Flower Power – Feeling Groovy

A long time ago (in my misspent youth), probably around the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, I had a brilliant idea. Looking around at the sparsely decorated white walls of my teenaged bedroom, I thought nothing would do but that I decorate those painted walls with brightly colored, very groovy, mod, abstract flower-power stickers. Think about the decorations of a VW or perhaps a Peter Max poster and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what those stickers looked like. In fact, they are widely available and they bring a smile to my face whenever I see them. The hippie in me will never fade, I guess. Do these look familiar to anyone?

I was particularly attracted to the most vivid, brilliantly colored ones: bright pink petals and an orange center! Chartreuse circular centers surrounded by shocking yellow and, just to tame it a bit, purple and blue stickers were scattered in between those really big, bright, colorful ones. I’m pretty sure I added a peace sign or two but it was the flowers that made it a masterpiece. Did I mention how sticky they were? This was in the day before removable stickers that could be repositioned were sold – once one of these stickers was placed on a wall, there they stayed. I gave absolutely no thought to peeling off the paper backing and sticking them all over my room. I stepped back, looked at my artistic mastery and immediately smiled. It was so happy, so much fun and lively!

My mother thought otherwise and, years later, when it came time to transform my room into one for guests, I think my parents spent hours painstakingly removing them (if I look really closely at the wall, I think I can still see where one had to be chipped out and there’s some spackle and paint as evidence). Now, as an empty nester myself, I understand their displeasure but at the time, all I can recall is the feeling of pure joy. I was feeling groovy.

I think about those days and the joy Flower Power stickers brought me and wonder if some of that exuberance and desire to be surrounded in color hasn’t, in some way, carried over into adulthood. Although I’ve always loved – actually, I crave – color, it hasn’t been until the last decade or so that that passion for strong color combinations has been channeled into gardening and the types of plants I am consistently attracted to. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why in these months when it’s harder to get my “color fix” just by wandering around a garden outdoors, it’s even more important to me to continue coaxing bulbs in the colder months. I need the colors growing throughout winter: bulbs, blooming plants and the occasional indulgence of a bright bouquet (there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a bright bunch of tulips in a vase during these cold, winter months). Now, as I look around my house, it’s pretty easy to see hints of the teenager in me:

I’m NOT an orchid person and yet? The sunny, floor to ceiling window in my dining room is filled with blooming plants. It’s actually become somewhat of a joke because, despite my protests, I take withering, half dead orchids from my friend, Kelly, and somehow – despite my lackadaisical approach and complete lack of orchid education – they thrive. The stronger the color, the more delighted I am. The plants with what I consider unusual color combinations (e.g. purple and chartreuse) are personal favorites and when I see buds forming on a plant I had long ago give up for dead, I can’t help but be excited to see what will unfold. Sure, I have a few standards and solid colored orchids and I love them – they are reliable bloomers and bring a sense of calm to the cacophony of color – but when these “Kelly Orphans” were recently revived? As Jimmy Cliff sang, “Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for . . . it’s gonna be a bright (bright) sunshiny day.”

 

 

 

 

 

Starting in December, it is, for our family, Amaryllis Time. Previously I’ve written about my family’s tradition of selecting a traditional amaryllis to give to family and friends as a holiday gift. It’s a process my mother started years ago and has continued, thanks to my father, despite her passing almost six years ago. I know he carefully reviews the choices, makes sure we’re not repeating varieties and I like to think that he tries to incorporate my mother’s aesthetics into the year’s selection. Last year’s “Caprice” was a stunner and some of us are trying to bring it back to flower this year.

While waiting for the traditional amaryllis to bloom, I enjoy coaxing other bulbs to bring color and life into the house. The waxed amaryllis are lovely not only for their colorful wax but for their reliable, brilliant flowers and ability to grow without any maintenance (though they are controversial as they are “one and done”) and I’ve enjoyed watching their progress. They bring the same vibrancy and exuberance as those stickers did long ago without the permanence and aggravation In addition, when I’ve sent one to a friend, the progress is excitedly chronicled via Facebook and they, too, are embracing nature’s beauty:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper whites, cut flowers and assembling greens from the yard mixed in with herbs, seasonal vegetables (I especially love using unusually shaped fruits mixed with different colored artichokes) also bring life indoors and I find myself drawn to using whatever plates and dining accessories I have that represent nature when setting a holiday table. Obviously the teenager who once decorated her room in groovy flower power stickers has matured but she’s not gone.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the bulbs I have growing was selected because it’s one of the few that produces a striped flower. Instead of the more predictable, single petal (and quite lovely) red flower, this copper bulb promises to produce at least two stalks of brightly red striped white flowers. Of all the waxed amaryllis I’ve been coaxing this winter, it is this one that has proven to be the most anticipated and the most stubborn. I inquired and was told that yes, the striped variety is slower to start but assuming the bulb stays in tact, the results are well worth it. I’m now in the stages – I’ll admit it – of expecting a magnificent show any minute now. There are three stalks on this amaryllis and now, late in January, they are beginning to put on a show – yes, it’s worth the wait:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amaryllis ‘terra mystica’ (my father’s Annual Amaryllis selection this year) has also been slow to start and I’ve placed these bulbs together in a warm spot by a sunny window in my bedroom. They are one of the last things I see before going to bed and one of the first things I see when I wake in the morning. Watching their growth has been delightful and the color adds so much to the “view” during these cold weather months. The traditional amaryllis began slowly but it’s now beginning to produce blossoms in earnest. This year’s selection did not disappoint and the beautiful earthy color is rich and unique:Now things seem to bloom daily and it’s almost as exciting as my summer ritual of touring the garden to seek growth and change. No doubt about it – I’m feeling pretty groovy with Flower Power.

