I spent many summers in my mother's flower gardens as a child. My brothers were often stuck with the unfortunate task of working in my father's rather large, very hot vegetable garden: weeding, helping him wrestle with the tiller, planting, building supports, moving "rubbish," putting down straw (on the few occasions he got any), etc. The flower gardens were not quite as labor intensive, I think. I know that we'd move from one section to another to stay in the shade as the sun patrolled the sky. I remember digging holes in some very unwilling spaces, busting my rear more than once as a tenacious clump of grass suddenly, devilishly gave way to my tugging. I remember how gratifying (and a little disgusting) a bath was after a morning in the yard-discovering that most of my tan was actually dirt and washing away all of my "granny beads." I also remember learning the names of all the flowers in the yard out of necessity. I don't think I really cared, at first. I simply learned the names out of sheer frustration and confusion. After a while, learning the names became more of a personal challenge. How many could I remember without help? Could I remember both a common name as well as scientific for a particular plant?
As time wore on, I learned to enjoy, and even relish, trips to the local garden centers or home improvement stores. I'd always scout ahead, doing reconnaissance, hoping to find something cool that we'd not tried. I still find myself stepping into that mode as I walk through the steamy, jungle of Home Depot's garden section. I have to do my first quick walk through to see what there is to be seen, and then we can meander through picking out our favorites. I can't help the little flutter of joy that I have when I find something a little different for my mom's house. I'm certain those summers were why I choose to work on the grounds crew at Berry College and why my first REAL job was at one of those local garden centers.
So why the tirade down memory lane? Zinnias. One of my favorite flowers to plant from seed. Super simple, easy to grow zinnias. They are not my favorite flower, but I can't look at them without thinking of summer and my mom. We planted them every year because they made wonderful cut flowers. We planted them every year because they were annuals. We'd go through phases on what kinds to plant. For a while, we planted the large pom-pom variety, then the striped ones, later the simple zinnias (after attending a class at the botanical gardens explaining that butterflies couldn't land on the pom-pom variety). I always purchase the mixed package so that I can be surprised by what chooses to grow.
One summer, when I was ten or eleven riding empty country roads with my mom, one particular road tended to be a little better cut by the county mowers than the others-better cut except for the one scraggly weed at the edge of the road. As the summer progressed and the weed grew taller, my mother became more intrigued-pointing it out with each passing trip. When finally the bloom revealed a zinnia, she literally pulled the car to a stop at the edge of road, asked me to open my door, and pull up the dern thing, which I did. It was a bit thrilling for me. We took the zinnia home, and planted it in the garden where it lived a long, bloomful life.