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Look into the heart of a flower

Garden Muse

Autumn is a more leisurely time in the garden, especially when I stop to really look at the flowers that remain. Fewer are in bloom, so I appreciate each one more now.

Just the other day, I stopped for a closer look at 'Rozanne' geranium. I love this perennial so much I have at least a dozen planted here and there in the garden. Starting in spring with a crown of leaves, by summer and continuing into fall, 'Rozanne' spreads her full skirt of blue-violet flowers all around the base of roses, between hostas and below bronze ninebarks. She billows at the feet of daylilies, in the summer complementing their red, yellow and peach flowers, and now covering up their foliage that's going dormant.

Although it's the large effect - the froth of blue - that's so pleasing, at the same time each small flower is a work of art. Take a careful look close up and you'll see a rounded blossom with five overlapping petals, in a shade of bright blue-violet. At the center is a palest pink circle, with finely etched burgundy whiskers. A cluster of black stamens is the finishing garnish. Who dreamt this up?

'Red Shift' coreopsis is just as charming. Again, the overall impression is a drift of yellow daisies with touches of red. But up close, you will see how each petal looks as if it's been cut at the edges with pinking shears. Yellow at the tips, wine red toward the center, with flecks of paler red in between, 'Red Shift' is finished off with a darker yellow cushion at its heart.

Then there's 'Monarch Velvet' potentilla, a perennial well worth seeking out. Never mind that it blooms all summer in a rich red, or that the plant keeps sending forth flowering stems well into autumn. What makes it magical is the unique shade of red. Only if you stop to really observe will you notice that the petals are brighter red at the edges, turning darker red toward the center. Well named, the flower has the texture of velvet. Each little petal is shaped like a heart.

Scarlet river lily (Schizostylis coccinea) is yet another fall surprise that deserves a closer look. This grassy perennial comes to life starting in August, when the flowering stems begin to bloom from the bottom up, often continuing through Thanksgiving. The wide open flowers have six petals with the texture and sheen of satin. Mine are coral and pink; you can find red and white forms too.

I appreciate the wonder of flowers most of all when the first hellebores bloom in winter. After a time of absence during the bleak gray days of December and January, the return of color is especially thrilling. My gratitude for any flowers remaining increases in the fall too, as they become scarcer each day.

Every new year, I must have a Georgia O'Keefe calendar for my office wall, to keep flowers near me at all times. Her amazement for flowers glows from her canvases. It seems that she painted the energy at the heart of flowers. A photograph of O'Keefe is pinned up on my wall together with her immortal words:

'Nobody sees a flower, really - it is so small - we haven't time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.'

Poet Mary Oliver also cherishes solitude, for in slowing down, quietly alone, she witnesses the beauty in flowers, wild beings, even insects. Her poems reflect those moments of discovery, when what is all around us all the time, perhaps unnoticed, suddenly becomes radiant. Both O'Keefe and Oliver bring us closer to the heart of a flower, to the sacred aspect of 'ordinary' plants and creatures.

I can get so entangled in the competitive aspect of gardening - is mine good enough, how will I ever get it just right, when will I finally pull it all together? But when I remember to look into the heart of a flower, I feel so much more satisfied! When I pay attention to even the tiny flowers of Abelia chinensis, white and pink, yet emitting a heavenly sweet perfume so late in the year, happiness slips over my shoulders like a silk shawl.

It's up to us how we see our flowers and how we perceive our gardens. I hope you'll take the time to look into the heart of your flowers and find the pleasure waiting for you there.