Unwrapping Gifts After The Holidays

Amaryllis Bouquet

Amaryllis Bouquet

I don’t know about you, but even though many of the traditional winter holidays are over, I’m still opening presents. In fact, it seems like every day I discover new “packages.”

These gifts, enveloped in nature’s wrapping paper, are a treat. Sometimes they’re a surprise and catch me off guard, a few develop over time and others have been anticipated after careful planning. Enjoying these gifts isn’t temporary and the delight can last for a long time. The gifts I’ve been opening won’t be returned to a store: they’ll return to bloom next year (I hope).

Typically, it’s not until the warmer months of spring before I begin my morning ritual of walking through the garden to explore what exciting changes developed while I wasn’t looking but with December’s unusually warm temperatures, assisted with a copious amount of rain, people were flooding (pun sort of intended) the Internet with unusual blooming sights. The saucer magnolias, flowering quince and camellias in full bloom in South Carolina, cherry blossoms in D.C., forsythia in numerous zones and countless observations of the telltale green tips of spring bulbs breaking the earth’s surface are photographed and shared all over social media.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

The last of the winter blooming camellias in our neighborhood are fading but I’ve seen more hellebores than I can recall from previous winters. In my garden, Ivory Prince is a delightful holiday gift – especially admired because they begin as lovely white blossoms and within just a matter of a few days, they begin to develop into a gorgeous, unusual shade of green. I have three lush plants lining the entrance to the garden and it still startles me to walk to our front door and see bright, healthy, colorful blooms outdoors even though it’s cold enough to see my breath in the cold night’s air.

Hellebores

Hellebores

Hellebores - Prince Ivory

Hellebores – Ivory Prince

 

Hellbores - Prince Ivory

Hellbores – Ivory Prince

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t expecting was the number of treasures I discovered in the garden’s beds. I see the daffodils are about an inch above the ground’s surface; the camass, allium, tulips, snowdrops, scillia, anemones and others are not far behind. Little green dots, like tiny gifts tossed out into the garden’s beds, are strewn everywhere . . .

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just seeing the green packages are a gift in and of themselves – when they burst open, revealing their identity and displaying their lovely characteristics, it’s like unwrapping a gift all over again. They are gifts that keep on giving. Yesterday’s garden stroll did not disappoint – it was like being on a treasure hunt and I was intrigued, curious, surprised, excited and simply delighted when I saw signs of change and the beginning of new growth.

One of the most unexpected and exciting gifts was in the Green Bed where I saw violet shaped distinct dark green leaves with white highlights. I’ve had a lot of cyclamen plants indoors, especially at this time of the year and I know asarum splendens/ginger and cyclamen coum were planted in the Green Bed and Native Beds but I wasn’t sure, without a flower, if I could identify the plant. When I looked under those lush, healthy leaves and looked closely, I saw gorgeous bright pink flowers beginning to emerge and knew the cyclamen plants were about to bloom. What an exciting, precious gift!

Cyclamen

Cyclamen

Cyclamen Blossoms

Cyclamen Blossoms

Osteospermum are blossoming, pansies are still vivid and the green of plants which typically are gone by now still dot many landscapes. It’s a different view, especially in comparison to last year at this time – instead of seeing the shapes of plants frozen in position from chilly temperatures and a flat, winter dormant landscape, I’m surprised by the pops of color in unexpected places.  

Osteospermum

Osteospermum

 

 

Indoors, things are also fun and I’ve enjoyed “unwrapping nature’s gifts” for weeks – no specific date on the calendar necessary. The paperwhites continue to blossom and scent the air, orchids have returned to bloom, my waxed amaryllis bulbs have produced a dizzying display of brilliant red blooms and my traditional amaryllis, “Caprice” is growing so quickly it seems like it doubles in size daily.

Waxed Amaryllis Blooms

Waxed Amaryllis Blooms

 

Amaryllis Caprice

Amaryllis Caprice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until we’re blanketed in white and most of nature’s gifts will be unwrapped indoors, I think I’ll keep exploring the outdoors in hopes of more presents waiting to be discovered . . .  

