Thursday, July 24, 2014

Flamboyant Summer

It is probably because a full one-half of the northern New England year is devoid of most color that I crave the flamboyance of summer.

From the time the last leaf blows away in mid-October until the first brave blooms poke through the cold ground in April, the landscape’s palette is constrained to dull browns, gold grays, and stark white. I love winter and snow. But by the time I turn the calendar to April’s page, when I’ve had my fill of skiing and every roar of the furnace coming to life causes me to groan inwardly, it seems impossible that the world beyond the windows will ever move from cold, bleak hues to the fullness and heat of summer colors.

I am not the only one who misses the color and rejoices at its return. Before the snow has entirely disappeared from every shady crevice in the yard, many of us are potting hardy pansies to place by the door, selecting the season’s seeds, and plotting the colors we will bring to our porches and gardens, just as soon as the sun is warm enough and the days long enough.

Several years ago, on my way to work each day, I passed a somewhat shabby house. The clapboards could have used a fresh coat of paint, and even the surrounding neighborhood seemed tired. Come summer, though, the little house came alive, its porch bursting with countless hues as flowers spilled from hanging baskets and planters on the steps, any blemishes camouflaged now by the myriad of blossoms.

So many houses, from the grandest to the humblest, are transformed by flowers in the warmest months. So many of us spend a good bit of cash and countless hours planting and weeding and looking after the plants. We tend perennial beds and marvel as the dull, tired, stick-like stalks cut down last autumn swell into voluptuous vegetation and bright blooms. We fill window boxes and porch planters and hanging baskets with color and foliage and fullness. We cut back the smiling pansies when they get too leggy and deadhead the petunias, hoping to coax them into blooming well past midsummer and toward fall.

Downtown planters cascade from light posts, overflowing with buoyant blossoms. Bridge railings are draped in flower boxes, with spikes of color reaching upward and sprays of ivy flowing down. Businesses brighten windows with lively geraniums and cheerful impatiens and trailing vines imbued with color.

At my home, the crocuses come first, then the daffodils, their bright pastels in the still-chilly air heralding the return of color. Antique lilac bushes bloom purple and sweet-smelling along the driveway in late May, preceding the pink-tinged white of apple blossoms humming with bees. The lupines arrive in June to fill the fields with purple and indigo and the occasional pink. Through the rest of the summer, wildflowers pop up among the fields’ tall grasses, some familiar, others surprising us with their blooms. Big, orange lilies grow tall outside the kitchen window, where small jars of flowers – wild and cultivated – stand through the summer above the kitchen sink.

Our front porch holds a small pot of pansies and a large planter of mixed blooms. Last year I added window boxes to the upstairs railing, filling them with vining petunias and bright snapdragons, adding a bit of color higher than any ground-dwelling plant can reach.

The perennial garden out front opens with purple, as the flag irises unfold in the early days of summer. The garden marches on to orange-yellow day lilies, wispy pink astilbes, and subtle green lady’s mantle. Later there will be gold-and-brown rudbeckia, pink sedum, and the tall, yellow, late-blooming stalks my mother calls outhouse flowers (because they grow high enough to obscure a privy).

In the heat of summer, I try to appreciate each bloom, every peony pop and burst of bee balm, the brightness of begonias and zestiness of zinnias, lacy-full globes of hydrangea and nodding sunflowers heavy with sunshine. I store some of that happy glow of color in the summer-loving corner of my soul, saving a bit of the brightness for those cold days to come, so that I can remember in the absence of color that winter’s severity will – eventually – blossom into summer’s welcome flamboyance.  

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul,posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the July 25, 2014 edition of the Littleton Record.

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