Patriotism blooms in a fresh, fragrant way

Since Sept. 11, Americans have plastered their windows, bumpers, and just about anything flat with mass-produced replicas of the American flag. But few have taken their patriotic fervor to the extreme that Bodger Seeds Ltd. of Lompoc, Calif., has. The family-owned firm has created a flag that not only covers 6-1/2 acres of land – but is also, quite literally, homegrown.

This floriculturist's fantasy lies nestled among the fields of central California's "Valley of Flowers," and is composed of roughly 400,000 red, white, and blue larkspur plants. With each plant yielding approximately four to five buds, that adds up to about 2 million blooms in all.

The flag is so large, in fact, that it can be seen in its entirety only by taking to the air or by climbing to the top of the hills surrounding the town.

For Jack Bodger, the company's owner, this 390-by-740-foot symbol of hope and renewal was a natural way to express patriotism.

"It was our way of reminding us of the strength that we have as a nation," he said in a recent phone interview.

Indeed, with 13stripes that are each 30 feet wide and 24-foot white stars resting in a 210-by-296-foot sea of blue, the flag certainly makes a powerful statement.

The initial planting began on Jan. 21, and, with the help of 17 workers and a pair of tractor-drawn planters, was completed in just two days. To make the stars, however, a second, more tricky round of planting was required.

"We had our main mechanic at the production facility make a 24-foot template for [a] star," says Mr. Bodger. "Then, once [the blue flowers] started to sprout, we positioned the template for the star, hoed out all blue flowers, and transplanted in white ones by hand. We did that 50 times."

This process took several additional days to complete.

After that, there wasn't much more to do than water every seven to 10 days and wait for the floral show.

This is not the first time the Bodgers have planted Old Glory as a means of raising the community's spirits. The first one was sown just a week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

A second flag was planted in 1943, and a third floral flag in 1945 marked the end of World War II.

Yet another made its appearance 50 years ago, during the Korean War.

Now, as then, larkspurs were employed for their suitability to the coastal climate and their resplendent visual appeal.

"Larkspurs work pretty well because they make a tall spike and a pretty good color match," Bodger says. "The plants are about five feet tall, and the flowers grow on the top foot and a half, so it makes a good solid mass of colors."

A dedication ceremony on June 14 – Flag Day – drew some 500 townsfolk and local dignitaries. The larkspurs began to bloom about that time and will be at their peak for only a few days beyond July 4.

But while the flowers may wither, Bodger will tell you the values they represent will never fade.

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