In the Language of Flowers

Bleeding hearts at my memorial area.
Bleeding hearts at my memorial area.

As Mimi and I have spent time in the yard we’ve also spent some time in the area I have always maintained as a little memorial to felines who’ve shared our lives and moved on to another existence.

This area includes the sleeping kitty statue given to me as a gift from a friend who I had helped through the losses of two of her cats, just after losing two of mine. Underneath this statue I have placed most or all of the cremains of each of the cats who’ve lived with me. The area is part of the woodland garden area of the yard, quiet and protected in all times of the year, but easily seen from all areas in the back of my house and all areas in my back yard so that I can look there at any time and feel those spirits are still with us. Here is a fuller photo of what the statue looks like.

The kitty statue with protecting plants, and bleeding heart leaning over it.
The kitty statue with protecting plants, and bleeding heart leaning over it.

It also includes plants that bloom all through the year, but especially in spring, some I’ve added by choice and reason while others volunteered their presence, wild plants native to my area. The Herculean effort of each tender flower to push up through the soil and push aside the heavy protective cover of dried leaves and stems from last year’s garden is nature’s desire to push aside the past to be a part of the present with their re-emergence and the future with their flowers. I pull away those leaves and stems and watch the area transform into the place as I always envision it, as I’ve photographed and painted it, the cover of deep green of the myrtle, mid-green spikes of the daffodil fronds and bright green frills of the ferns and bleeding heart leaves which are soon dotted here and there with yellow and pink and purple and blue, a miracle born in only weeks where frozen soil and grey and brown leaves and twigs had held it in hibernation.

All plants have a symbolism in myriad belief systems throughout human history, but spring flowers have the deepest symbolism of renewal and rebirth, as well as the continuation of the cycles of life. I’ve also included flowers, or had the flowers themselves join the garden, that bloom at other times of the year so that there is always something blooming in this garden. Watching the growth and change, the colors and shapes, through the year brings me such comfort.

The daffodils have been blooming,the forget-me-nots have finally begun, the periwinkle has pushed her way up from under the leaves and sprouted the first few blossoms, the cranesbill geraniums are densely leaved, rhododendrons have fat buds and the phlox is growing new leaves each day. The raspberries are sprouting new canes, a few autumn asters have sprouted and the bleeding hearts, which I’d recently replaced, are enthusiastically standing tall and bright green and were among the first to bloom. Despite the fact that I’ve gardened most of my life I’m not one to purchase plants. Most of these plants showed up on their own, and some I moved there from other areas in the yard, others were given to me, or found in notable circumstances and I decided they belonged there. There are others I’d like to include but they don’t grow well under those conditions and as a gardener I know better than to force life to thrive where it doesn’t belong.

Flower symbolism has transformed from the dawn of time through the ages to today, from magic to teleflorists, and you can find just about any interpretation of a flower to suit what you want. While some of my most meaningful interpretations are only found in the books in my library, these are some of the interpretations that rang true in my soul, and links to more information.

The flowers and their meanings

The daffodil‘s trumpet heralds the rebirth of living things in spring as this flower’s brilliant yellow, white and orange has heralded spring since humans first saw them, and as it is of the genus narcissus it also advises spreading your love to others rather than loving only yourself. The pale yellow ones below I planted in honor of Allegro, my orange boy. The others came from an abandoned farm site far in the woods where the house was gone but where the flowers still bloomed around the foundation, and I felt such love remained for the flowers, for nature, and the beauty they gave that I dug up as many as I could, and I cherish these.

The special pale yellow daffodils I had planted with Allegro.
The special pale yellow daffodils I had planted with Allegro.

I mention the forget-me-nots here all the time—they were the first seeds I tossed into my yard the month I moved here, October 1990, marking my beginnings of transforming this little lot into what it is today and have been filling my yard with a blue wave of memories each year since then and bloom all over as well as in this garden. They symbolize faithfulness and remembrance, especially of those small and easily forgotten.

    Forget-me-nots
Forget-me-nots

Periwinkle is deeply symbolic to many cultures and in many ways, from its calming color to its unifying shape and its perennial, evergreen habit, a symbol of eternity and of being, of life force; it is a harbinger of spring and a reminder of the “dear departed” because, though it seems delicate and fragile it pushes aside the leaves of the previous year to spread its green leaves and bloom, and its glossy evergreen leaves withstand both freezing temperatures and heat. The periwinkle appeared when I first developed the woodland garden, a year after I moved here.

creeping myrtle flower
Creeping Myrtle

Geraniums generally symbolize health and family, but the cranesbill geranium, blooming only in spring, symbolizes long life as it has been used by most cultures in the world to cure many ills and promote health and wellness, and because its seed pods resemble the crane it also carries the symbolism of the crane itself, joy and eternal life. The cranesbills showed up after I had begun to let areas of my yard “go wild”, and I moved them to the site later.

