming beauty for the next in our places.