Harmony in the Garden Blog

Flowers and memories – the good and the bad

Yours trulyThe other day my parents and I were reminiscing about the time I decapitated their very first little garden.  I was only two years old, and my dad was anxiously waiting for the day when the new seed mat (that he and my mother had carefully tended over several weeks) would transform into the lush and bountiful garden promised on the package.

Apparently it was nothing more than a rolled up strip of coir and soil with common flower seeds pressed within it. All one needed to do was unroll it, tack it down at the corners, water – and voila! – within a few weeks your new garden would spring to life!

But to my young parents, their first garden was going to be amazing (and easy – what could be better!!!

After coming home from work one day, I toddled over and proudly greeted him with a bucket filled with the snapped off flower heads from his prized garden.   With a two-year old’s precision, my little hands ripped them cleanly from their base, leaving no attached stems that might at least be plopped in a vase for my poor dejected father to enjoy for awhile.  So there they lay in my bucket – like a bunch of colorful, but sad, decapitated heads.

Even though I had heard this story many times before, what I hadn’t heard was how he looks back now and laughs at the pitiful selection of flowers that were growing in this seed mat.

With a face not unlike someone who has accidentally swallowed a gulp of sour milk, he said “it didn’t really matter – they were mostly just old zinnias anyway – they’re just so rough and coarse, and way too colorful.

And that’s what really got me thinking – because I happen to love zinnias.  To me, they represent the hours and hours I spent in our neighbor’s garden trying to catch the little gold Skipper butterflies that feasted on them.  They represent one of the first flowers of my childhood, luring me down the garden path into the career I now adore.


I began to wonder if the flowers each of us likes or dislikes are actually just symbols of distant memories, whether happy or unpleasant.

So I began to think about flowers that I personally don’t like.  Like celiosas.  I hate them.  Not the cool, twisted cockscomb varieties, but the triangular, coarse flames of flowers.

But after spending a moment wondering why I dislike them so, it’s because the only real memory I have of them was when my very best friend who lived across the street was moving away.  True, I was only 8 at the time, but the loss of this friend left a giant hole in my little heart.

In an effort to spruce up their very ordinary 1960’s suburban front yard, her family had planted dozens of Celiosas, each one awkwardly placed about 2′ apart from one another.  All I can remember is that I couldn’t stand to walk out front and look across the street at their foreign looking front garden with the ‘For Sale’ sign stuck in the corner, a cluster of Celiosas clustered around its base.

I don’t really like gazanias either.  But that might have to do with the fact that when I was young, I proudly picked a bouquet for my mom as a surprise for her birthday.  Yet within the hour, was the one surprised when all the pretty flowers betrayed me by shutting themselves up tight, never to open again.

The same with daylilies.  The bouquet of colorful yellow flowers I picked was nothing more than a disappointing bunch of shriveled up flowers the next day.  I quickly learned that the common names of plants tend to have a reason behind them.

Blue Moon AgapanthusBut agapanthus, on the other hand – now there’s a flower that stands up in a vase for weeks at a time.

And even though most Californians tend to sneer at the common-as-dirt agapanthus, I have a soft spot for them because of the pride I felt at having finally mastered the fine art of surprising my mom with a bouquet that would last for days on end.

I could go on and on and on about my good or bad memories with plants – as most gardeners can.  But I’m thinking I might try an experiment this summer and plant a few of my Top 10 Least Favorites to see if I can learn to appreciate them for what they are, and not for what memories they represent.

Now that I’m finished with my therapy session, I’m curious – do any of you have flowers that you don’t like that might be tied to disappointing memories?  Go ahead – get it off your chest.  It feels great!!

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  • I love this post! I too have always hated petunias! My mom had a large planter at our front door when i was growing up and she filled it with petunias every year and one of my “chores” was to deadhead them almost every day! And we all know how prolific petunias are! I hated that job, and i’m sure she did too, which was why it was my job! I can still remember that smell and stickiness…

  • Memories, especially old ones, do have a powerful hold on us, don’t they? I hate gladiolas and the only explanation I have for that is a memory of these flowers in the church at my father’s funeral when I was 6 years old. I tried to get over the gladiola thing a couple of years ago but ended up pulling them all out. In contrast, I love pansies despite their rather “pedestrian” nature because I remember someone pointing out their happy faces to me while I was visiting my grandmother.

