Sunday, March 30, 2008

Broccoli's yellow flowers work well in bouquets

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel March 30, 2008)

My daughter, who lives a couple of towns away, popped in to visit the other day. I knew she was coming, but even if I hadn't, I would have known she'd been here. When I walked into the kitchen, a freshly picked bouquet of flowers caught my eye. That's Amber's calling card, a physical expression of her personality and priorities.

It's interesting to watch your children grow up and display some of the same traits as adults that they had as children. Amber has always been a picker. When she was a toddler, I kept a large box filled with broken crayons just for her to play with. Though she drew with them, too, that wasn't their main purpose. What Amber liked best was to meticulously pick away at each crayon's paper wrapper. If I needed a break, I knew I could get it by placing the crayon box in front of my daughter. While Amber contentedly denuded a rainbow of colors, I could prepare a meal, talk on the phone or just sit and rest without interruption.

Outside, she displayed the same kind of single-minded intensity. Whether directed toward the search for four-leaf clovers (she found many) or the careful construction of dandelion crowns and daisy chains, her interactions with nature always resulted in personalized creations.

There was a period during her 'tweens when special attention was given to the gathering and weaving of plant fibers. By then, we'd moved from Cape Cod to Florida and Amber had discovered how easily palmetto fronds and cattail leaves could be woven into place mats, coasters and hats. A few days ago, I uncovered one of those coasters in the back of a kitchen drawer. Although at least 18 years old, the square mat of dried reed was just as beautiful and functional as when it was woven together by Amber's small but nimble 10-year-old hands. Rather than place it back in the drawer, I kept the coaster out on the counter.

Daisy chains, four-leaf clovers and woven fibers were passing fancies of Amber's youth, but bouquets have never grown out of favor. From childhood to adulthood, my daughter's affinity for all things floral has led her to seek out the unusual as well as typical for flower arrangements. The pretty posy she picked the other day is a perfect example. It included an assortment of wildflowers, weeds and vegetables gone to seed.

If you've ever grown broccoli, you've probably noticed how unpicked florets turn into yellow flower heads before developing seedpods. Skip a few days during prime growth time and a whole row of garden goodness will burst into a spray of golden blooms. While too late for the dinner plate, these past-prime veggies are not yet ready for the compost pile. Broccoli flower heads make fine additions to informal flower arrangements. That's what Amber did. She incorporated the yellow blooms into a gathering of wildflowers that included light purple fleabane, orange lantana and the fragrant blue blossoms of an unidentified thin-stemmed wildflower that pops up on fertile areas every spring. When put together, this unusual assortment forms a perfect blend of softness, shape, scent and color.

Leave it to Amber to add broccoli blooms to a bouquet. I've come to expect beautiful garlands from my artistically creative daughter, but this time she outdid herself. Not only did her selections form an attractive arrangement, but this particular grouping also has lasted much longer than most. Close to a week later, all the flowers still look freshly picked.

No matter how long they last, a vase on a windowsill filled with cut flowers adds more to a room than fragrance and color. It's an invitation to relax and appreciate what bountiful gifts nature provides.

Like Amber, I enjoy strolling around the property snipping flowers and forming arrangements. It's a soothing process, peaceful and calming. But as my daughter recently proved, it also can be an opportunity to rethink old perspectives and learn new lessons. At first glance, an overlooked head of broccoli seems like a thing of waste, an opportunity passed by. But in Amber's eye, it was an object of beauty -- another item to round out an arrangement.

Lucky me to have such an excellent teacher.

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