Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Things that are possible with flowers

The thaw is here and things are growing. On a lark, I wrote up an alphabetical list of all the perennial flowers that will grow happily in Idaho without much care or water. I included as many natives as I could think of and the list is a riot of common and botanical names. Some flowers, like the chocolate flower, officially "berlanderia," straddle the alphabetical B-C border.
The chocolate flower is a genuinely freakish thing. Smallish yellow daisies on kind of grey foliage that you wouldn't think much of. Until you smell them. No kidding, it's like breathing in a cup of cocoa.
Then, of course, the baptista is a straddler too, that could fall under "B" but also under "F" or maybe "I" as false indigo.
I filled in all the letters, except for Q and X.
If desperate I can go with quince for Q. It's a tree, of course. But not a tree without a personal significance for me.
A quince tree grows on the edge of my parents property. It's not a beautiful tree and its fruit, in their pesticide-free yard, is measly and pocked. But the smell of the yellow fruit is sweet and clean, and a smell you might choose, were you called upon, for some reason, to designate a representative smell for the year 1932. (The color for that year, by the way, would be fly-paper yellow).
When my grandmother was alive, she made jelly out of the quinces from this tree. The jelly had a delicate flavor and was clear, pale pink. The tree is not beautiful but its jelly was. And I liked to pop the wax seal out of the top of a new jar and lick the pink off the wax.
It may be impossible to find an X plant and I may have to cheat, resort to finding a flower with an X-shaped center, or something like that.
I've thought that maybe I should plant an alphabetical garden, all labeled and fastidious. The idea came after I spotted a perfect "a" plant -- acanthus.
We have acanthus at the greenhouse where I work on Mondays (the one day a week I am not a newspaper reporter).
Apparently it can grow very big and showy. Acanthus does always look that way on Corinthian columns. But it straddles an alphabetical line, too. Its fancy name, acanthus, gives way to comedy in its common name: bear breeches.
Breeches are pants, right? Bear pants? That's comedy.
Another garden project I would like to do is to collect a list of all the ways one can transform certain blossoms into certain other things.
So far, I know of three:
— snapdragon: well, the blossom does look like a dragon head, and you can pinch it and make the "jaw" move.
— hollyhock (alcea, for science): you can pick a blossom, and turn it over so it's like a little skirt. Then, poke a hole in the top with a nail. Pick a blossom that hasn't bloomed yet and is still a hard, green ball. Leave a little stem to be a neck, and stick it in the skirt. Then it's a hollyhock woman.
— bleeding heart (dicentra, for science): I just learned this one at the greenhouse. Pick one of those little puffy hearts. Pull it apart gently and the pistil (?) looks like a naked lady sitting in a bathtub.
All of this is much better than that old "he loves me, he loves me not," petal plucking business, isn't it?
Besides, you always knows the answer to that question, even before you start to pluck.