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July in the Garden

Picking a few flowers to bring inside is the final step of morning gardening in early July. Whatever needs cutting back or trimming or whatever looks just beautiful gets plucked.

I pile the cuttings up on the back porch, go inside, pick a vase, and fill it with water. I follow my grandmother’s method of flower arranging. The tallest first, strip the lower leaves, trim the end at an angle, and make a loose triangle of the first three stalks. Their intersecting stems provide the framework that supports the rest. Then I strip, trim, and place the remaining stalks. Placing becomes a short stab, pull up, and adjusting motion as the number of stems and leaves increase. I move quickly so the flowers get into water as soon as possible. In the middle of the summer, I always pick a couple of marigolds to tuck into the base of the arrangement. Their spicy smell reminds me of my grandmother’s garden and her flower arrangements.

The next step is to comb through the tired bouquets in the house to find the few survivors for the new bunch. Today I find two bee-balm and a few carnations, the latter from a grocery store purchase the week before – $5.99 down from $9.99. Who could resist? But now, a week later, the long stemmed roses have bent over, choked by an air bubble that entered their stems when they were left out of water at some point. Everything else has either shed or wilted. So much for impulse buying at the grocery store. Mixed bouquets never work very well. I’ve found it’s better to stick to single flower bunches: daffodils, tulips, gladiolas or carnations. But I don’t always act on my knowledge in such cases, as the grocery store manager who put the flower display up right next to the entrance knew very well. And I did enjoy this mixed bunch of red and pink blooms while they lasted. Still, I get more satisfaction from my own bouquet picked from the garden this morning.

Often, as I did today, I have a rose or two that need their own vase. I tromp muddy-toed into the kitchen for a small container: sometimes a champagne flute, sometimes a jelly jar. Today I chose a hand-made, wood-fired sake bottle for two yellow rose buds. They settled in perfectly. Now let’s see if they open.

Finding the right vase is an important part of flower arrangement. My grandmother had a closet full – old crystal, art pottery, big, small, tall, squat, inexpensive ones from flower shop bouquets, heirlooms. We had an older gentleman friend of the family who often sent my grandmother lavish boxes of cut flowers. “I love sending your grandmother flowers because she always has the perfect vase, no matter what I send.” When he called later in the evening for coffee or a cocktail, there the flowers would be in pride of place in the living room.

These are the things I thought about as I arranged tall stalks of bee-balm and spearmint, a few sprigs of lavender and yellow marigolds this morning. The full blown old fashioned rose went into the bowl of lavender and rose petal potpourri to dry.

It’s now mid-morning and time to close the windows and draw the shades against the mid-day heat. The house looks like summer.