Tag Archives: lindens

Can a flower speak to you?

I think it’s possible.

Standing in Floral Park, Queens, under the canopy of Lady Linden, I’m distracted by the  perfume in the air.

It takes something to be distracted in the shade of a linden, especially at this time of year, when the heart-shaped leaves (cordate, if you want the technical term) have materialized and you can see the lighter colored bracts hanging all over the trees like golden tickets out of Willie Wonka. Few seem to agree about the purpose of the mysterious linden bracts, which are actually a kind of specialized leaf. Do they exist to channel rainwater away from delicate buds and flowers, do they attract bees, are they some kind of wing to carry seeds away?

Lindens are magical — in ancient mythology, tilia symbolizes faithful love, and is more currently believed to neutralize negative energy. The edible flower is a sedative. Its fragrance is also seductive, but flowers here haven’t yet bloomed… so what smells so good on the streets of Queens? It could be the curry cooking in someone’s house, as I watch the Sikhs go about their business.

Yes, here there are plenty of Norway maples and honey locusts—weed trees — and pin oaks (no tree looks lovelier silhouetted against the sky).

Even some Japanese pagoda trees in these cramped New York City tree pits. Take that, Bronx Botanical Garden! Where we’re working I see a baggy, saggy old London plane, sheltering a seedling in its crook.

You might think it has seen better days, but I would assert this actually is this tree’s better day, perhaps its best, the distinguished old grandmawmaw, queen of the Queens block where Whitney Avenue meets Bryant Avenue, no doubt rooted here long before the tickytacky abodes sprung up in the neighborhood.

But what is so sweet about the air today? I looked around and then I crowdsourced some Petal Pushers I know to find out the ways in which flowers have spoken to them.

A lot of our passions seem to come down to bouquets. The yellow sweetheart roses in my wedding bouquet, a memory that blooms every time I see a yellow rosebush.

Lily of the valley, noted by one Petal Pusher as the bouquet she loved passionately but was denied when she got married because the flowers were “too fragile,” though she knew her mother had held them as a bride. Another Petal Pusher told me she was obsessed with the lilies of the valley in her yard when she was growing up, remembering leaning over them to inhale.

The lilacs by the railroad tracks one Petal Pusher used to gather for his mother: nobody cared how many I picked, he says.

I remember as a teen being so captivated by the scent of honeysuckle that I searched out the essence of honeysuckle perfume and dabbed it on, drowning pleasantly in its fragrance.

I always wanted to grow allium, the giant onion, but never have. Once upon a time, when we lived in a farmhouse in an upstate apple orchard, I used to patronize the garden of one Mrs. Yurg — she sold rose plants and day lilies, and visiting her you’d wind up chatting over a bucket of day lily plants swimming in a cold bath.

Some Petal Pushers cherish flowers that they associate with a loved one no longer with us. Trilium, for example, was the favorite of one Petal Pusher’s mother, whose passion for the wildflower was something the family would gently tease her about. White orchid, says another Petal Pusher, recalling the one that stood as a sentinel overseeing her husband’s hospital room at the end.

Flowers can speak of another time, a simpler time. Or perhaps they give a more complicated past some simplicity. The garish spectacle of tulips in a Dutch field, in the recall of someone who saw them on a teen tour of Europe. We passed fields and fields in every color of the rainbow. I swooned!

The iris farm across the street from where one Petal Pusher lived in college, into which he slipped on hands and knees so no one would see me to gather floral displays for dinner parties.Swanky!

The lotus blossom, which signifies resilience, on account of the troubled adolescents this Petal Pusher works with.

Childhood memories. Someone fancied Rose of Sharon: We would wait until a bee went deep into the flower then close it up.

Still another Petal Pusher reminisced about the wild purple lupines that grew at the edge of her grandparents’ land, and how she used to pretend I was either a Pilgrim or a Witch, and the lupines were my food or magic elixir.

I recently paid a visit to a border of peonies I walked by every June on my way to high school. Peonies, I have often thought, are the perfect flower. The ones I remembered had vanished, and I guess the new residents preferred the tired old standby, arbor vitae. Undeterred, I called upon a church where I knew they’d be on display, and I wasn’t disappointed. There they were, nodding after the rain.

And only one pink specimen in bloom, a promise of what’s to come.

Complete with a moment of inspiration.

In Queens, under the tilia, it is the rose that permeates the air, framed as it is by the chain link.

A rose is a rose is a rose – something of a misquote, in fact, from Gertrude Stein’s 1913 poem Sacred Emily.

She really said, Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, somewhat less intelligibly, referring to a person named Rose, but more the way Stein rocks it. Later, as the quote became known, she commented: Now listen! I’m no fool. I know that in daily life we don’t go around saying ‘is a … is a … is a …’ Yes, I’m no fool; but I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years.

The point about roses is it doesn’t matter the location, they’re always superb. Yes, as I said, yellow sweetheart roses. But even the delicate pink but somewhat frowzy ones shine against the vinyl siding in Floral Park.

It can’t only be the roses. Is it the clover? Crush one between your fingers and it releases the scent of honey.  A whole yard of clover – why does anyone plant turfgrass?

They are truly bellyflowers, the term another Petal Pusher shared that is used by wildflower fanciers to denote blossoms you have to get down low to see, preferably with a jeweler’s loupe. Don’t possess a loupe? No time like the present.

Another flower lover prefers the gigantic fleshy flowers, like the okra blossom she grows on her deck.

Remember flower power? Such a cool expression. Coined in 1965 by American poetry icon Allen Ginsburg and inspiring countless daisy head garlands, not to mention the practice of inserting daisies into the snouts of National Guardsmen’s weapons.

Generations later, powerful flowers survive in Queens, between the curry and the bracts.

They do speak to those who listen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman