I come from a long line of flower lovers. My grandmothers were both gardeners—Nana, who lived in Fresno, had a beautiful lilac bush in her yard, and hibiscus growing on the side of the duplex she moved into after she sold the small house where my dad was raised.
Gaga, my mom’s mom, always had a vegetable and flower garden. We visited her once in Colorado where she lived with her sister, my great aunt Ruby, this was before she moved to California to live near us—the entire back yard was a garden. Huge fat shining red tomatoes, rows of squash and peppers, cosmos and sunflowers.
My mom’s a great gardener, too, she has an array of roses that she planted over twenty, thirty years ago—with names such as Whiskey Mack, Bourbon and Chantilly Lace. She has climbing roses and miniature roses, all in her yard in the house where I grew up in the Antelope Valley, about an hour and twenty minutes north of LA.
The Antelope Valley is where those beautiful fields of poppies grow. The other day, a friend of mine, knowing my connection to the place, sent me a satellite photo taken this spring. Patches of bright orange could be seen from space, spreading over acres and miles of open desert.
I order my mom flowers pretty often—I live three thousand miles away from her so it’s good to find ways to be present in her life. Whenever I call the florist I ask them what they have in that’s fresh. They’re used to me now but at first they were exasperated. “I don’t want a plain mixed bouquet,” I’d say, “I want to pick the flowers and have you wrap and deliver them.”
I guess most men ordering flowers don’t know the difference between a chrysanthemum and a gerber daisy, but I want to know if they’ve got French tulips and what color roses, what do they have that’s scented—tuberose, maybe, or lilies? Thank you, and oh, please no baby’s breath.
Tropical flowers don’t grow in the desert, so I didn’t know about ginger and bromeliad, fuchsia and orchids until I moved to LA I came to discover those wild, exotic flowers, especially in gardens out by the sea.
Moving to the northeast, I discovered the flowers that don’t grow in the dry heat, they need a real cold snap, and lots of water. The first time I saw a peony I was visiting Vermont for my cousin’s wedding. Heading into town we drove through a neighborhood, it had recently rained, and the lawns had these massive clumps of huge flowering bushes. “What are those?” I asked. “Peonies.” My cousin was using them in her bouquet so a day later I got to smell one for the first time and felt a little bit like after downing a glass of champagne.
Here in Woodstock, forsythia grows in nearly every yard. And every April for two weeks the violent, electric yellow blooms line the road, screaming about the arrival of spring. Daffodils come up in our yard from old bulbs planted by someone years ago, croci, too.
My first boyfriend got me my first bouquet of flowers, I was in my early 20s, and back living at my parent’s house after being in LA for a few years then having my life fall apart. I had lost my job, lost my apartment. There I was back in my hometown trying to negotiate a life that was stretched bigger than it was before I left, but now crimped in certain ways upon my return. A halfway in the closet life.
I got a house sitting gig over Christmas, so I could spend holiday time with my boyfriend. He’d visit and spend the night, sometime two--and for a few days, it felt like a life that might someday happen. It would take me years to have that life for real and fulltime, but I had a taste of it that Christmas season.
I would be celebrating Christmas Day with my family, so he and I decided to have our own early Christmas. I made dinner, got him a few presents, set the table and lit candles. He arrived with a huge bouquet of flowers—massive, they towered over the place settings once I placed them in a vase at the center of the table. The smell of them filled the room.
I haven’t thought about that time in years. How young I was, how naïve and hungry, for a life, for freedom, for things I didn’t even know about. What would you call that, the longing for something you don’t even know is out there? To grow and, yes, blossom into life.
There’s a lone iris growing in a bed out behind our house, we don’t get enough sun for them to do well, but the other day one of the small buds bloomed, reminding me of the sweetness of our days, the tenderness we all desire, the smell and touch of a beautiful life.