This morning the dining room table sports a jar spilling over with sprays of lady’s mantle, purple clover, sunset-orange hawkweed, and a stalky yellow flower I cannot name. The mantel over the hearth holds a tall vase with a single winding shoot of baptisia, long and purple and complemented by three wide hosta leaves. A stunningly fuscia peony blossom, large as my outspread hand and rescued the other day from a deluge of rain, rises from an antique milk bottle in the living room window.
We rarely have cut flowers in the house during the cold months, only in the brief season we can pick them ourselves. So summer seems an extravagance of living colors and vibrant life, inside the house and out.
It all starts with the apple blossoms in May, when cold and snow are barely a memory. Not long after the leaves have unfolded, we watch the small flower buds swell, compact clusters full of promise, some pure white, others tinged in pink. One day, when the conditions are just right – warm enough, but not too warm, sunny, but not too dry – the old orchard is suddenly abloom, filling the back field with puffy, tree-born clouds of flowers. White as snow, abuzz with busy bees, heavy with the sweetly intoxicating scent of spring.
The lilacs are next, their emergence overlapping briefly with the apple blossoms’, their fragrance taking up the mantle from the apple trees, their purple bursts the first big color of spring. By lilac time, of course, the crocuses and daffodils are also blooming. These smaller flowers, the year’s earliest, are lovely and welcome, but not so big as the lilacs, not so fragrant as the apple blossoms, not so ostentatious in their opening. They’re more a cheerful whisper of the coming season than the actual bursting forth of summer.
The hues become bolder as spring pushes bravely ahead to summer. To black flies and mosquitoes, muggy afternoons, the magic of fireflies blinking through nighttime fields, and a billowing swell of color and fragrance. Now, just past solstice, seems the biggest, brightest show of the season around our home.
The lupines have been prolific this year, turning the fields into a sea of purples, undulating in waves of various shades toward the mountains. Lovely as they are, the lupines’ subtly musty scent sends me into fits of sneezing. Their many-flowered stalks are just starting to go to seed now, as the garden is bursting into its height of color.
A few flag irises linger along the wall at the back of the perennial bed, bright indigo against the gray stones. The Stella D’Oro lilies are opening in myriad pops of sunshine yellow. The feathery spikes of astilbe are just starting to show pale pink along the garden’s front edge. A host of tall, orange lilies, transplanted two years ago, rises along the west wall of the house, their long flower buds ready to open just outside the windows.
And the roses are blooming. The roses are my favorite, always have been. The house where I grew up had a long row of rose bushes at one edge of the yard. From my bedroom window I could see them and smell their heady aroma. They were true roses in various hues, not like the ones we have now, which are of a wilder variety. I cannot pass a cluster of roses without stopping to smell them. Such intoxicating perfume.
When we bought this house, there was an unruly swath of rosa rugosa – known commonly as beach roses, although we are more than a hundred miles from the nearest ocean – growing along the driveway and around the back of the perennial garden. We uprooted the bushes behind the garden as we transformed the untamed field beyond into what now passes for a lawn, and the family soccer field.
But we kept a thick row of not-too-wild roses along the curve of the driveway. The bushes are nearly as tall as I am and probably five feet across. Song birds flit in and out of their dense, thorny tangle throughout the year, and we sometimes find nests within when the foliage has gone in the fall.
The roses have been blooming the last few weeks, hot pink with golden centers. Their scent is like summer embodied: both sweet and spicy, like warmth and sugar, delicate strength and powerful beauty wrapped up together in a perfect, vibrant package. That scent wafts through the summer air, greeting us as we approach home, finding us as we work and play in the yard, floating up to my bedroom window just as the aroma of those other, more cultivated roses did when I was a girl, embracing me in summer’s full bloom.