Daisies, Mothers Day.

May 9, 2011

One of the first blooms from 2011.

Today is Mother’s Day, and I meant to write this post several days ago. But, you know, nothing says motherhood quite like having to constantly change your plans and/or postpone everything in your life that does *not* have to do with food, sleep or poop. So I suppose it’s fitting that I am just now getting around to finishing this post.

When we moved a few months ago, I dug up some perennials to bring with us, including a couple of different clumps of daisies. I had several different large patches of them at our old house, and like all flowers in the mum family,  they can and should be divided from time to time to ensure continued growth. Despite my initial concern over ripping them apart at the roots, they’ve taken to the move just fine and some of them began blooming this past week.

Guess what?  There’s a story behind these daisies. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

Not long before my mother died she told me that daisies were her favorite flower. I don’t recall her ever mentioning them before nor do I ever remember her growing any. I remember her having plenty of petunias (the older variety with the fragrant blossoms), marigolds, bluebells, sunflowers, and irises but never any daisies. Maybe she had only recently discovered her love for them. After al, she discovered so many things toward the end of her life. Or maybe she’d always loved them and just never got around to growing some from seed.  Or maybe she  went to a nursery once to buy a few starter plants and they were out and then she just never got around to going again. I have no idea, and I really wish I would have asked more questions.  But what I do know  is that she mentioned their beauty on several separate occasions in the months preceding her death. She apparently thought about them often. I remember when we went to make her funeral arrangements and the woman who ran the flower shop asked us what we wanted for the casket spray: “Lots and lots of daisies,” I remember saying. “And lots of red flowers.” Red, you see, was her favorite color.

After mom’s death in those days when I became obsessed with my garden, tending to it with the same devotion and awe as I would a tiny baby(ies) or a dying mother, I experimented with growing many different flowers from seed.  Some fared better than others, and the daisies were by far the easiest to care for.   “Easy to grow”  the packet said in white, bold letters. No false marketing there. I bought those daisy seeds in the winter, started them in pots in the early spring, and placed the seedlings in the ground in the early summer 2009.

While growing daisies is incredibly easy, it does take a bit of patient waiting before you ever see the blooms. You see, when grown from seed daisies don’t usually bloom until the second year. So  that first year they just grew their huge lower leaves by leaps and bounds, creating a plant that’s fat,and low to the ground. But by the second year they began sending up long, narrow stems with small flower buds at the tip.  So by this time last year I had my first daisies.

I remember not-s0-patiently waiting from those little flower buds to pop open. I wanted so badly to reach my hand into the closed-up petals and rush the process. But I didn’t. Well, okay. Maybe I did start to open up one or maybe it was four. Whatever the case, I quickly stopped myself. Partially because I love surprises (which are the garden’s bread and butter, you know) and also because it seems somehow inherently wrong to rush a flower, like I’d be missing the point of growing in the first place.  And, of course, they finally did open early one morning, who knows exactly when.   I was probably sitting in my house in dirty clothes, sleep-deprived and in a daze with a big nursing pillow around my non-existent waist and baby on each breast, desperately trying to reach the cup of coffee I’d accidentally sat just a little too far out of my reach.  “To move the babies and greatly upset them or skip the coffee and upset myself?,” I would ponder.  Usually I’d fall asleep (while sitting up) before I came to a conclusion.  Oh, those early, sleep-deprived twin days. Having toddler twins is amazing, but twin infants…well, that was amazing too but I can’t say I miss that age. It’s all very funny now. It was not so funny then. I’ve got to get around to writing about that sometime, but anyway, the flowers they bloomed—-like they always do—when none of us were looking.

I became protective of them. I wanted to cut some and bring them inside, but I was also afraid of losing all the blooms that populated the flower bed. I saw them as mom’s flowers, and I guarded them fiercely. I soon discovered, however,  that if I did not deadhead them or most preferably, periodically cut the stems themselves, then they’d become increasingly less prolific, as you can see from this picture I took last year.

How not to grow daisies. But doesn't that hollyhock look pretty?

They wither on the stem, becoming wilt-y, thirsty, and discolored as you can see in the photo above. Ultimately daisies do best as a cut flower, and I soon discovered the more I cut them the faster they grew. Sound like a heavy-handed metaphor? Well, it may be, but I should have seen that garden lesson coming from a mile away.  My mom was all about giving things away and naturally hoarding the daisy blossoms was detrimental to the plant’s overall health. Like she’d pick a plant that required hoarding. That just wasn’t her style, you know.  Don’t you  just hate it when you miss the oh-so-obvious?

So I began cutting the flowers often. I took them to her grave, I gave them to relatives, and I brought them inside in a mason jar where my cats promptly knocked them over. And, of course, I left a few in my yard for myself where they grew and grew and grew.  Here’s an example of the flowers later in the season.

Much better.

I might not surprise you to learn that daisies are not only easy to grow they are also are an incredibly hearty flower.  Even when I jammed a spade into the plant base and uprooted whole chunks of their deepest, thickest roots, the plants fared just fine. They’d grown so big over last summer that I managed to leave plenty at our former home  where I hope they’ll bring joy to the new occupants.  They’re so easy to grow no one will ever have to do anything to keep them up, except give them away every now and then. In fact, if you live in Dardanelle and you’re ever driving by my old place just stop and cut you some. It’ll be good for them.

