Human Flower Project

Floral Footholds

We stumble over a family milestone, inching on with the fortification of blooms and friends.


Rue anemone, periwinkle and narcissus in the April yard

Louisville, Kentucky, 2011

Photo: Human Flower Project

“April is the cruelest month,” our mother recalled. She had been admitted to the hospital April 4, her 90th birthday, seized with pain after a spinal compression fracture.

Who knows how it happened? She suspects it was a vigorous two hours about a week prior – one of the first fine spring days in Kentucky. With someone to look after her 97-year-old husband (our father) for the morning, she had checked on the peonies in her side yard, then gotten down on her knees and begun weeding with relish.

“I was having so much fun,” she told us from a bed at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, bitter and wistful.


In the peonies, April 2008, Louisville, KY

Photo: Human Flower Project

For someone accustomed to both activity and routine, the disruption has been a major blow. For someone who’s taken care of others her whole adult life, the future looks puzzling.

imageTrialing tulip magnolia blooms before the party, April 2, 2011

Photo: Human Flower Project

And for those in her matriarchal domain, the past two weeks have been a mostly ineffectual scramble. We’ve realized all that she was managing – cleaning out cat boxes, arranging for meals, scheduling plumbers, raking leaves, and, primarily, caring for our father day and night. Among her most favored responsibilities were tending to the yard and garden, with helpers and her own firm guiding mind and hand.

Mr. Wallitch was to come move the rose bed to the other side of the driveway so that Double Delight, Sonia, Jacqueline Dupre and the rest would receive more sun. Pat Dwyer’s landscaping service had seeded the lawn but was expected for other work. A seminary student named Matt came every other Saturday for small outdoor chores.  In her new and vexing infirmity, Mother has kept a tight grip on these matters. Some things are too enjoyable — too important – to delegate.


In the Rolodex, a Louisville rosarian

Photo: Human Flower Project

Lurching between parental household,  hospital and, now, a rehab center while lining up caregivers for the home front has been hard, even with lots of assistance, for someone disorganized and basically lazy. We hadn’t cleaned out catboxes in decades and have remembered why. In the past two weeks we’ve changed diapers, asked for morphine, stood bellowing outside a stalled hospital elevator, sought second opinions, looked at CT scans on lumbar 2, slept on the floor, ordered bottles of Ensure, and wheeled IV poles into institutional bathrooms. We were the lucky, healthy ones through it all.


Tulip magnolia in bloom, April 1, 2011, Louisville

Photo: Human Flower Project

Though the past two weeks have been sad and intensely busy, we can’t call them cruel.  On the contrary, we’ve been met by kindness and beauty at every turn. It helped that Louisville has been in its spring prime: the daffoldils and tulips were still in bloom, and the dogwoods were reaching their splendor. Mother’s immense tulip magnolia tree was in full flower when we arrived – so gorgeous we decided to forego florists’ flowers for the birthday party April 3.

imageLindsay Hale of Nanz & Krafts rings up begonias and azaleas

Photo: Human Flower Project

Instead we floated several blooms in large cylindrical vases, a suggestion from Lindsay Hale of Louisville’s blue ribbon Nanz and Kraft Florist. Experimenting the day prior, we discovered that the cupped blossoms would open wide in about three hours, so we timed the cutting and arranging for maximum effect at Sunday’s 1 pm lunch, April 3.

On the birthday itself, though, Mother was taken to the hospital in gruesome pain. Meanwhile, fresh flowers arrived from cousins in North Carolina and New York.

The huge arrangement from Breck stayed at home on the porch, a bright companion for our father, and the pitcher of tulips from Wyn and Mike made the trip downtown, to Mother’s bedside.


A 90th birthday bouquet arrives from Cousin Breck, 4/4/11

Photo: Human Flower Project

The night before her surgery, she was transferred to the transplant unit after electrical problems closed her room on the 5th floor. We were told that live flowers were not permissible near transplant patients, vulnerable as they are to infection. Soon, alongside brother Phil, we were doubling over in weary laughter, having spotted an old sack of corn chips, dip and ??? discarded on a shelf in the hallway just outside Mother’s room. Call it “selective sanitation.” Phil took the pitcher of tulips home.

imageAllen’s and Rose’s white dogwood, Louisville, KY

Photo: Human Flower Project

While we were at the hospital, dear friend Carolyn Courtney filled a planter near the front door of the homeplace with verbena and alyssum – keeping hopeful vigil for Mother’s return.

Allen Bush, friend and HFP correspondent, had us over to talk about local assisted living centers; Allen knows a whole lot more than botanical nomenclature and unfailingly shares it all.  Just as vitally, he welcomed us into a room with a view of his immense white dogwood, loaned us a raincoat, and gave us a quick tour through the garden he and his beloved Rose Cooper keep on Top Hill Road.

Worries were piling up like waves, but flowers kept holding out psychic landings. It was just a matter of stepping from one blossom to the next.

imageDinner with Carolyn and lilacs

Photo: Human Flower Project

We took pictures of rue anemone and periwinkle on the hill in Mother’s yard and brought them for her to see. One exhausted evening with Carolyn, we spotted a lilac in bloom and stole a purple cluster to join us at a plein air spaghetti dinner.

After Mother moved to a rehabilitation hospital, we returned to Lindsay at Nanz and Kraft, buying a begonia for Mother’s room, and another plant to take to Cave Hill Cemetery. On a sunny afternoon, we took our father for a drive and placed a red azalea on our brother Peter’s grave, something Mother had intended to do. He was her firstborn. On April 2, he would have been 68 years old.

We’re getting ready to return to Louisville, recharged after deadheading the daisies and roses here in Austin.

There are lots of uncertainties ahead, and there are a few certainties too: any day now Mother’s peonies will be in flower.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/17 at 09:32 PM


a beautiful story written from the heart and soul -
i am sending a photograph of the incredibly lovely flower arrangement from mrs ardery’s birthday party
a work of art and love

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/18 at 10:14 AM

Julie thank you for sharing this with us.  You and yours are in my thoughts and prayers and wishing your mother a quick recovery.  I am sure this will be helped by all the love and flowers around her.

Posted by Georgia on 04/18 at 10:20 AM

Dear Carolyn and Georgia,

Thanks for reading and sending good wishes. My faith in flower power—and friendship power—has gotten a big boost these past several weeks. Hallelujah for each of you!


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/18 at 05:55 PM
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