Flowers On The Run – A Perennial Bed


The speed limit was forty-five and Mary ignored it, willing the engine faster as the wind rushed through the open car window, streaming her tears. She was speeding away on the back roads of Fendal County, running from an argument with her husband Bill, and racing in search of peace.

Three miles out of Alton, her feet slammed on the brakes and she skidded to the shoulder alongside flash of color and heavenly perfume—a roadside flowerbed. It hit her like a head-on. She jumped out and slammed the door. Purple iris and deep pink peonies bloomed. Poppies, with fuzzy, bent-head buds, were ready to burst their splashes of red. The terraced hillside, bordered by river rock, was more shades of green than color. Tall, spiked yucca leaves pointed skyward from the lower patch, while a low-growing ground phlox spread patches of pink and lavender throughout its new growth across the top. Here and there, tall Johnson grass and chickweed sprouted. Mary had a sudden impulse to kneel there at the side of the road and pull weeds. It surprised her. She wasn’t a gardener, but there was a gardener in her family.

Her grandmother tended a perennial garden (that grew every year). Mary always thought the old woman’s toil was wasted for only little bits of color throughout the summer. Her grandma spent hours weeding, pruning, thinning, digging and transplanting roots, shoots, tubers, and little scraps of green. Her slight form, draped in a house dress, bent over her progeny. She knew every one by name, which came from bad seed and which from good. Her apron pocket collected seeds; her straw hat protected her from freckles.

Mary’s grandmother didn’t have a driver’s license, so when the old woman and her husband had words, Mary’s grandpa took to his truck and went fishing. Her grandma grabbed a hat and fled to her flowers. She knelt there bare-handed, wielding a trowel, tearing at weeds, turning soil.

Mary took her camera from her purse and examined the garden. Lifting the camera to her eye, she snapped pictures of the flowers—peonies, a pink rose and a mock orange—and a carpet of violets that bloomed at her feet. Then she sprawled on the ground, eye level with the flowers, and snapped away, imagining herself lost amongst the purple.

“You alright young lady?” a shaky voice asked from above Mary’s prone form.

She turned her head in the direction of the voice and saw a pair of legs wrapped in cotton stockings. The sun was setting and as she followed the legs upward. Mary shielded her eyes from the glare. It was an old lady. She wore a snap up-duster printed with a profusion of hydrangea blossoms.

“Oh,” Mary said. “I’m fine. I just saw your garden and couldn’t help myself. I had to stop and take some pictures.”

“I thought something had happened to you. First the car stopped and then you was out here laying on the ground. Scared me. I called to Harold and told him to come quick.”

“I’m sorry I frightened you. I should have come to your door and asked permission.”

“Oh, it’s OK. Got our hearts going good though, didn’t it honey?” the old woman said.

“Sure did,” a gruff voice said from behind her.

Mary pushed herself up from the ground and held out her hand to the woman. “My name’s Mary. I live not too far away.”

“I’m Ruby, and this here’s Harold.”

Mary shook both their hands and then turned her attention back to the flower bed. “Your flowers are lovely. It takes a lot of hard work.”

“Labor of love,” Ruby said.

“I think she loves these bloomers better than she loves me,” Harold said, smiling.

“Now, you know that you spend as much time in that vegetable garden of yours as I do in my flowers,” Ruby countered.

“Guess she’s right,” he said. “I won’t argue anyway. No use, she always wins.”

Ruby beamed at him. “And don’t you forget it,” she said, reaching up to pat his cheek a little bit harder than she needed to.

The two of them walked with Mary around the plants, talking about this one or that, and who gave them the shoots or the bulbs, how they’d pilfered slips off of flowers that they saw on the side of the road, somewhere on a trip. They told Mary how they’d rooted plants in soda bottles, and collected heirloom seeds. Harold remembered how much he paid for the “Ruby Rose” he gave his wife on her birthday.

“Paid double because I wanted the one with her name on it.”

“Prettiest rose you ever saw too, ain’t it?” she added.

“My grandma had a garden like this,” Mary said.

“You grow flowers?” Ruby asked her.

Mary didn’t offer that gardening had always seemed like too much work. She didn’t have the heart. “I have a few,” she said.

“Well, let’s just fix that,” Ruby said with a smile. “Harold, go to the shed and get one of those boxes with the peat pots in it. Let’s fix this girl up.”

“Oh no, please don’t go to that trouble. I was just admiring…”

“Nonsense girl, no trouble at all. I’m tickled you thought they were pretty enough to stop with your camera. Now let’s see what you’re gonna need.”

Harold came back with a box of little black seed pots and some soda bottles of water. Ruby picked and plucked, uprooted and planted shoots. She snipped pieces to put in water to root. Mary went back to the car and took a piece of paper from her purse to write the names of her new charges: lily of the valley, hosta, coreopsis, ground phlox, tall phlox, coneflower, and catmint.

Harold opened a brown paper bag and held it out to Mary. She peered inside and he explained, “Now there’s some peonies, daffodil, crocus and daylily bulbs in there. They’re all mixed up together, but you can sort ‘em by size and shape. Don’t take a gardener to tell the difference. There’s also a little bag of poppy, black-eyed Susan, and daisy seeds.”

As Mary loaded her new garden into the backseat of the car, she thanked Ruby and Harold for being so kind and generous.

“We’re happy to do it,” Harold said. “You just make sure the next time you stop to admire somebody’s garden, you warn ‘em first and don’t give old people like us heart attacks.”

Mary drooped her head and flashed back to her reason for stopping.

“I’m so sorry I scared you,” she said. “I’ll be sure to warn the next couple.”

“Good girl,” Harold said.

“You take some pictures when you get these started now,” Ruby said. “Then stop back by and visit us.”

Mary assured them she would, waved, then turned the car around and headed home with an odd sense of purpose. She drove back doing the speed limit.

As she pulled into the driveway, her cell phone rang. It was Bill.

“How does fresh trout sound for supper?” He asked with a hint of apology in his voice.

“That sounds good,” Mary answered in a brighter tone. “I’ll grill them.”

“No, no, I’ll do it,” Bill insisted.

“You’ll be too busy,” Mary cut in, “tilling my flower garden.”

“Your flower garden?” Bill asked.

“Did I ever tell you about my Grandma’s perennial bed?” Mary asked.


Image © 2011 Sarah Scott. Visit Sarah’s picturebook.

Flowers On The Run – A Perennial Bed © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. Read M Dawn’s latest on

© 2011 M Da
2 Responses to “Flowers On The Run – A Perennial Bed”
  1. Gaboo says:

    Serendipity strikes with the blinding force of an unfolding petal. I figure the human body was designed to garden and forage, before anything else. Toes, ankles, knees, digestion, reach, jaw, teeth, back, cupping hands and plucking fingerprints. When people find their way back to the ancient art of garden, peace shall again reign.

    Find your Eden. Thanks for the tale, M Dawn. Real. g

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