Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wildflowers

            If we turned left at the bottom of the rickety stairs, the first garden bed we would hit would be a wildflower bed that’s right behind the porch.  (These may not be considered real “wildflowers,” but I call them that because I don’t really have to tend to them and they just keep growing anyway.)  I can just see the tops of these flowers from the window when I do dishes.  This is my newest bed, so it is still a work in progress.  I’ve only had it up for one summer.  So we’ll see what it turns into this next summer.
            I love roses tremendously, but there is just something about these wildflowers that I find so enchanting and romantic.


            Maybe it’s the unpredictable nature of it all, the way it takes on a life of its own after I spread the seed.  I don’t have to tend these flowers closely; I just put the seed down and watch expectantly to see how it develops.  It’s like Christmas morning.  I get to just sit back and watch these presents unfold.  None of these have any scent, but the variety of shapes and sizes and colors are delightful.  And the fact that I can cut most of these and take them into the house to brighten my table makes up for the lack of scent.
            In this bed, I’ve tinkered with different flowers this first year.  It’s kind of my “I don’t know where to put it, so shove it in here” bed.  There are mums, daisies (my all-time favorite flower), Japanese anemones, irises, hollyhocks, snapdragons, lupines, larkspurs, asters, salvias, coral bells, bachelor buttons, lemon balms, and one lonely rose bush. 
            It’s an incredibly beautiful, wonderful-smelling, lavender rose called Angel Face.  I think I just shoved it in this bed because it didn’t seem to be doing too good in the rose bed where I first planted it.  And I expected it to die during our harsh winters because it’s the least hardy of the roses I bought.  (But it was so enticing, I just had to try.)  So I put it in the wildflower bed to live out its time.  But it’s surprising me.  Despite the fact that I moved it like 3 times in the first year or two, it came back stronger.  I’m delighted.  But since I don’t want to move it again, it will just have to be an unexpected addition to the wildflower bed. 
            Some of the flowers I planted the first year will come back and some won’t.  And some will crowd out others.  So I’ll be watching with interest this next year to see which plants want to thrive here and which don’t, which will flourish and which will slink away.  I’ve had to get rid of my perfectionistic planning tendencies with this bed and learn to just love the journey.  It’s like being able to paint a new picture every summer.  It’ll always be something slightly different.  And I’m going to enjoy the creative process and the changing canvas. 
            My three favorites in this bed (besides the daisies) – my “must haves” every year – are the cosmos, zinnias, and sunflowers.  If this bed only contained those every year, it would probably still be one of my favorites.  And this bed is the one that the hummingbirds and sphinx moths (giant moths that look just like hummingbirds) visit the most.  (I don’t think the hummingbirds can get much nectar from the zinnias and cosmos, but they keep trying.)
            Cosmos look almost like pink or white or crimson daisies floating on a sea of airy, feathery green stems.  They look ethereal.  Graceful.  But if I’m not careful to thin them, they could easily take over the bed because they reseed themselves and come back every year.  One delightful little thing that I discovered is that when my husband mows down the plants that have seeded themselves in the lawn, they eventually stop growing at about 2 inches high and push out these tiny, miniature blossoms.  They want to live so bad that they will accept getting mowed down and bloom anyway.  (There’s probably a life lesson in that somewhere!)  So there are these tiny crimson and pink blooms all over the yard by the flower bed.  It’s really pretty.       
            The zinnias I have to seed every year.  And no matter how many seeds I put down, it seems that only a few make it.  (Still trying to figure out why.)  But you only need a few zinnias because they become large, spreading plants.  (Unless you get the ones with tiny blossoms; they make compact little plants.)  And their blooms are magnificent.  They are large and richly-colored and long-lived.  And the birds and insects love them.  So there are always critters flying all over this bed.  Zinnias also make great cut flowers, and they keep pushing out more blossoms when you cut them.  So I can bring in a bouquet of colors all summer from just this one flower patch.
            The most beautiful zinnia that I had last year was a large, bright orange one.  I never cared much for orange.  It was probably my least favorite color.  But something about this orange zinnia is enchanting.  And these orange blooms lasted longer than any of the other colors.  And so I saved the seeds from last year and I’ll see if I can grow more.  And I have to say that orange is really growing on me.
            Sunflowers are one of my pet projects every year.  I adore them, but they take more time and effort than the cosmos and zinnias.  Starting the seeds right in the ground, as I’ve chosen to do, leads to a lot of frustration.  Bunnies and bugs will eat any sunflower seedling they can find.  I’ve lost baby sunflowers to bugs overnight.  And as I stand at the sink doing dishes, I’ll see giant sunflowers just fall over unexpectedly.  Then when I run outside, I find a bunny chewing on the freshly-gnawed end.  Seriously, I watched a 7-foot flower go this way.  It’s crazy.  (So I had to resign myself to surrounding this bed in a plastic netting to deter the bunnies.  We’ll see if it works throughout the years.  And squirrels gnaw off whole heads and run.  Gotta figure out how to take care of that.)
            But sunflowers are worth the trouble.  They are some of the happiest flowers I’ve ever seen.  Mine stand between 6 and 10 feet tall, and I can see them from a block away.  And so I will continue to fight the bugs and shoo away the bunnies in order to grow them every year.  I just make sure to plant a lot of seeds in random places to ensure that a few make it. 
            Plus, by accident, I realized that I could plant the seeds from my cockatiels’ seed mix.  And it’s kinda cool because you never know what you’re gonna get.  Some are tall; some are short.  Some have one giant blossom.  Some have many little ones.  And I can use these smaller ones as cut flowers and they’d still make more.  (But if you see only one big flower head and there are no little flower buds coming from the base of a next leaves down, do not cut it.  It may not make another blossom.  I did this once and got to stare at a stick with leaves for the rest of the season.)   
            As an added bonus, chickadees come all fall to eat the seeds right off the sunflowers.  It’s cute to see them clinging to the upside-down flower head that’s bending over from the weight of the seeds.  (And these dried stalks add interest in the winter when the snow softly settles on top of them, giving them a very country look.) 
            That’s one of the true rewards of having a garden, sharing it with the wildlife.  Watching them enjoy something I put my own effort and creativity into.  It’s something God loves to do, too – to share His creation with us, and to watch us enjoy it and to let us benefit from His effort and creativity.  That appreciation alone is a huge Thank You to Him, just as it is to us when we see the animals and insects enjoying our plants, too.  (Except the ones that ruin the plants, of course.)  
            Not only is it a huge blessing to watch the goldfinches, chickadees, and hummingbirds visiting every zinnia, cosmos, and sunflower all season long, but a wildflower garden provides such beautiful unpredictability and such unpredictable beauty that my soul just sings God’s praises.  It’s wonderful to sit back and watch it take on a life of its own.  To see the mix of oranges, reds, whites, pinks, and crimsons.  You can’t plan beauty like that; you just have to enjoy it.
            Life itself is like a wildflower garden.  Enjoy it for all that it is.  Get rid of your perfectionistic, rigid plans and be willing to let God interfere.  Let Him create something beautiful out of the chaos.  Let Him direct your path.  Appreciate the surprises.  Learn from the mistakes.  Enjoy life for all that it has to offer, instead of always worrying that things should be different.  Blessings are meant to be found, not planned.  They’re meant to be cherished, not overlooked.  So keep your eyes open for unexpected blessings in unexpected places.  And enjoy the journey!                

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