Sunday, May 08, 2022

Mother's Day's Complicated History With Flowers

I was thinking, enough with the blog posts about invasive plants and weeds. Time again for some pretty flowers, especially since it's May, and Mother's Day is today. Wondering if flowers had long been part of the Mother's Day tradition, I looked up Mother's Day on wikipedia, and things got complicated fast. Though elsewhere in the world there had been Mothering Days when people were supposed to visit the Mother Church where they had been baptized, Mother's Day in the U.S. finally came into being through the initiative and persistence of Anna Jarvis. 

Following the carnage of the Civil War, and before Anna Jarvis entered the scene, there had been efforts to celebrate mothers as a force in the world for peaceful settlement of differences, but none of the events had evolved into a tradition. 

The death of Anna Jarvis's mother on the second Sunday in May, 1905, spurred Anna into action. Nine years of advocacy ultimately led to Woodrow Wilson's signature proclaiming an official Mother's Day in 1914, just in time for the outbreak of WWI several months later. Note the placement of the apostrophe. Rather than a celebration of mothers in general, Anna's vision was a very personal affair, in which people would give handwritten notes expressing gratitude for all that their own mothers had done for them. Anna distributed white carnations at the first formal Mother's Day event in 1908, but ultimately would spend the rest of her life fighting the commercialization of the day by the florist, card, and candy industries.

To honor the brave founder of the holiday, therefore, it looks like the best course of action would be to write a note of personal gratitude on something other than a Mother's Day gift card, perhaps accompanied by some flowers cut from the backyard. Lilacs, anyone? That could be followed by a stroll past some gardens with flowers in bloom.

Below are a random assortment of flowers that you might encounter, though the reader is to be discouraged from picking unless they are growing in your own yard.

A few from my own yard. This is Siberian bugloss, which is often confused with
forget-me-nots, which are paler, less robust, and have much smaller leaves.

Witch Alder (Fothergilla) is an attractive native shrub that I haven't seen growing naturally in our area but is available in nurseries.
At Herrontown Woods and other local preserves, you'll see lots of blackhaw Viburnums with lots of small disks of flowers. "Blackhaw" means black berry, which makes for a tasty treat in the fall. Flowering dogwoods, not shown, are also blooming in the woods and in people's yards now, with much larger, single flowers.
These native azaleas, nurtured in the Barden at Herrontown Woods, have probably popped open by now. An experienced gardener sees the full bloom even in partially opened flowers.
Up at the Veblen House, where the flora shift from native towards English garden, people ask what these pretty white or blue flowers are that spread across the lawn. Ajuga--a member of the mint family. Some people call it bugleweed.
Ever seen these and wondered what they were? So have I. Fritillarias have persisted in the Veblen garden from at least the 1970s, 
along with a few primrose. 

Some of these flowers may extend back to when Elizabeth Veblen was living there, pretty much on her own after Oswald died in 1960. 

In fact, there's no need for guesswork. Here's the same flower from a photo Oswald Veblen took in the 1950s.

Elizabeth had no children, but is best known for giving birth to the tradition of tea at the Institute for Advanced Study, and left her house and garden to the public trust. Her nickname was May. She and her husband gave us the month of May in Herrontown Woods--a beautiful thing--and all the other months as well. Our letters of thanks take many forms, including cutting back invasive shrubs and pulling weeds so these flowers can flourish once again. 

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