High Desert Hoofbeats, June 20, 2019

On more than one recent occasion, I’ve stolen into my mom’s garden to steal some of my favorite flowers. Like all the special blooms on my list, these blossom just once a year, so I try to savor their unique beauty and scent, knowing I can’t enjoy them again for another full cycle of the calendar.

I feel this way about many blooming things, from fruit trees to old-fashioned roses, and of course, perennials and bulbs. The smell of an apple blossom or a bright yellow daffodil can only be indulged for a small window of time. Same for viewing the design of a flower: there is nothing quite like peering into a tulip and seeing the intricately designed black and yellow set inside a cup of bright red, then huffing in its smell. I marvel at the natural masterpieces of art, knowing their presence is brief.

These flowers I’ve been pilfering are peonies. They grow in a small bed off the north side of my mom’s house, planted by my dad about 20 years ago. My mom calls them “Sam’s peonies.” And every June, when their light and bright pink ruffled heads burst out of hard round globes, I come lurking. “Take them,” my mom tells me. But I don’t think she knows just how many I’ve made off with.

I’ve tried dozens of times to get peonies to grow at my house. But the soil is sandy, and the winds harsh. I have a couple of plants that for years have struggled out of the ground, but they are not robust. They come feebly forth, then dry up before they even attempt to develop buds. I’ve spent bundles of money over the years at nurseries on these gorgeous plants, only to bring them home, take them out of their plastic pots, set them in the ground, then watch them wither and die. They are like fish out of water in my environs. So now, when I see the shiny-leaved plants for sale among the nursery offerings at the store, I walk stiffly by, knowing it’s a lost cause under my care. Occasionally, when the cut blossoms are for sale in the floral department of the grocery story, I’ll indulge in a bunch. But at a cost of ten bucks for three stems, I don’t buy them often.

A few years ago, as I mourned over the plants to a fellow gardener, she said that perhaps I had planted the peonies too deep in the ground. “You need to lift them up, so that their roots are nearly at the top of the ground,” was her comment. But I’ve planted so many over the years, that I have my doubts about that theory.

Plants can be an extension of one’s own life. They often survive longer than the person who set them in the ground. When I see the peonies blooming in my mom’s garden, I say to them, “Hi Dad,” even though he’s been gone for nearly nine years. I believe he would be tickled to know that his efforts so long ago were still bringing us joy.

On Father’s Day I came across a little book my dad gave me back in 2003 called “Fresh Cut Flowers for a Friend.” It’s a small collection of uplifting quotes and thoughts, and like the peonies in the garden, the timing of its appearance was impeccable. Some are proverbs, while others are writings by famous poets and authors. Each tidbit is coupled with a photograph of flowers, from daisies to snapdragons and lilies.

When he gave me the book, it was at a time of my life when we both acknowledged that our relationship was not just as father and daughter. It was as adult friends, no matter the familial connection.

“We’ve gone through emotional highs and emotional lows,” read one of the sayings. “Our friendship is not threatened by either—it grows with both.” Another said, “You make me laugh, even when life is far from funny.” Another gem went thus: “Friendship lies on a long continuum of intensity.”

I’m sure my dad would be glad to know that I’m still savoring his little gift, and that its messages bring positive thoughts even though he’s been gone for so long. He’d be equally pleased that his flowers are still blooming every spring; a living extension of his desire to promote beauty in his family’s world.

I hope all of you dads out there had a good Father’s Day. By virtue of Sam’s flowers, and the little book he gave me, I felt as though I spent some special time with him. “If, instead of a gem or even a flower, we would cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as angels give,” said one quote. I’ll hang onto that thought, and know that his friendship is still felt, even in absentia.