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

The Gift of Nature – An Annual Amaryllis Tradition

 

It has been over a year since my first post as a Guest Blogger for Behnkes: Grateful and honored for the opportunity to be an honorary member of the Behnkes writing family, I think it only appropriate to return to the same theme from my introductory post – family, traditions and nature.

Guest blogging for a family owned business rich with history is fortuitous because many of my posts reflect my personal history and traditions with nature. Last year I wrote about my family’s annual holiday tradition of sending an amaryllis bulb as a gift (“Sally’s Amaryllis”) . . . and it’s that time again.

In December, when a box arrives at my house marked “Caution. Live Plant Inside” I know it’s officially the holidays. The tradition started so long ago I honestly can not remember those initial years but it has continued – for which we are all grateful – and that bulb is eagerly anticipated.

Many (if not most) have personal and meaningful ways to mark milestones and celebrate holidays – for me, it’s reassuring to know the Annual Amaryllis Tradition continues no matter how geographically scattered we are or how much time passes. The amaryllis’s arrival officially begins our family’s holiday season – it’s not on any calendar, it arrives on the doorstep and continues in a sunny, warm window.

Amaryllis Bulb

Amaryllis Bulb

Amaryllis Beginning Growth

Amaryllis Beginning Growth

 

 

 

 

 

There have been too many amaryllis varieties to recall yet all have been unique and treasured. I know the annual selection process is one of careful review, weighing the pro’s and con’s of each variety, before making the final selection. Last year was Sao Paulo, before that it was Lemon Star and I can recall Apple Blossom, Matterhorn, Candy Stripe and Stargazer. But there have been more . . . and best of all? We look forward to continuing the tradition of an Annual Amaryllis far into the future.

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In truth, it’s not really an amaryllis that makes this a meaningful tradition – it could be anything. But knowing how important it is to see something grow, to bring the beauty of nature indoors during cold weather months, that’s what this is about. My mother used to force paper whites – they sat in the window overlooking mounds of snow, sometimes framed by the icicle daggers forming on the gutters – because she needed the joy of seeing something thrive during the non traditional growing months and it is an easy, often dramatic, way to “garden” in winter.

I purchased paper whites bulbs and placed them in a terracotta bowl on a bed of pebbles (below) – they’ve grown beautifully and the fragrance reminds me of my mother, especially at this time of the year. In the past, I’ve also used bulb vases to bring a single bulb to flower (below on right):

Paper white bulbs

Paper white bulbs

Single Paperwhite Bulbs in Forcing Vases

Single Paperwhite Bulbs in Forcing Vases

 

 

 

 

 

Paper whites in Bloom

Paper whites in Bloom

Gardening doesn’t stop merely because we’re not tending to a garden outdoors during the cooler weather– it might be more challenging, but it doesn’t mean you can’t experience the joy, and reap the rewards, of growing things indoors. The options are limitless – a few herbs grown in a pot in a sunny kitchen window is the winter’s substitute for an herb garden and if you crave some of the delightful colors often found in annuals, just put some seeds in a container and watch them grow. One of my favorite annuals is the zinnia so I decided to put some seeds in a little burlap sack just to see if I could enjoy the beauty of zinnias in winter.

Zinnia Seeds in Burlap Sack

Zinnia Seeds in Burlap Sack

 

 

My mother, Sally, passed away in March 2011 and my father has carried on the tradition of sending the Annual Amaryllis to loved ones. Likely, he made the amaryllis selections every year with my mother but I have to believe it was my mother’s insistence for evidence of life – through nature’s growth – during dreary Cleveland winters that started the tradition. As my father enjoys continuing the process, we also know it brings up memories so it’s a nostalgic time, too. As the winter holidays approach and my family begins to celebrate Hanukah, we’re excited to see what my father’s selection is for this year’s Annual Amaryllis and will enjoy the process of seeing it grow – likely, a subsequent Guest Blog will have some pictures of this year’s lovely blooms.

Under my first Guest Blog, “Sally’s Amaryllis” was a comment from a reader named Lucy. After reading the blog and seeing the photographs chronicling the amaryllis’s growth, she said, “ Your efforts to plant Amaryllis and the way you care for the plant’s growth and maintenance is really appreciable. I am very lazy in growing flower bulbs or any other plant, but after reading your blog I am thinking to grow some beautiful bulbs of probably Amaryllis. I too want to experience the joy of seeing lovely plants grow. Will share my experience with you for sure.” Was another tradition established? We hope to hear from Lucy and perhaps she, too, has started a tradition. We hope we DO hear from readers about ways in which nature plays a role in your family’s traditions.

Thank you, Behnkes, for welcoming me into your family as a Guest Blogger and thank you to my parents for instilling the love of traditions and nature in our family.

My Parents

My Parents