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Fading colors



I am a fool for flowers. I have an empty baby wipes bin stuffed with grape hyacinth bulbs in my basement and an 8-foot-tall hibiscus that spends it summer lurking outside my sun-porch. In late summer and early fall, I have tons of purple and yellow junk going to seed in my perennial border. It will look even better next year when my daydreams of naked ladies, four o'clocks and cat's whiskers come true. It will be glorious. I want to stop traffic. I want to be the summer solstice equivalent of the guy down the street who goes over the top with Christmas lights.

But I do not just tend to flowers. I have less glamorous outdoor tasks, too. Soon, I will kick off a series of weekend trudges to the ditch by my road. White oak leaves get trapped there as colder weather becomes normal. Raking them is a workout but the result gives me some stuff for the compost pile.

Four autumns ago, I inherited these yard chores after my wife and I bought a 50-year-old ranch house in Durham. It had a lot of lawn and not much in the way of bloom. That first fall, I noticed remnants of fake flowers would sometimes appear in my rake and between my fingers. Ratty edges of pretend poinsettia petals got chopped up with the grass clippings. Pieces of a daisy-like thing wound up in my yard-waste bin.

I thought about cemeteries and old people when I saw this stuff and assumed it was a conveyance from the former owner, an elderly widow, who had passed away before her daughter put this house on the market. Maybe it was windblown detritus from the window boxes of other grandmotherly gardeners who lived in similar houses nearby? I had seen their pseudo arrangements, peeking out from dry shaded porches in winter where no real flower could be.

We have since settled into our home and think of it as ours. But we are occasionally reminded of how its former occupant lived. The master bath has two safety rails in the shower and one by the toilet, evidence that a safer place was wanted as she grew older. I have realized that this once-young wife and mother must have liked real flowers too. Winter in my backyard means camellias. April has a few azaleas, and June gives me a native tradescantia near the front door that I bet she let loose decades ago.

I often wonder if she had to turn to fake flowers after age pushed her away from bending and kneeling. I wish I could show her what I have done to the place and how I think I have improved the lot with a bunch of wild and crazy blooms, some of which only last a summer and others that come back every year. All of them have their season. None of them last forever.

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