Yesterday we battened down the hatches – covering everything in the high tunnels with frost blanket, winterproofing the chickens and sheep, shutting off the irrigation system – preparing for the cold and snow that arrived last night. But did that stop the flowers? Nope, it did not. Hellebores, ume plum blossoms, pink pussy willow, and the earliest icelandic poppy pods.
This is one of the first spring pictures I took when I moved to the farm 5 years ago – flowering branches against a wall of sunset-lit clouds that looked like a rolling forest fire. So, so beautiful! Spring and new flowers will be here again in a few short weeks.
Earl Grey larkspur, Mollie Rilestone sweet peas and Rosanne Brown lisianthus are examples of a floral trend of muted, “muddy,” dusty colors. Part of the appeal for me is the aura of “vintage” – Mollie Rilestone’s tea-stained petals even resemble the browned edges of old pages.
I thought about this last week when the trailer for “They Shall Not Grow Old,” Peter Jackson’s colorized World War I film, made me and the rest of a roomful of jaded movie-goers sit up, drop their popcorn, and stare at the screen. The movie is said to “bring lost WW1 voices back to life;” by bringing color to scenes that were made remote by black and white, the soldiers of 1914 are suddenly living and breathing. It was pretty breathtaking.
Soft muted colors conjure a cosy nostalgia, putting things firmly in the picture frame of “the past.” I love them for this; but right now, in late January, I’m craving the vivid colors of this year’s spring, lit up by the sun.
We are deep in the dark season right now in the Pacific Northwest. I can’t complain – we’ve actually had quite a few partly clear days so far this winter. But when daylight only lasts til 4:30 and that light is fairly weak and watery, I stare at this picture of the farm on a sunny June day in hungry amazement. Looking forward to that bright summer and armfuls of dahlias!
Humans alter the world around us. Everything we touch and change to fit into our world becomes an artifact. We travel on, and it becomes a sign post along our trail. These sign posts tell stories about our past and catalog our efforts to understand the world.
Take a simple bouquet of flowers. Until lately, most bouquets you met were stiff with industrially-produced flowers airlifted from South America. Now, in a natural return to what is best, people are again seeking out the freshness, fragrance and seasonality of locally-grown flowers.
The whole story behind this sea-change is an amazing history lesson involving international politics, the drug trade, and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” farmer heroes (you can find it in Flower Confidential, by Amy Stewart). But it’s just one of thousands of stories in a flower bouquet, that simple-seeming artifact.
I grow flowers. They surprise and amaze me every day. Tulips were once fragrant and wheat dark blue? Bumblebees sleep headfirst in flowers? Apples and roses are relatives? The ancient spice trade; the sciences of fragrance and color; human-animal interactions; so many more stories. When I should be busy cutting and bunching flowers, I’m often standing in a field googling facts on my phone.
Flowers are not just pretty faces. They are a window into the natural world and our own culture and history. And now that flowers have burst the industrial boundaries of durability and convenience, to be anything beautiful that adventurous local growers can raise and cut, a bouquet can be an encyclopedia in your hands. I’ll be sharing the stories I’m learning here. Read on!