In The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, the protagonist Victoria researches the meanings that Victorian lovers assigned to the flowers they sent. Victoria comes up with her own list of flowers and their meanings. After reading the book, I wondered what the flowers in my yard say to my friends and family. I decided to do a little catalog of the flowers that greet visitors when they come to my front door.
At the curb
Several years ago I set out to plant a garden between the sidewalk and the curb in front of my house. I started digging out sod laid several years earlier when the house was built. The process was difficult because of the green plastic mesh used to put the sod in place. I searched for what the heck that stuff is and found that it lives forever, tiny animals can get tangled in it, and if you plow it under to make a garden, your garden might yield produce laced with green mesh. Supposedly this stuff is biodegradable but I suspect it will not degrade in my lifetime.
Pulling that mesh out of the soil is very difficult, but I did it to the best of my ability, filled in with store-bought dirt, and planted. While I was digging in the Tennessee chert and plastic, my neighbor cautioned me to stop. “This is a utility easement!” she exclaimed, “The city or a utility company could dig it up any time! It will be ugly in the winter when your flowers die! You’ll have to water it all the time!” True. I planted anyway.
I planted what I knew after living 20 years in New Mexico: Russian sage, which is drought tolerant and hard to kill. I also put in some coreopsis because they were pretty. Lucky me – For a couple of years we had minimal rain, and sometimes my curbside flowers were the only sign of life around. The Victorian meaning of sage is “good health and long life.” Coreopsis is “always cheerful.” So my front curb is a wish for good health and good cheer. I hope the mail carrier approves.
Beside the front walk
On one side of the front walkway I had a little slice of grass that I quickly converted to a bed. In it are roses, a Christmas camellia that blooms red in winter, some spunky stella de oro day lilies, and creeping jenny ground cover. Also embedded in the creeping jenny by accident is setcreasea, commonly called purple heart wandering Jew.
Here’s where my visitors run into trouble, and I’m not necessarily talking about the slightly mental dog that lurks behind my front door waiting to defend me from anyone who is, well, not me. This front bed is a tangle of contradictions. The camellia means “my destiny is in your hands” – quite a burden for someone just ambling up the front walkway.
A day lily symbolizes “coquetry.” In some books lilies symbolize “majesty,” but I think the stubby stella de oros are more coquettish than majestic. The red rose symbolizes love, but the beautifully fragrant yellow rose means “infidelity”! I couldn’t find any symbolism in the ground cover, but I did discover that the wandering Jew is so named because it wanders from where you planted it and thrives despite little sustenance, just as the Jewish People have adapted to many different environments around the world.
On the porch
On the front porch are seasonal plants – begonias, red geraniums, and an asparagus fern in a pot that looks like a head. (My daughter calls it “that creepy head” but I love it.) I did a little research on the asparagus fern and it is, as it turns out, not fern but an herb in the lily family.
In the language of flowers begonias suggest “caution” – a message I try to heed by removing the dog from the house before visitors come in. At gardenguides.com, horticulturist Elizabeth Ginsburg says: “In the language of flowers, scarlet geraniums have a meaning that relates to either comfort or stupidity. However, the meaning assigned to any geranium, without reference to color, is more promising. These geraniums reflect gentility and esteem.” I would really prefer to think of my front porch as genteel rather than stupid.
If I only had a plan
I really did not set out to give any meaning to my front yard – I just plopped in what I liked and hoped it would grow. They say you should plot out your garden on graph paper – you’ll be sorry when you plant tall things in front of short things or things that spread choke out things that don’t. Without a plan I have lost plants. Maybe I planted them in the wrong place, maybe I overwatered, or maybe I got them on the almost-dead aisle at Lowe’s and couldn’t revive them. Elephant ears disappeared for years at a time and then one spring after a warm winter they came back. Azaleas planted in full sun died a slow and painful death. Trumpet trees grew tall and stately year after year but almost never bothered to flower.
Recently I planted a new peony bush on one side of my front steps. A peony could mean “anger” or it could mean “good health.” Next spring I think it will be another fragrant reminder of the contradiction that is my front yard greeting card.
Dorothy, Enjoyed your “In the Garden” posts and pictures. You think any of those varieties would do well here in ABQ? Jim
Yes, when I moved here (10 years-I can’t believe it), I just planted things I knew to plant, like the Russian sage, which looked really good in Santa Fe. Chattanooga had a very dry summer that year and mine was one of the yards that had something growing in it. One thing that grew well in Santa Fe but doesn’t work for me here is lavender. Well it looks good for one season and then I can’t get it to come back. D