Today, it’s time to consider why we grow flowers.
The most obvious answer is, “Why wouldn’t we?” Humans, like bees, are attracted to the colors, forms, and scents of flowers. The more people look at flowers, the more pronounced the attraction becomes, and the more the desire to cultivate them swells.
We grow flowers because we can. Bees help, but we’re the species that puts the seeds and plants in the soil. Any human can do it. Success may require effort and sustained attention, but it’s not rocket science. If you can read the directions on a seed package, you’re qualified to begin.
But those are just the most obvious, entry-level reasons.
People who grow flowers year after year keep finding more reasons. And because they keep adding new varieties and becoming enchanted with new flowers and flowering shrubs, they also find pleasure in paying attention to plant forms and color combinations. Some of them create garden scenes that rival the finest paintings in the world.
More flower growers are also striving to compose gardens that support birds, pollinators and other wildlife, including the wildest species of all, us. Heightened awareness of our own anxiety and distress has helped people recognize that gardens are often mental health refuges and places for personal peace and restoration.
But you don’t have to aspire to fine art, environmental purity, or therapy to grow flowers. A friend threw cosmos seed around his untended front yard several years ago and has enjoyed several long summers of delicate flowers. He describes them with lyrical, rapturous enthusiasm.
That’s another reason to grow flowers: There are no rules. My friend’s front yard is one example. Another is British “cottage gardens,” which tend to be overcrowded and chaotic, with unplanned color combinations. You can sign up for tours of them. Or you can emulate their spontaneity and creative disorder.
You can also disobey the sometimes mistaken advice of garden writers and nurseries. For instance, they often describe plants as needing full sun – at least 6 hours a day. But many will be fine with less. Shasta daisies, for instance, may produce fewer, later flowers in more shade, but they’ll still thrive. Many flowering shrubs, like quince, hibiscus, and some wonderfully fragrant viburnums, will also be fine with less sun than the writers and nurseries prescribe. Conditions in your garden will never be exactly the same as they are in someone else’s.
And that points to another reason to grow flowers: Advice from friends and acquaintances is often more helpful than experts, and so flower growers (like gardeners of all kinds) comprise a loose, informal community. We can’t stop ourselves from swapping plants and tips. We strike up conversations when we’re browsing in a nursery or native plant sale. Somehow, we connect at work or at social gatherings. And some of us are members of garden clubs whose members have been meeting for decades.
Finally, people grow flowers because it brings out the best in us. Time in the garden makes us more aware that we are part of the natural world and partners with our little piece of the plant kingdom. Researchers tell us this makes us less stressed, calmer, kinder, healthier and more flexible.
But researchers have no words to describe the spiritual grace we find in our gardens, and neither do we. Nonetheless, we’d probably all agree that it’s the most important of all the many reasons to grow flowers.
Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers, and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com
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