Of all the daisy patches I brought to our the new the place most prolific thus far are the daisies planted in the old, broken wash tub that my dumpster-diving husband scored from the city compost and scarp yard in Dardanelle.  I’m here to tell you, if you’re a budget conscious gardener in need of containers you need to go check out that place. It’s over by the walking trail.  You never know what kind of treasures you can find.  Here is another photos of the daisies and the washtub at our new place.

I also added a few zinnia seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company to the front part of the washtub and those have started to grow as well. It will be a while before those bloom, but I think they’ll make good company for the daisies.  I’ve got some zinnia stories too, but I’ll save those for another day.

I really appreciate that the daisies started blooming when they did, not too long before mother’s day which is a real hard day for us motherless mothers out there.  It’s, well, bittersweet to say the very least.  I wish I had more words to describe that torn feeling a mother whose lost her mother feels on this day, but honestly I don’t have it in me. It’s too complex an emotion to be articulated, at least for me at this point in my life. Suffice it to say it’s something like a sharp pain and a deep weariness all at the same time. It’s also a longing, a sense of confusion, and an acute sense of thankfulness for the folks in your life who aren’t dead. And then you’re sitting there remembering your mom and all the good and bad days you had together and then your kids look up and smile at you and say in that sweet toddler voice, “Mama?” you swear that something will break inside.  I don’t know about you other motherless mothers our there, but by the evening hours I am completely exhausted from the pendulum-sway of emotions. Mother’s Day can wear a woman out.

Anyway, I like to think those flowers are a sort of mother’s day gift from my mother to me. And not just a gift but also a conversation of sorts.  You know, the dead may not always answer when you call out for them, but they do listen so very, very well. And as we struggle with our own questions and worries sometimes that’s exactly what we need. Just someone to listen.  So how is that a conversation, you might wonder. Well, tending to the garden is where I find her responses. They’re subtle but they’re there, and like all subtle things, they sink in slowly and mysteriously.

G and E like to touch the daisies stems, which are almost as tall as they are. I would suspect it must feel quite magical to watch a flower grow up to be taller than you.  Can you imagine what it might feel like to look up at a flower rather than down at one? How fun that has to be.  And you know, sometimes the conversation is me remembering that I was a kid once too, and despite all my flaws as an adult daughter, she remembered what it felt like to look at me and see a tender child. I know G and E will get big. But I also know I will never, ever, ever forget the gentleness and tenderness I see in them now, and I will always know that in their very core they are loving, gentle, wonder-filled people with the purest of hearts.  And because I see this in my own kids I am beginning to learn that despite all my mistakes she really did love me for who I was.

And because of their deep sense of wonder, I like to take the boys out to the garden in the late afternoon so we can see what’s blooming and if any of the veggie seedlings are ready to go into the ground. “This?” they’ll ask me as they point to all the flowers. “This” is still the hottest word around here. Flowers are not quite on par with busses or cars, but they clearly have a deep appreciation for their beauty.

Today was Mother’s Day and it was also Decoration Day at the cemetery where she’s buried, a tradition I love and that I (and so many others) find great peace in (As a folklorist I do some writing and research about this tradition. If you are interested in that go here or here). So I cut some daisies and took them to her grave. G and E helped me decorate her tombstone with the new silk flowers, and they did a great job of filling up the vase with rocks to help hold the flowers down.

Decoration Day at the Brearley Cemetery in Dardanelle.

I know she doesn’t care about those flowers on her tombstone. But I do. It helps me, and that’s a big part of what grieving is all about: learning to deal with the pain in a way that allows for peace and hope for the future.  I looked out across that big cemetery this afternoon and saw that so many other folks must feel something similar because this year on Decoration Day, just like every other year, the cemetery is alive with color. Flowers spill over the tombstones. I look out and see a great deal of beauty in those flowers, so carefully chosen by loving relatives, but also I look around and realize that all of us, ultimately, are just trying to figure out a way to deal with the pain. Cemeteries have never* really* been for the dead, after all.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

View of cemetery from the hill. You can see all the flowers on the newer graves below.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone. If your mother is living please don’t take for granted the gift you have of being able to honor her. If she’s dead, I sincerely hope you can find some peace, however bittersweet it may be, in your memories, flowers, pie recipes—whatever and whereever you find her.

Most recent photo of the daisies taken two days ago. They're really starting to bloom now.

Also, so many folks had iris stories and I loved reading them. I’ve gone back and read those comments over and over. What about daisy stories?  I’d love to hear them. Or Mothers Day flower stories or Decoration Day stories?

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5 Responses to “Daisies, Mothers Day.”

  1. Jo Johns said

    What beautiful memories! I can see the nature of Mary Sue in a daisy… resilient and yet such a gentle beauty. Keep those daisies blooming!

  2. Rebecca Seay said

    Someday we will talk about decoration day memories. Seems like I have spent a lot of time decoration graves. Sat. Allison and I were at Brearly doing just that. I went by your mother’s grave, and as usual, could not fight the lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes, as they are now. I know I can’t love her or miss her as much as you do, so I can’t imagine how much those feelings are for you. Love to you all. Becca

  3. Shirley Sigle said

    I knew daisies were Mary Sue’s fave.She used to have them in her kitchen.On curtains and such so I put some on her grave.I notice that you put them on also, only real ones.Glad you can grow them.Miss her so!love to everyone

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