Friday, July 01, 2011
Measured in Roses
Mimosa, Hibiscus, Bougainvillea. The language of love. The language of sex. Of unfolding petals, of pistons and stamens and pollination. The language of life. Of beauty and art, of birth and death. Plant 12 inches apart. At least six hours of direct sun. Water regularly. Good drainage. Life can be measured in flowers. First marriage, Freesia. I once lived with a woman who was like one of those rare species that produces a single bloom in a year. Felt like an eternity! I learned that I like a woman who shows up everyday, like a pot of Geraniums! And I married her!
Shaker Heights. I was three and looking from the window of my baby blue bedroom. Steven our handyman’s bloodied body lay in the Hydrangea bushes down below as figures cut towards him across the lawn. A ruby red flashed and whirled in the failing light. At seven I was walking barefoot down a stoney road on the cliff of a Greek island with an Easter Lily in my hand and three small and ancient women in black crossed themselves as we passed. My mother explained that it was the flower of death. Waxy and almost fake in its perfection, I never thought of it as a flower again. More a trumpet of doom. At ten I sat with the Azaleas on the Spanish Steps while my mother cashed an alimony check at the American Express. We lived nearby on Via Margutta. The Oleander’s had flowers like little helicopters and my sister and I would launch them from our terrace.
Cut flowers. Roses. Cut the stems at an angle under water. Immerse them in cold water over night and they will last forever. Some people put them in their refrigerator when they go to bed. Same thing. They look good at every phase. From small and closed to past their glory and dried up. We had apricot colored ones above our bed when Stacey’s water broke at three in the morning. She did not scream “911!” but called the midwife and got out a shower curtain and placed it on our bed. I washed my hands about five times. The midwife never showed. Little Ecco was born quietly while her three brothers slept in their rooms. I always have plenty of cut flowers. My one vice. I’ve tried growing roses for cutting but can’t take them from the bush.
When I was a young painter in New York I would regularly buy a half dozen or so roses from the buckets of street vendors and deliver them individually to my favorite people and girlfriends. It is an amazing thing to see someone’s face light up on the other end of a rose. I let them think they were the only ones. A harmless lie I thought at the time but my conscience told me otherwise. The language of deception. Title of first solo show in New York: Flowerheads.
Outside my living room window a Witch Hazel bush lives a mostly uneventful year. Then, as early as February, when color is all but forgotten and I have lost every hope that winter won’t last forever, it performs its brave magic: an amazing feat of delicate yellow blossoms that announce that commencement is at hand. Then Pansies and Primrose show up at nurseries and impatiently start the spring; they stand up to the snow and cold when the change of season is stubborn. Then the wait for Crocuses, Daffodils and Tulips begins. Forsythia! I’m pretty sure I could live inside the blossom of a Silver Magnolia. Lilacs make me savor their moment every year. Dogwoods are synonymous with deer and bring me peace.
Impatiens work their butts off in the shade all summer and build a dome of blossoms well into the fall. Petunias cascade their velvet trumpets. Begonias are as varied as cuttlefish. Geraniums can stand the heat and go for a long time without water. Electric against the green. Cut them down and take them inside for the winter. There are no pedestrian flowers. Every flowers is special, every flower awaits us. Weeds flower beautifully. Wild flowers are free. Even the dreaded Garlic Mustard looks quite charming.
When I don’t feel well I see my garden inside myself and let the sun shine on it. I breathe it all in. The bees and the rabbits and the birds and butterflies join the Day Lilies and Delphinium and other flowers, and I feel better. Works every time. Flowers are the language of color. Having a flower garden is a vital luxury that strikes many people as a waste of space and water. Why not vegetables instead? With my gardens I can make paintings with living plants. Blues, yellows, oranges, reds, and violets; infinite color abounds. The energy of each feeds whatever that is inside me, be it soul and/or spirit. After my mother died, Stacey and I spread some of her ashes at the base of a Bougainvillea high up overlooking a bay on the island of St. Lucia. Her kind of flower, her kind of place.
Daisies and Black-eyed Susans bring me down to earth; they are so conversant in the language of sunshine. Morning Glories are just that. But go indoors and Japanese Peace Lilies are as advertised. Christmas Cactus gift us winter cheer. Paper Whites do the same and bring a thick perfume. They all sing to us. Sun Flowers, Orchids, Violets, Iris, Bleeding Hearts, Peonies! I love Peonies! So many kinds of flowers, all over the world, every day of the year!
I don’t do community work anymore. I gave at the office. What I do instead is plant flowers by the road for people who walk or bike or drive by. It is what I give. The cause-minded friends I have laugh. They say Addison thinks flowers make a difference. I do.
Addison Parks. Married. Father of four. Painter. Shows with Andrew Crispo, Joan Washburn, Nielsen, Creiger/Dane, DNA. Past lives include muralist(NYC, PS1MoMA, London, Rome); art teacher(RISD, Putney, Suffolk),art critic(ARTS Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Arts Media, Provincetown Arts, Stuff), curator, gallery owner/director, art trucker, preparator, etc.
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