My garden's beauty, close up

I never liked cut flowers. When I was starting out in New York City, I couldn't escape them. Maybe there wasn't a florist or "just roses" shop on every single block in Manhattan, but it certainly seemed that way.

At the women's magazine where I worked, cut flowers came into the office daily as co-workers brought in irises or freesias for their desks, and PR types sent over giant, showy arrangements to get the attention of certain editors. Far too many of my acquaintances seemed to have a relationship of sorts with some hot new florist (often known, like a celebrity, by just one name) who would charge amazing fees for his creative arrangements.

But when flowers arrived at my own desk for secretary recognition week or at my apartment for my birthday, they would look pretty for a day or two, then droop. Too quickly, the water in the vase would cloud up. Somehow those flowers never quite cheered up my desk or my apartment, and I'd send them down the trash chute, vase and all, pondering the decay and wasted money.

Years later I got married and moved from the city to a small town in Virginia. Now we had a house, a yard, and the beginnings of a garden. My mom brought us dogwood trees, hostas, columbines, and astilbes from her garden. My husband's mom gave us daylily divisions, bellflowers, and more hostas.

An aunt sent my husband 17 rose bushes for his birthday, including three of the pale-pink climber New Dawn. After poking around nurseries, I added a butterfly bush, hydrangeas, aucuba bushes with their strange gold-flecked foliage, and sturdy perennials: clematis, daisies, black-eyed Susans, and coneflowers.

As the years passed, I loved the way our garden was starting to look, with roses trailing over the fence and blooms coming and going. But I never cut the flowers, and I became irritated when my visiting mother-in-law would take the pruners and cut them - my flowers! - to make an arrangement. I liked the flowers to stay outside where they belonged, thank you.

Then came a wet Saturday in early June. I was home with the baby, and the rain poured down.

The New Dawn roses were losing their petals in all that rain. I decided to save a few, so I ran outside to clip them. I saw other blooms getting battered, so I clipped some more - white and blue bellflowers, a few late columbines, some early blooms from the butterfly bush. I brought them inside, filled a pitcher with water, and began to place stems in it. First the roses. Each branch had several blossoms, and pink shaded into off-white. Next the bellflowers, and then the rest.

It was surprisingly satisfying to fill the pitcher with flowers and then spin the pitcher around to view my work. An arrangement! Pink, white, blue, a little purple. Ah, I thought, looking at my flowers, now I see why brides marry in June - just look at those flowers!

Now visions of other arrangements danced before me: azalea and redbud in April, daylilies and daisies in July, coneflowers and crape myrtle blooms in August, maybe even sumac and maple leaves in October.

Finally, I got it: Cut flowers let us look at all that beauty close up. No wonder city dwellers frequent flower shops and make heroes of florists. They need those dramatic little bits of nature, maybe even more than suburban and rural gardeners do.

It wouldn't be quite true to say I've become an ardent flower arranger, but I no longer mind when my mother-in-law tromps out to our yard wielding clippers.

My husband and I have worked on two other gardens since that first one. The current one is in New Hampshire's countryside. The growing season is very short up here, so I've gotten to know the "hot" florist in town. I let him make me an arrangement from time to time. It reminds me of cutting my own blooms in the summer, and it cheers me up.

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