Favorite Flora: Memorial Day bouquets

peonies (1)By Michael Leach

I wonder how many people take family heirlooms to the cemetery on Memorial Day? These are blossoms from plants handed down from one generation to the next. Most gardens have such plants. Felder Rushing, a Mississippi gardener and writer, calls them pass-alongs.

Weather permitting, peonies were always among the Memorial Day bouquets for my family. At the family home place where I live, all of them came from my grandparents or great-grandparents. They readily shared these cast-iron standards along with garden phlox and iris, plants growing in my garden today.

Maybe that’s why I never feel lonely as I garden in blessed solitude. Memories return with the fragrance of the masses of sweet violets that grew so thickly around Auntie’s back door they perfumed the air and took away my breath. Dreams of tropical places enchanted me as a child, and so I was attracted to Grandpa’s yucca. I suppose the spiky leaves resembled some type of palm to a 10-year-old boy. I had to grow much taller before I could smell the sweetness of their satin white flowers, a much-anticipated annual event.

Unlike the yuccas, the peonies are slowly declining. Ever-increasing shade, a boon and bane, has nearly eliminated most of the 60 or so plants of perhaps a half-dozen varieties that graced beds and borders. I suppose no one needs that many reminders of long-gone contributors.

Besides these family treasures, my garden grows memories of other gardeners who shared columbines, brunneras, roses, wildflowers and day lilies. Even indoors heirlooms whisper old tales. My great-grandmother’s sprawling Christmas cactus blooms every year, usually starting in January. Such a lapse can be forgiven a grand dame who may be 100 or so.

Unlike funeral flowers, such plants make me smile. Perhaps because I remember the donors in their gardening years, active, yet at peace, working in their little Edens.

4 responses to “Favorite Flora: Memorial Day bouquets

  1. July Hays

    This is a beautiful piece, Michael. It is a joy to read it, and I’m forwarding it to family. Memorial Day finds me far from the family graves, but I have a Christmas cactus like you, that has been in the family 100 years that we know of. It holds so many happy memories. My mother said the key to its blooming at Christmas was to not water it at all during the month of September, then to leave it outside to get chilled until the week before Thanksgiving. This old-time advice was easy to follow in Oregon, but it has been tricky here in Ohio!!! An unheated room is probably the answer? Anyway, just want you to know how much I appreciate your fine writing.

    • Thank you so much for your comments about the post and the info on your family Christmas cactus.

      Maybe these old-timer Christmas cactus are a variety that responds to a chill. Mine is the same, setting buds better when left on the front porch until about Halloween, unless a hard freeze is predicted. Plus it hasn’t been repotted in about 12-15 years.

  2. Kathy green

    Beautifully written Michael!

  3. Thanks, Kathy, for you praise. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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