I nurture things so I can behead them. Which is to say, I grow flowers, and while I enjoy them out there in the garden beds, I love picking them even more. The desire to pluck a blossom is fundamental to human nature, and yet, for the most part, we resist. There’s a rumor on the college campus where I teach that students who pick the flowers will be fined. I’ve never seen this rule printed anywhere, but my students have insisted it’s true. I suppose it makes sense. If everyone snatched a daffodil, there would be none left for anyone to sniff. But if everyone snatched a daffodil, then everyone would have a daffodil, if only for a day or three, to put on their desk or windowsill and study.
One of my vases, an antique-looking brown glass bottle, was given to me by a boyfriend my first year in college. I believe he stole it from the science department where he worked, just as he’d stolen the flowers he stuck in it—a lilac branch from a bush on campus. Though he was a great guy, he did not, however, steal my heart. The lilacs drooped. I kept the vase. I'm sure there's a lesson here. Behind the Writing House where I teach my classes, I’d like to plant a patch of daffodils with a sign that reads, “Please pick.”
Because I pick flowers and need a place to put them, I have an entourage of vases, many of which were never meant to hold flowers. A round glass globe with fluted edge that my late father-in-law used to store cotton balls. A milk bottle found in the barn. A Hoosier Glass canister. Blue mason jars. That stolen brown bottle. Then, the assortment of vases, many from various florist’s bouquets, usefully bland. A white porcelain vase with a scene of blue ducks, a Valentine’s Day present from my husband back before we were married. A tiny clay vase not much bigger than my thumb, glazed with spots, from my sister. And the obscene vases, huge and unwieldy, (and male, I always think, for some reason) good only for branches lopped off the crabapples or rhododendrons or for entire stems of yellow iris from a patch I grow on the edge of the property next to the road so that I can cut them and not feel bad about de-flowering my beds.
Not that I do feel bad. If I planted you, you’re fair game for snipping. Smelling nice increases your chances, but really, just looking interesting draws me in with my clippers. I’ve planted daffodils all over the property, so I never have to hesitate to snap off a stem when they’re in bloom. I use pruning as an excuse to pull inside handfuls of sugary daphne blossoms. On rainy days, I collect iris from around the garden, saving their tissue petals from the crush of showers. Despite the fact that they keep poorly and wilt in a day or so, when the lilacs are flowering, I trim bouquets every day. The two expansive hedges of lilacs were covered in fragrant clusters when we first saw the farmette, and certainly helped sell the place; I can pick as many as I want. In late-May, I load spirea branches into a large vase to bring to the cool indoors, and they snow all over the dining room table. I rescue the rose buds from the Japanese beetles. I relieve the oriental lilies of a few trumpets and fog the bedroom with their perfume.
Sometimes, I just walk around the gardens, picking things so that I can arrange them in a vase—that simple creation—imagining, in my foolishness, that I’ve made something beautiful. And when the bouquets fade, inevitable, I dump them on the compost, move on, and pick some more. It turns out there are enough.