  • My favorite plant memories also come from time spent with a beloved Grandmother, every Saturday morning I was allowed to pick flowers from her garden. She taught me to make little hand bouquets, we would tie them up with recycled ribbons that she had ironed and rolled up. I always got to pick out the ribbon! Afterward I was sent off skipping down the road to visit all of the older ladies and give them a bouquet, I usually was fed cookies! My least favorite flower also came from her time, I was sent out to deadhead the red and white petunias and to this day I can not stand the scent of petunias or the fact that the stuck to you. Yuck, thank goodness they have changed but I still don’t like them! The funny thing is I once asked my Mother what flowers grew in my Grandmothers garden and she didn’t know, just thought there were mostly shrubs, funny- my Mother was not a gardener

    • Susy, your wonderful grandmother sounds like mine – always encouraging me to pick bouquets from her garden without fear of picking the ‘wrong’ flowers. What little girl wouldn’t looove picking out pretty, ironed rolls of ribbon. What a special ‘touch’ your grandmother had. Isn’t it funny your mother couldn’t remember any flowers? You’re right – she was definitely not a gardener. I remember with such detail so many plants growing in our different gardens. It sorta shows who the future gardeners are going to be, right?

  • Hi Rebecca, when I saw your photo with the backet, first thought was “Sweet Rebecca”, to me from now on you always would be like that. Memmories, memmories, up until now I had no idea why I love so much Sweet William when I see some at the shops I always buy a bunch. Thanks to you I’ve realized why, they remind me about my NANA. She wasn’t a good gardener, she was a brilliant one. Thanks Sweet Rebecca, Regards

    • Rossie, my grandmother also loved Sweet William (the tall ones, not the shorter ones that are so common these days) and we still plant them in her garden 40+ years later as a nod to her. I completely forgot about my love of them until now – thank YOU for the memory! 🙂

  • I hate pansies. They are just so common and sweet and cheerful, no drama or danger. However when I see a table of them at a nursery I do smile, thinking of my grandfather and the fact they were always in his garden. I have no idea if he actually liked them himself or if he planted them for the grand kids.

    • I have to admit, Loree, that I’m a sucker for a bunch of pansies. They’re SO not your style, but like you say – they’re so old fashioned and sweet. I think they remind us all of our grandparents’ gardens! Wait – what about the black pansies? They’ve at least got a little dramatic flair, don’t they?

  • My Mom always had a garden, but it was a vegie garden. (She did have Concord grapes that I still drool over when I smell that very sweet scent!) The only flowers she grew were a straight line of red salvia’s in front of the hedge of yews, and a couple of pots with red geraniums. Hmmmm… maybe I’m passionate about succulents because I always needed more drama? Looking back, I’m pretty amazed I never even thought about plants… my pony was way more fun 😉

    • I bet that’s exactly why you’re so into the high-drama world of succulents, Sheila! I’m curious – did you ever grow veggies, since they’re what you grew up with?

      • I really have never grown many vegies , mainly because until we moved to CO my yards were filled with wonderful shade trees and very little sun. I now have a few large pots on my deck for tomatoes, peppers and herbs. I love this post Rebecca!

        • I have tomatoes in containers, as well. I don’t think I could ever live without at least one tomato plant! Thanks again, Sheila! 🙂

  • Rebecca, our taste in flowers aligns perfectly! I too love zinnias and I HATE those celosia things — not because I have bad memories associated with them but because they are HIDEOUS!

    I do have one pretty strong landscaping association but it doesn’t involve a plant. You know that big Silver Dollar bark mulch? It must have been really popular back in the 70s because whenever I see it I am transported back to my childhood. Weird, huh?


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