Friday, November 25, 2005

Fresh Flowers and Permission

When my son was six or seven, I went to a movie. I don’t recall what movie it was. I can’t think of who it was that I went with. I don’t remember much about it at all, except for one very small detail. The movie featured a very nice house, and in every room there were fresh flowers. I can still see them on the round, mahogany table in the dining room with the French doors.

Sometime after that movie, I found myself thinking, “One day, I’ll have fresh flowers in every room in my house.”

That thought hardly finished when the next three thoughts came flying after it. “Exactly when is someday? Aren’t you old enough already? Can’t you give yourself permission now?”

That was the day I started gardening.

“Sometimes you’re so slow,” a good friend always says. This definitely described the case here. Rather than taking up gardening when I lived in the rich, black soil of Illinois, I waited for the beige, rock-clay soil of Texas hill country. It was a great learning experience. I learned how to mix clay with sandy loam, peat moss, and humus to make black dirt like that I had left behind. I learned about bark mulch and native plants. I learned that if you put things in good soil, and care for them, sometimes nature gives you back something beautiful.

When we moved on to Massachusetts, I inherited a garden gone wild by a house on 3 acres of pine forest. It was more than a garden it was a gardener’s dream. An architect/landscaper designed it and the house that stood by it. He put it in such that wherever you stood you could see garden—part of it, but nowhere could you see all of it. It was a garden like me. It needed tending as much as I did. We blossomed together that garden and I did.

Every part of the garden had its own personality. In places, the dirt was so dry, it needed water to be dust. In places the shade kept the soil almost damp.

I got to know it one cubic yard at a time. It talked to me through my hands. I talked to it with my mind and my heart. I uncovered azalea bushes so grown over with weeds, I’m pretty sure the last owner hadn’t known they existed. The garden showed all sorts of secrets to me. I told some secrets to it.

Two truckloads of bark mulch it took to cover it once, and I did it twice every spring. Slowly the garden came back. Giant Asian lilies grew 6 feet high and bent on their stems to make giant orange fans. By the fifth year, it seemed all of the original plants had been restored, and the new ones had become established. Less and less I cut flowers to bring in the house. When I did bring them in with me, I’d spend hours arranging and re-arranging them. More and more I preferred them in their nature habitat. I’d watch them from my window. I walk through the garden and talk to them under a sunny or starry sky.

The garden was a garden again. I was fully alive. Our work on each other was done.

Shortly thereafter we moved back to Chicago—home.

I’m in the city now and my garden is like a good friend I think about. I have beautiful silk flowers in so many places here and pictures of it. I often stop in the middle of writing something, to move a tulip or a daisy to make an arrangement look whimsical. There’s a single white rose in a frosted blue vase directly in front of me. I can look at it whenever I want to rest my eyes and think.

Today has been a day of doing things other people want. I’m reminded of why I spent so much time gardening. I don’t often miss having my hands in the dirt. Writing and music offer the same touch to the universe.

Still, tomorrow I’m going to buy fresh flowers and spend the whole day arranging them.
—me strauss Letting me be


Kelley Bell said...

Have you ever read "the Secret life of Plants?"

Here is the synopsis of the book:

The Secret Life of Plants

Cleve Backster was an American expert on lie detectors. In 1966, using a lie detector, he accidentally discovered that plants have high-level emotional activities that were similar to those of human beings. He then conducted a series of studies that amazed the world.
Plants Have Feelings!

One day, Backster connected a lie detector to the leaves of a dracaena, commonly known as a “dragon tree.” He wanted to see how long it would take for the leaves to react when he poured water on the plant’s roots. In theory, a plant will increase its conductivity and decrease its resistance after it absorbs water, and the curve recorded on graph paper should have gone upward. But in actuality, the line that was drawn curved downward. When a lie detector is connected to a human body, the pen records different curves according to the changes in the person’s mood. The reaction of the dragon tree was just like the undulation of human mood swings. It seemed that it was happy when it drank water.

Plants Have ESP

Backster wanted to see if the plant would have any other reactions. According to past experience, Backster knew that a good way to elicit a strong reaction from a person is to threaten that person. So Backster dunked the leaves of the plant into hot coffee. No reaction. Then he thought of something more terrifying: burn the leaves that were connected to the lie detector. With this thought, even before he went to get a match, a bullish curve rapidly appeared on the graph paper. When he came back with a match, he saw that another peak appeared on the curve. It was likely that when the plant saw he was determined to start burning, it got frightened again. If he showed hesitation or reluctance to burn the plant, the reactions recorded by the lie detector were not so acute. And when he merely pretended to take action to burn the leaves, the plant had almost no reactions. The plant was even able to distinguish true intentions from false ones. Backster nearly rushed out into the street to shout, “Plants can think! Plants can think!” With this astonishing discovery, his life was changed forever.

Later, when Backster and his colleagues did experiments around the country with different instruments and different plants, they observed similar results. They discovered that even if leaves were picked off from a plant and cut into pieces, the same reactions were recorded when these pieces were placed near the lie detector electrodes. When a dog or an unfriendly person suddenly came in, the plant reacted too.

