For the Love of Zinnias: Gardening, Heirloom Seeds, and a Tribute to the Dads in My Life

Note: I wrote this essay about the dads in my life a few years ago, after listening to a radio program about the struggling D. Landreth Seed Company. I’m happy to report it is still in business. Check out and “like” their Facebook page —–it will be like getting a delivery of fresh flowers on a daily basis. I highly recommend it!

I’m not the gardener in my family. That honor goes to my husband.

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Just love this guy . . . and those shoes!

While he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he was born with a green thumb. His father had a wonderful store on the main street of a college town that sold fresh fruit, homemade muffins, cold drinks and the daily New York Times, among other things. It also had buckets of fresh cut flowers for sale outside the entrance, just like a sidewalk market in a quaint european town.

Before his dad knew that he would pass away from cancer at too young an age, he designed and planted a beautiful contemplative garden in the courtyard of a local hospice. He knew the healing power of flowers.

I know my husband’s three sisters were gifted with green thumbs too. Each spring I watch them fighting it out on Facebook, posting the latest and greatest pictures of flowers flowing out of their gardens into gigantic vases on their kitchen tables—-bushy blooms of purple lilacs, buttery yellow cups foraged from behind the house, and other magnificent flowers I could only name if I looked them up on the internet. Even in the context of social media, I get a warm feeling and a smile on my face following this dance of the dueling daisies.

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What did I tell you? Amazing!

As I mentioned earlier though, talent of the gardening sort, did not stop with the women in the family. Recently, I came through our backyard gate and rounded the corner of the house. I immediately noticed my husband had taken his pre-season trip to local garden store.

Sitting on the side of the pathway was a wagon piled high with bags of top quality garden soil. Just beyond that were beautifully fragrant sage bushes I could smell even before I got within sniffing distance. Beyond those, two dwarf sized citrus trees—-one orange and one lemon. Seed packets fanned out on the porch table—-seeds for parsley, cherry tomatoes, and butter soft lettuces that would find their way into our salad bowl in just a few short weeks. And at the end of this trail of overindulgence (if there is such a thing when you’re dealing with a gardening fanatic), was something that made me smile.

Zinnias.

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Shopping accident at the local garden store!

Lining the edge of the patio, waiting to be replanted in the colorful pots we brought home from Mexico years ago, were zinnias in every zany color of some weird psychedelic rainbow; brilliant yellows, pinks, purples, and reds. This annual gift of love from my husband has become a sort of unspoken validation of the connection we’ve shared for over twenty years.

My husband knows how much I love this robust and brightly-colored flower, and he makes sure that they find their way into our garden each year. When I look at their amazing blooms with hundreds of spiraling petals, I see that soft spot in his heart he shares more easily by planting flowers or doing dinner dishes late into the evening, than gazing longingly into my eyes during a candle-lit dinner for two.

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Lunch break.

But my love affair with zinnias goes back even further than my twenty year marriage. Zinnias were one of the few plants my father was able to grow in our sun starved New Jersey backyard. My dad was definitely a gardener of the more humble sort. In fact, he never called it gardening. To him it was “yard work,” and it consisted mostly of mowing, raking and taming the wild hedge that grew around the perimeter of our yard.

But there were flowers and a few vegetables too. Impatiens on the back patio because it does really well in the shade, he used to tell me. Asparagus going to seed over by the swing set, and a row of tomato plants growing close enough to be able to call this corner of the yard a bonafide “garden.”

And always, zinnias.

I know that experts say zinnias need direct hot sun to thrive, but somehow my dad managed to farm a small plot of them in a patch of sunlight that appeared for a couple of hours each day, when the sun climbed high enough in the sky to find a small hole in the maze of tree branches that formed a rainforest like canopy over our backyard. Whenever I see zinnias, I remember the joy I felt running through the garden sprinkler or playing catch in that ragtag backyard while my dad puttered around with his rake and big pair of hedge clippers.

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“Love is all you need.”

Well, all these heart warming memories came flooding back to me the other day, while I was driving the busy California I-15 listening to talk radio. The radio host was interviewing Barbara Melera, the owner of the D. Landreth Seed Company, an heirloom seed company known as the “Oldest Seed House In America.” They were talking seeds, and gardening, and also about how there was a very real possibility that this historic company, established in 1784, could be out of business by the end of the month.

Do I really care, I thought? (Remember, I’m not the gardener in the family.) I listened as she shared the importance of preserving heirloom seeds. I thought about the debate raging over genetically-engineered plants and how we’re splicing and dicing seeds into unrecognizable species that could benefit the world’s burgeoning population, but may also cause irreparable harm to our farm and food system in the future. Yes, that concerns me.

I thought about the passion she and others share for preserving a piece of history through the maintenance of these seed lines. Yeah, my antennae was hovering a bit higher now.

But then, Ms. Melera shared a little-known fact about her company. She explained, “Many people don’t know that the very first zinnia seed was offered to the United States by the D. Landreth Seed Company back in 1798, over two hundred years ago.” Okay! Enough! You had me at “zinnia!”

I know the world is changing and sometimes small companies are unable to grow and thrive in this competitive big box culture. I’m sad that newspapers may not be around someday to read on Sunday mornings. My father wrote for a newspaper for over forty years. And I am upset that I may not be reading books with pages that turn to my grandchildren. But the threat of losing the historical path of the zinnia to some massive seed conglomerate hits me hard and deep in that space right behind the breastbone, where memories and feelings and love all live together and make this life the gift that it is.

Ms. Melera is trying to save her company one five dollar seed catalog at a time. She knows it’s a longshot, and perhaps it is. But I went online this morning to do my part. I ordered six catalogs. One for my husband, one for each of his three sisters, one for my dad, and one that I will give as a gift in memory of my father-in-law. Each of these people, in their own unique way, taught me about flower power.

And I bought zinnias.

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Yep! Olde Fashion.

I went for the “Olde Fashion” collection because, as you may have guessed, that’s sort of what I am. It also crossed my mind, that if I buy Ms. Melera’s seeds and share them with my dad, the zinnia flowers blooming in our garden, will be cousins to the one’s blooming in his, three thousand miles away. And because of that, when I feel that soft spot in my husband’s heart bursting forth from all those brilliant colors of that zany zinnia rainbow, I will also be feeling my dad’s.

 

Feel good. Be well. Meg

Zinnias have always been my favorite flower in the garden. I think because they’re so simple, and just showy enough–not overly boastful of their beauty. What’s your favorite flower and can you pinpoint why? 

. . . or try this week’s wellness prompt on your own:  

IMG_6364_2Wellness Prompt: Writing this essay led me to discover a common thread that connected the important men in my life . . . something I had never considered until I saw the story forming on the page. Why not write about the dads in your life for a few minutes and see where it takes you? Don’t be afraid if everything doesn’t come up roses. Writing can be healing too. 10-minute write . . . go!

2 Comments on “For the Love of Zinnias: Gardening, Heirloom Seeds, and a Tribute to the Dads in My Life

  1. Meg, this is an interesting post. My late French father in law had the green thumb in my family. I am also intrigued by your Wellness Feels Good philosophy and movement, so I signed on. I can tell by your photo, you are keeping fit. So glad to have connected on the Midlife Blvd.

    • Hi Pat! Yes, the Midlife Blvd. group is an amazing collection of wellness spirits to me. So glad to be connected as well. Thanks for reading and signing on–yes, I am all into taking all the struggle and negativity out of taking good care of ourselves. It has to feel good or I’m out! I look forward to getting to know you better. Thanks for the note.

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