Outdoor season looms for many plants

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Filling my lungs with the long awaited aroma of fresh flowers, I pull open the doors of my big greenhouse and pass into another world. The crisp, cool surroundings of mountains and rivers are still there, but the thin layer of plastic that separates me from the outside changes everything at this moment.

Bright bursts of blue, red and yellow glow in their nests of lettuce green, as the primulas arrange their leaves into the solar power harvesting position. Their tidy forms and brilliant hues call forth exclamations of awe and delight from the first curious souls who enter the house. Springtime conditions are doubled in intensity as they pass from the windy thawing world into the busy aromatic world of this flower filled space.

The first shipment of blooming plants has been unloaded, the greenhouses are filled with color and the brave, exploring bumblebees are already scouting the blooms. Strawberries, fresh herbs and vegetable starts make contrasting blocks of form and texture, but it is pansies that one sees first. The raked sand of the floor sets off the plants and flowers, and the diffusing effect of the poly covering erases shadows creating an atmosphere of otherness.

This is another place, the beginning of another time, one so familiar that I move in half-remembered ways down my customary routes. I push flats into even tidier arrangements, stop to move a couple of plants from one place to another so that their colors compliment each other in a more pleasing way, glorying in my solitary enjoyment. I am alone, but not for long.

In a few days the plants will be hardened off to local conditions. These are all varieties that can take being frozen at night and thawing out in the morning, so they will be able to become window boxes, porch planters, or deck gardens. Those lucky souls in Auke Bay, Tee Harbor, or in the sun flooded downtown neighborhoods will even be able to plant them out in the yard. If the soil is thawed enough to dig, pansies and primroses can be planted and, as we see in the outdoors, the strawberries are even pushing up their leaves through the frost.

These first ambassadors from the plant kingdom are always welcomed with smiles and caresses. Fingertips lift the nodding blooms and stroke the impossibly soft petals as if they were intimate pets or treasured infants. The pleasures we feel in their company enlivens the few minutes we spend together, giving a transportable thrill. Visual, tactile and olfactory evidence of the resurgence of life and its intractable beautification of our rock and sea girt shore, these tiny living beings connect us to the vast living web.

Gifts carried to shut-in friends, small gestures of appreciation, decorative touches placed on the table or desk, or opening steps in the dance of relationships, potted flowering plants have made a place for themselves in our society. We carry them into situations fraught with emotion, use them as substitutes for notes or verses, and load them with messages and significance that we are too inhibited to express. Flowers have been incorporated into our cultural matrix in new ways by each generation, creating venues for expression that were unheard of just a few years ago.

I stand in the midst of all these flowers, sensing the inchoate potential of random letters or of stacked cans of paint. Meaning and emotion are waiting to be attached; the people who carry them into their lives will place the messages of respect, security, beauty, or value onto them. The flowers themselves have no intrinsic meaning; it is our choice to assign them such burdens or blessings. Self-adornment, property enhancement, or harmonic constructions are generic uses for the floral world; the emotional content varies with the sense of the society.

I would not understand the carefully constructed poems of the Elizabethan courtiers in the same way as their equally rarefied recipients. The messages concealed in the nosegays and bouquets of the formal court would be incomprehensible as well. My appreciation of both is filtered through my own societal framework, and I feel lucky to share anything with those long vanished esthetes. The floral experience I have of the drawn or painted arrangements and recreated gardens lacks the heavy symbolic burden that such creations held, but filtered as it is through our modern sensations I am thrilled to recognize a related response.

Pansies in 4-inch pots, primroses in small baskets, and a connection to generations and ages long gone. Step into the greenhouse and see for yourself, what message do you get from this random assortment of elements.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and, along with Margaret Tharp, owns Landscape Alaska. Any responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.

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