Monday, April 2, 2012


   Despite soft April rains, flowers aren't what they used to be. In former times, anywhere from fifty to sixty years ago, when you bought florist blossoms, you could count on a recognizable perfume coming from each species and variety. And additionally, these flowers lasted a very long time. Onward from the 1970's, flower growers began to genetically tinker with the natural beauty in attempting to make the blossoms bigger with more stark and/or unnatural colors. As it is today, the species in each variety sold are indeed big, but their aromatic history is all but erased. Worse still, they don't hold up as they should.

   Daffodils in former days would last well over a week in a water-filled vase. Today, the daffodils which you pick up at any flower display, wither and wilt in about three days. Better instead, why not use your garden space, plant your own bulbs and reap your own harvest? Hard to imagine that daffodils of days gone by had a very strong, pleasant and bees-wax perfume to them. About the only flowers sold over the counter today that have an aroma worth taking in are hyacinths and Easter lilies.

   A church filled with flowers for weddings and funerals before the 1960's would leave their scented calling cards for days on end. Any of you older than 60 will certainly remember the sweet smell of carnations, the rich perfume of roses, and the overwhelming aroma of gardenias. Today, a room full of floral arrangements give off little to no scent whatsoever.

   Old New England dooryards are still full of the "tried-and-true" naturals. Lilac bushes, Lily of the Valley patches, a bed of double-Narcissus as well as downeast's own "Rosa Rugosa" and the Balm of Gilead trees and their budding waxy, sticky leaves filling the air with sweet scents. Come apple blossom time, from old homestead apple trees, we can still experience the wafting over the yard with the most pleasant perfumes. Even the ubiquitous alder bushes, when their catkins are dangling in the breeze, give off a sweet smell. Or how can anyone wish for a more pleasant scent than thick green woods full of balsam fir. Oh heck, even spruce gum has a very good smell to it.

   One favorite here in Little Machias district of Cutler is the multi-petal, bright-red "Rosa Rugosa" bushes which old-timers had in their dooryards. These will begin to flower, here on the coast, from early July until September if you keep pruning the flowers by collecting them for the kitchen table. The single-petal Rosa Rugosa, common all over Maine, will blossom in the colors of deep red, red, pink and white.

   The common small wild roses also are an aroma-laden gift of nature, but when you pick the closed buds and place in water indoors, they'll last only one or two days before the aromatic petals open then fall off.

   The natural flora of Maine, even if each variety has little or no aroma are still my personal favorites; and they remind New Englanders that they're living in a downeast paradise. These are: the mildly sweet orchid "Lady-slipper," or the Woods Violet. Deep in the backwoods of Little Machias is an ancient lake-bed, which is now a sphagnum moss heath; and therein grows the "Pitcher Plant" which is a carnivorous beauty; and also the rare cloudberry or "baked-apple-pie berry" On a smaller scale we often see the truly minuscule, red-budded lichen that grows on decaying wood or old cedar shingles; and how can anyone not mention the varied species of lichens on stone or the hanging/dangling moss which clings to black spruce up and down the spruce-clad coast of Maine.

   Other downeast favorites include: the purple, white and pink lupines growing along roadsides in summer; along with wild daisies, followed by fall's wild asters.

   Fireweed is another spectacular wildflower here in eastern Maine. Banks of these sparkling spikes decorate dry and otherwise parched 'useless' soils. Friends in Alaska tell us that fireweed grows and blossoms well in the the Land of the Midnight Sun, a.k.a. The Last Frontier; and Seward's Folly.

   Last but not least in the quest for memorable Maine blossoms; one can always find around old cellar holes from former homesteads -- besides lilac bushes and Rosa Rugosa -- is none other than the white and mystical Pearly Everlasting remnant patches. These seem to stand out during August as a sort of white mini-prelude to tufts of snow, come winter.

   Nonetheless, April showers do bring flowers; and hope springs eternal.

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