The Last Flowers of Summer

BLOG #36, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE LAST FLOWERS OF SUMMER
September 5, 2012

When you live high in the Rockies as we do – at 9,700 feet –, summer is all too short. Plants are likely to freeze as late as June and as early as mid to late August.

Then there are the critters that consider anything planted outside the house to be their salad bar – principally elk, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks.

Since we’ve had bull elk wander onto our lower deck, that leaves but one place for flowers: the upper deck.

But even there, we’re not home free, for hailstorms can come at no notice. In fact, early this summer when we were out shopping, a hailstorm shredded our just-purchased flowering plants. Fierce winds are hard on them too. As are wandering raccoons and bears.

By now I can hear you muttering, So why are they crazy enough to invest in flowers at all? Are they not very smart?

Quite simply, we do it because we love flowers. I come from a long line of ancestors, on both sides of my family tree, who reveled in flowers, and plants in general. My late father was never happier than when working in his garden; my paternal grandmother, who was deaf, practically lived in her garden – it was a world she could retreat into; and my maternal grandfather was a florist who sold stock from his home.

So it is that when we’re home, if we hear thunder, we race for the plants and haul them in under the eaves before it’s too late. In the Rockies, storms often surprise us with their speed –many times we get soaked when we dilly-dally. And lightning strikes give little or no warning.

Thus it is that though our season is short, we splurge on buying flowering plants anyway, and each of those precious days in those allotted ten to twelve weeks, we treasure like misers fondling gold. Perhaps it is because we have so short a time that we value them so much.

And of course we have our favorites: geraniums and petunias always bloom their hearts out for us, and their beauty is so intensely vibrant that the very thought of the imminence of the arrival of that assassin, frost, sends chills up our spines!

But not yet. At least tomorrow the flowers will greet us when we go out to feed the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.

As to why God gave us flowers in the first place, let’s listen to Emerson:

“THE RHODORA”

In May, when sea-winds pierce our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! If the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you

* * * * *

Ah Yes! Beauty is its own excuse for being.

MEASURING OUR LIVES BY BUTCHART GARDENS

Yes, ‘tis true: we do just that. We first experienced British Columbia’s Butchart Gardens 42 years ago (Greg fondly remembers it; Michelle does not because it was dark in the womb—but she was there). We’ve returned to what most likely is the world’s most beautiful garden three more times, in every season except winter. Most recently, in mid May.

We cannot perceive of any garden in the world being more beautiful than it was this time. Tuips, azaleas, rhododendrons, pansies, primroses, and many other May-time flowers—as well as flowering trees and shrubs—made every turn in the path a vision of paradise.

Though each season has its unique loveliness, it’s mighty difficult to imagine anything more magical than the post-winter explosion of spring.

This time, at the very inception of cruise-to-Alaska season, hordes of tourists were being disgorged from buses, bringing delight to Vancouver Island business owners as well as those cruise ship passengers.

For the first time in four decades, I took a mental inventory of what we’d seen and experienced over the years. In retrospect, I now realized that Butchart was anything but a finished product: it had continued to change, evolve, expand. There were far more pools, brooks, streams, waterfalls, bridges; types of trees, shrubs, and flowers, than ever before. Earlier, it had been merely memorable and beautiful—now, it took your breath away. Of course, with people from all over the world making it a destination stop, with more and more cruise ships docking in Victoria because of it, Butchart owners have more than enough money to hire a veritable army of gardeners to manicure it on an hour-by-hour basis.

Something else I hadn’t noticed before—was kids. Bus loads of them. Most with check-lists in their hands, searching for items to check off, delighted to cross bridges or leap from flagstone to flagstone in pools, etc. Whoever declared that kids no longer appreciate beauty in their lives these days should have been there to listen to those awe-struck children and tweens! Butchart managers are wise to give them special rates, for no child I saw there will ever be the same; for the rest of their lives, they will make a point of returning whenever it’s possible to do so.

At the front of Butchart’s wall calendars is a condensed version of the Garden’s history—it’s now more than a century old. Robert Pim Butchart was the pioneer manufacturer of Portland Cement in Canada. In 1904, with his wife Jennie and two daughters, he settled on Vancouver Island at Tod Inlet, 13 miles north of Victoria. From 1905 – 1910, huge amounts of limestone were quarried from the area. Jennie Butchart sighed at how unsightly and downright ugly the vast pit was becoming.

Because she loved to have beauty around her, she decided to do something about it. She discovered that the mild weather conditions on the island made for perfect flower-growing. First, she planted rose bushes, then, with the help of laborers from the cement works, she developed a Japanese garden.

Word got out, and more and more townspeople from Victoria began to visit the gardens. The Butcharts named their home “Benvenuto” (Italian for “welcome”), and the grounds were always open.

It has remained open for over a hundred years now—with more and more people from around the world adding it to their personal Bucket List of places to see before they die. And more and more like me and Connie, feel impelled to return again and again.

Steinbeck must have envisioned a place like this when he read in Genesis 2:8

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward of Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. . . .KJV

When Steinbeck wrote his unforgettable novel, East of Eden, I can’t help wondering: When he wrote it, had he seen Butchart Gardens?