Plants Are Experts at Detecting Lies

Generally for experiments involving lie detectors, electrodes are connected to a suspect and then the suspect is asked meticulously designed questions. Everyone has a clear-headed side, which is usually called “conscience.” Therefore, no matter how many reasons and excuses one gives, when lying or committing a bad deed, that person knows clearly that it is a lie, a bad deed. Hence, the body’s electric field changes, and this change is what is recorded by the equipment.

Backster did an experiment in which he connected the lie detector to a plant and then asked a person some questions. As a result, Backster discovered that the plant could tell if the person was lying or not. He asked the person what year he was born in, giving him seven choices and instructing him to answer “no” to all of them, including the correct one. When the person answered “no” to the correct year, the plant reacted and a peak was drawn on the graph paper.

Dr. Aristide Esser, the director of medical research at the Rockland State hospital in New York, repeated the experiment by asking a man to incorrectly answer questions in front of a plant the man had nurtured and cared for since it was a seedling. The plant did not cover up for its owner at all. Incorrect answers were reflected on the graph paper. Esser, who had not believed Backster, saw for himself that Backster’s theories were correct.

Plants Can Recognize People

In order to test how well a plant can recognize things, Backster called on six students, blindfolded them, and asked them to draw lots from a hat. One of the choices had instructions to uproot one of the two plants in the room and destroy it by stomping on it. The “murderer” had to do the deed alone, and no one else was to know the culprit’s identity, including Backster. In that way, the remaining plant could not sense who the “killer” was from other people’s thoughts. The experiment was set up so that the plant would be the exclusive witness.

When the remaining live plant was connected to a lie detector, every student was asked to pass by it. The plant had no reactions to five students. But when the student who had committed the crime walked by, the electronic pen started drawing frantically. This reaction indicated to Backster that plants are able to remember and identify the person or thing that causes them harm.

Remote Sensitivity

Plants have close ties with their owners. For example, when Backster returned to New York from New Jersey, he found from the records on the graph paper that all his plants had reactions. He wondered if the plants were indicating that they felt “relieved” or were “welcoming” him back. He noticed that the time of the plants’ reactions was the moment when he decided to return home from New York.

Ned said...

I was going to write that I sometimes go out at lunch and buy fresh flowers to put on my desk at work. It changes the whole atmosphere. And nothing fancy, carnations will do as they will last longest, it is the color and the feeling of flowers that do it.

As to Kelley's comment: Wow! I've had cats that didn't show that much emotion when I came home. Seriously though, if plants are that sensitive then anyone who cuts flowers or picks tomatoes off a home garden plant must be on some kind of Most Wanted List.

mergrl said...

thank you for sharing that Liz (hugs) there are times when your writing just resonates with my heart. Even in the dead of winter I have fresh flowers in my house, and in the spring its back in the garden to connect with the me nature brings out.

hope you have a great day :0)

ME Strauss said...

Hi Kelley,
Wow! I didn't know any of that. Thank so much for taking the time to share it. I guess my heart suspected, but my mind couldn't see.

ME Strauss said...

I did have two birds of paradise with badges come by this morning asking about you. They wanted to know your whereabouts. I told them your blog had moved recently and I didn't know where.

ME Strauss said...

Thanks mergrl,
Once you've been close to a garden, you never lose that connection to plants. I don't think. I get hungry for their color. Humans are colorful in the way plants are.

Ned said...

Thanks for covering for me, you're a pal. I think my philodendron is stalking me though. I notice it keeps growing towards me.

ME Strauss said...

No problem, I have an in with a floosie--heart of gold--named Ginger. I'll put outside your blog. She'll distract any big sticks that come your way.

Melissa said...

The site of fresh flowers brightens my day :)

ME Strauss said...

Hi Melissa,
Yeah, fresh flowers are even more special in dreary winter times.

Trée said...

Liz, your site is the flower on my desktop and it's fresh and different everyday.

Hugs and kisses. :-)

ME Strauss said...

And you are the sweetness in my coffee, even when I'm not drinking any. :P


Doug said...

You have my permission to arrange flowers all day.

ME Strauss said...

Thanks Doug
When I finish here, I come over to your blog and arrange sone there too.

Bluesky_Liz said...

I can never do anything with plants. I don't have a garden, but I did used to try to have potted plants in the flat. However plants never last very long with me. Even the cactus died...

ME Strauss said...

Hi Liz,
It's something you have to learn about like anything else in science. There's plenty of trial and error involved and lots of work. You have to really want to do it.


allan said...

So much of our life is defined by the pleasures we find in simple things.

Your post read like an excerpt from a life well lived.



ME Strauss said...

Hi Allen,
It so good to see you here again.
I appreciate the compliment. It is a part of my life I consider lived hard, but well. Thank you for noticing. :)

dog1net said...

You bloom well with this wonderfully written essay that is both descriptive and deliberate in its intent. The description of your garden in Mass. was especially masterful and poignant.
This is one of your best yet.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Scot,
Now I know for sure, that you're into using the pun tonight. Thank you for your specific feedback. I guess I'm learning how to describe things from reading over your shoulder what you write.