The mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia) are telling me this morning that summer is here. Their yellow and orange petals are screaming out in my garden with color - and with fragrances that I've yet to smell, fragrances that attract butterflies - monarchs, black and giant swallowtails, and sulphurs - creatures that seem to come from nowhere and arrive in abundance.
Flowers remind me of seasons, of stories, of past springs and summers - and like anything that triggers a memory, some are good and some less so. My mexican sunflowers reseed everywhere - and I struggle to transplant them to reasonable locations in my garden or to give them to friends. I can't bear to simply pull them up and discard them. Many have reseeded outside of my driveway's wooden gate - and I let them do what they want there. This morning, returning from an early morning swim with friends on Sullivans, I remembered an evening last summer. I was coming home from work, and as I was driving down the road I live on, I noticed a boy from a distance by my front gate, and I thought to myself how those kids a few places down the road were drving me crazy - what was this one up to now? When I pulled up to my gate and got out of the car, I asked this young boy what was going on - and he looked up at me and said "I'm just watching the butterflies." I hadn't seen this little boy before. He was transfixed - the mexican sunflowers were literally swarmed with swallowtails that early evening. I just stood awhile with him, watching the butterflies, mostly monarchs, fly around the bright orange flowers. Finally I asked him if he had ever seen that many before, and he said no - and then I asked him if had any flowers in his yard, and when he said no again, I asked if he would like some. He said yes and so he went to ask his father (they lived several streets away). I never saw that little boy again. I've looked for him this spring and summer, but I still haven't seen him.
It's funny what perception does - I had so quickly lumped this little boy in with a few other rather annoying neighbor kids, but he was far from that. He also made me stop that evening and enjoy what I tell myself that I don't take from granted (but often do) - the beauty that exists in my garden. I can't imagine living without it - and it made me sad that evening to think that this little boy had not spent similar evenings with his bike tossed on the ground, watching butterflies. While I was at the beach this morning with friends, one of them said "I don't know how you keep up with your yard" and I didn't know how to explain to her that my yard keeps up with me. The flowers and their fragrances and shapes and textures keep me in their embrace.
Other memories are triggered too this morning - I remembered a poem I wrote this time last year, on a similar weekend where I found myself wondering if I could still transplant the last few remaining mexican sunflowers. Are they too big? Perhaps last year, but not this year. A poem I dug out of my computer's archives.
You love your garden more than me
he said over the phone. I can’t compete with that piece of land.
Then he was quiet.
I didn’t understand.
There was no competition.
But you felt it.
How could I explain to you
that I was born a gardener?
I was not born your lover.
I had only known you for a few months.
I couldn’t help you understand.
I’ve been in the garden since the day I was born.
It wouldn’t be fair to compare you
to the fleeting fragrances, the textures,
to the rich soil.
There was no comparison.
But I shouldn’t have to compare.
As I’ve known, as perhaps I’ve always known,
you will have to be someone who doesn’t feel abandoned
when I get lost in the garden,
when I need to plant larkspur, scarlet runner beans,
and fig hollyhocks.
You will have to know when to send me outside,
when I crave the wildness like a young child.
So I got off the phone
and went back outside.
The heavy salt air greeted me.
It was time to pull up the sugarsnap peas.
I had waited too long to transplant the mexican sunflowers.
Humorously, as an aside, the Genus "Tithonia was named for Tithonus, a legendary Trojan loved by the dawn goddess Eos, who irreligiously turned him into a grasshopper." (Quoted from here). I wish I had known that grasshopper trick last summer...that would have been perfect!