Tuesday, 23 July 2013

At the Wayside


Britta Hill

I found a little present at the wayside. Husband also, another one. At our evening stroll we passed a heap of large trash. An old wardrobe, a few cheerless empty drawers, two big blue bin bags, one of them already torn open – and a cardbox with books.
When Husband sees books nothing can stop him. He climbed down the rampart to join another couple that already rummaged busily through the books. I stood in loftily distance on the rampart. But when Husband merrily waved a thick volume about “Women at Goethe’s Time”, I faltered. Curiosity won and I climbed down, wondering why they hadn't given these book to a jumble sale?
And then I became a bit melancholy, because these were evidently the last remaining possessions of a deaconess. It is not much that we leave behind when we go forever… 
When my glance fell on a small volume with white-green stripes and I saw the first part of the title, “Flowers”, that was enough to turn me into a hunter too. I reached out for the small Inselb├Ąndchen, No 281. Inside stood a name and a date, “Strasbourg, June 6, 1941”. Apparently a relative had ripped out the adornment page with a dedication – but otherwise it was as good as new. Inside were quite delicate drawings of  a whole year of wildflowers – snowdrops, daisies, anemones, march violets and others. Drawn very naturalistic, yet representing the style of its origin period, theThirties. Beneath its title “The Little Flower Book” was proudly typed: “In many colours”. And down to the present day the colours are as fresh as morning dew. They were used sparingly, yet expressive. Two sorts of green for the stem and leaves of a marguerite, and the petals not just white but shaded delicately by soft blue.
Some little flowers I welcomed like dear old acquaintances: the pink Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) that I loved so much as a child! (At the same time shuddering when “spit of cuckoo” stuck on it – which is the foam wrapper of a little cicada).
Most of those flowers I still know from growing wild in nature - then, but I can't show them to son...  
But lately one can find again some of the field-flowers at the edges of wheatfields: thick rows of corn poppy, and crown-of-the field (Agrostemma githado), and cornflowers, too. Which makes me very happy – though formerly the farmers hated it. The field-flowers belonged to the “Schabab” – the ‘herbs in a basket’ – and to these three (German) K’s (Klatschmohn, Kornrade and Kornblume) was added the chicory, common yarrow, ragwort and drug eyebright too. When a young man got these herbs from his Adored, he knew that he was rejected (in Germany we say: “To give someone a basket” if we refuse to see him).
Superstition warns not to bring cornflowers (accused to make bread mouldy) nor crowns-of-the-field (make the roof struck by lightning) into the house, and no Englishman will bring hawthorn over his threshold. A colleague put the fear of God into me when she explained that the little bunch of heather I had brought into our flat would bring us early death.
But that was many, many years ago, and nothing happened, Thank God!
But then: one day Death will come, after all, and then such a flower book lies at the wayside.
                                            And delights somebody else







Thursday, 4 July 2013

Chance and Flower sellers




Chances and flower sellers

At our farmer’s market we have two flower stalls, and one of them had cosmos for bedding out. Really beautiful high plants, with vigorous stems. The colour of the stem tells you which colour the blossoms will be: dark red have a much darker red stem than pink ones, and the stems of the whites are just green. And so I snapped the chance and bought 30 plants, although I carried already quite a lot of shopping. But I have learned this in the years of gardening: when the opportunity arises, one has to clasp it, no matter how packed one is. This is true for everyday life, too, you can’t say: “Luck, today doesn’t suit me, I have already so much to carry – please come again next week, on Thursday, at about 12:15 pm, then it will be more convenient for me.” Then luck will walk away and knock at another door.
The other flower stall I passed by quickly, because I have an unexpressed problem with the flower seller.
First I bought a lot from her, because her perennials come out of her private garden and so are from local soil. I was a garden greenhorn then – and at that time she gave me the advice, neither to fertilize nor to water - that would only pamper and wet-nurse the plants. I thought: “Wow, that sounds nice – then I have a lot less to do.”
But in the course of time I realized that the roses sometimes need a little fertilizer although our earth is rich, the lilies, too – and when once in a blue moon the sun shines four weeks without end one has to water too.
Well, and that flower seller, whose garden must be a wasteland by now, demands for her nameless perennials a lot of money. “45 Euro I must have for that peony”, she says for example with slightly pursed lips. Always it is: “I must have”, as if a Supreme Being dictates her the price. (But a number of the hardened delphiniums I bought from her made an ascension to heaven in the same way as the so-called weaklings of the commercial trader did).
Because for a while I have been such a good customer she now looks at me expectantly when I come to the farmer’s market, and that gnaws at my conscience, and I feel as Doctor Vaes’ wife in Timmermann’s novel “St. Nicholas in Trouble” might have felt, when she didn’t buy the luxurious chocolate ship “The Congo” but only two gingerbread cocks on a stick – “and then long time no see” …
I too rush past the flower-seller to the unemotional ‘commercial’ trader, who sells me hardened plants for a fair prices.
And the flower seller follows me with her eyes like Timmermann's Trinchen Mutzer, “whose heart had fallen into a thornbush”…