Suzanne and I kneel, Japanese tea ceremony-style, in a field of velvety, sea foam green stalks up to our shoulders. A delicate deep fuchsia flower tops each stem, nearly grazing our chins. She, five, sports blond hair cut in a short Dutch Boy bob and sparkly blue eyes. I, eight, grin with brace-worthy, tangled teeth and thick wavy brown hair tamed in a pony tale. My mother must have just cut my too-short bangs. We look amused and slightly impish. I remember my mother taking that picture in the tangle of weeds, brush, and wildflowers behind our tiny lake cabin in Upper Greenwood Lake, NJ.
We enjoyed endless adventures in that patch of nature behind the porch. We hunted for berries and spotted stones. We played house, ‘cooking’ with leaves and branches and grasses, or ruled our imaginary kingdom; I, the queen, and my sister the princess. We wiled away lazy summer days.
At the same time each season – maybe mid-June – these diminutive, vibrant blooms atop long, thin, spindly stems would proliferate and overtake our space. We petted their sturdy but downy-soft stalks, and marveled at the blossoms of a colour so deep and unique that we’d never seen before; certainly not in nature.
My mother took an animated delight in this unexpected and bountiful gift right in our own back yard.
“Come on girls! Just sit for a minute. I want to get a picture of you in these flowers. You know they are my favourite.” She held my father’s Konica in its beat up brown leather case in her right hand, and tried to corral us like a pair of baby chicks with her left. We dodged and rolled.
“Not now, mom. We’re playing!” we said. But she persisted and it was easier to acquiesce than to continue to protest. So there we sat, giggling at nothing, with the carefree abandon of two young sisters sitting in a field of wildflowers on a summer morning.
That photograph became iconic in our family. It spoke of innocence, carefree times, and a place we all loved. When my father, and twelve years later, my mother died, we cherished it even more. They both found a peace at that lake house that they found nowhere else.
I am not much of a gardener. My defcon-1 level allergy to poison ivy keeps me away from not only the three-leafed menace, but also anything that might have come in contact with its urushiol.
But when, at my home, I had a small patch of soil right in back that cried out for colour, I thought of those flowers. I had no idea what they were called, nor any idea of how to find out. I tried all sorts of Google searches: light green tall stems fuchsia flowers; furry green stems deep pink flowers. Nothing. I asked friends who garden. I asked my sister. “I have no idea,” she said, “but if you find out, let me know. I want to plant some out back, too.”
I went to our local nursery and herb garden, figuring I had nothing to lose, and again described the coveted flora in question. I began to relate the characteristics to an aproned, middle-aged man working in the greenhouse. Before I even finished, he started to nod.
“Oh, sure. You’re looking for Rose Campion.” He said. I was? “They grow like weeds. Seeds blow all over the place from the dried pods. You’ll have a field full before you know it.” Bingo! Just what I wanted.
He directed me to the seed packets and I grabbed three.
“You may not need that many,” he said, they really spread fast.”
I thanked him profusely, explaining the origin of the search.
“And the extra packet is for my sister.” He nodded and smiled.
Indeed, in short order, the blossoms swarmed our respective backyards. Neither of us dared ask that our kids pose poised in them. They’re too old for that; and anyway, by the time we slathered them with sunscreen and sprayed them with DEET to prevent Lyme, West Nile, Zika, and other bug-borne threats, the flowers and the children would have wilted. But we do both smile just to see them. Mom would be very pleased that they make us feel like kids again.