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I've written about my neighbor, Howard, before. He and his wife lived across the street from me back when I had a house with a white picket fence. They had moved into the neighborhood the year I was born. I moved there thirty-one years later, with a husband and an about-to-be born daughter.
Our house was one that was set back on the property, so we had a front and back yard. Whoever had lived there before had planted lots of flowers and shrubs, and trees. I hadn't gardened much before that house. I was really good at houseplants, having lived in the Seventies (remember Rhoda's apartment when she had her own show--the one with Joe? That was me, with my zillions of houseplants in macrame hanging do-dads). But outdoor plants were never my interest. I had a crush once on a botanist graduate student at UC Irvine. Suddenly I learned flowers and plants (and everything) had a formal name, a genus and a species, and must adhere to some code of nomenclature. Really, getting flowers from a graduate student botanist is something to be experienced....But I digress...
So, the botanist pretty much took away my flower interest. Until I had my own house. And it was Spring 1984. The weather that year had been unusual, with little rain and very unseasonably warm days. So when March rolled around, these beautiful flowers popped up out of the ground a little earlier than normal, I discovered the following year. They were tall and skinny, with green stalks and what looked like a bud on the top. I was thrilled with them just like that. But the next day, they opened up with beautiful dark blue flowers, so blue they were almost purple. One part hung down, sort of like a lip. I had no idea what they were!
There were so many of them, I decided to cut them for my table. I fully expected them to be like my houseplants. When you cut a houseplant, it is good for them, renews their growth energy and new leaves spring forth!
Howard was out in his yard and walked over, with his shovel in hand. He came up to the fence, pushed his broad brimmed hat back, and leaned on his shovel.
"You know those are bulbs, right?" he asked.
Hmmmm. Apparently, I came to learn, bulbs are a one time deal. The ones in my vase would be the only ones I'd see until next year, Howard explained to me.
As the years went by at that house, I learned how to divide the Iris bulbs to get more flowers. I learned how to plant them with time gaps in between plantings so I could cut some for the table and still have some in the garden. I learned their botanical name, just as a homage to my former botany sweetie.
Sometimes you learn best by mistakes.