Cranesbill Geraniums
Cranesbill Geraniums

The rhododendron is actually highly toxic and has been used as a symbol of danger, evil and a warning, yet those symbols have also been turned around to provide protection from those very evils they represent, standing as a guard to ward them off. I found an abandoned plant nursery along the creek where I hike and canoe, and the overgrown plants all around me in that valley along the water made me feel like Alice in Wonderland, and I did feel the spirit of a young child there; I dug up a few small rhododendron starts though I had no idea they would be this delicate pale pink, and added them to my woodland garden.

Pale pink rhododendron.
Pale pink rhododendron.

The phlox I grow here is the tall variety that blooms summer into fall, is fragrant and invites nearly every insect and bird to come and share its nectar and nourishment, and because of that and its five unified petals it symbolizes the unity of souls. This precious phlox was given to me by an elderly neighbor in another neighborhood years ago, whose mother had given it to her when she married and bought the house she lived in, and the phlox had been given to her mother by another mother, and so on, generations back.

A dark phase tiger swallowtail on phlox.
A dark phase tiger swallowtail on phlox.

Who knew raspberries had a deep symbolism? They have been both nourishment and health and mysticism since humans discovered them at the dawn of time and because the plant’s canes grow one year, produce the next, and then die back, we are reminded that love and self must be patient and mature to produce our best, ripen and then let go as our passing supports the life of others to come. The raspberries have long been symbolic to me as well as important to my own health, leaves and all, and appeared here on their own.

Raspberries, complements of the birds!
Raspberries, complements of the birds!

Asters are the stars given to us by the tears of the gods as they saw what we humans would do to each other, they are a symbol fidelity, faith and wisdom, and it is not lost on me that it is the last plant to begin blooming in my yard, blooming until frost, providing those departing species of birds and insects with their last meal before the great journey of migration. I have always deeply loved asters from the time I first began wandering the abandoned pasture across the street from the house I grew up in to today along the trails and in the woods, the abundance of tiny white or pink or bluish flowers blooming at the end of the summer’s abundance into the beginnings of autumn and winter.

Many Flowered Aster leaning over the picnic table.
Many Flowered Aster leaning over the picnic table.

And the bleeding heart? I had planted one there the first year I established the memorial garden, but with successive droughts in my area it simply failed to appear a few years ago despite watering and mulching. I was bereft when for the second year no sprouts appeared and decided I might let it go as that might be a symbol as well. But in 2013, the year after I lost both Cookie and Kelly I decided I needed to find a bleeding heart to replace the one I’d lost. The symbolism? That should be obvious.

Bleeding Hearts and Forget Me Nots
Bleeding Hearts and Forget Me Nots

Below, Mimi observes the sleeping kitty, daffodils and sprouts of the bleeding heart along with me. The memories are carried on.

black cat
Mimi and I observe.

. . . . . . .

Daily Sketch: The Woodland Garden

Mimi and I do spend a good bit of time out in this area and last May I was so inspired watching Mimi wandering down the path among the bluebells and myrtle I had to do a sketch. Here is the sketch and the post from that day.

"The Woodland Garden", pastel, 7" x 10" © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
“The Woodland Garden”, pastel, 7″ x 10″ © Bernadette E. Kazmarski (revised scan)

This is what Mimi and I did yesterday afternoon. The woodland garden blooms mostly at this time of the year, and is pretty much just shades and textures of green otherwise, but I’ve been enjoying looking at it and how it’s evolved. Winter storms brought down limbs and whole small trees and portions of it had been overgrown until I had the chance to clear those out and renew the groundcovers. The ferns and periwinkle are back on the right, and the cranesbill geraniums, bluets and spring bluebells are back on the left.

Outside of this area the sun is shining on the yard and vegetable garden with brighter blue and yellow of the forget-me-nots and buttercups. Birds are landing the bird bath and the feeder, and Mimi loves to wander up and down the path, though she spent a good bit of my sketching time as you see below, directing me in details as felines are masters of detail.

black cat
Mimi on my lap while I’m drawing.

Yesterday was such an overloaded day and though I had more than enough to do to keep me up all night, all I could focus on was to try to do this sketch I’d been visualizing for the past few days when Mimi and I were outdoors. It was all I could think about at that moment. Sometimes that’s what happens when I go on overload. So I did. Spending time outside of my work space and focused on artwork clears my mind as nothing else does and I come back with everything in order and ready to work again. I hadn’t posted it yesterday because, as I was taking a bit of a break, I heard the phone ring and knew I should go back inside and get back to work. That was fine, it was time, and I was ready, knowing I’d finish the sketch for today; I’d already sketched the boys for yesterday.

But as I’d mentioned earlier today, I wonder if the time Mimi and I spent there yesterday made a difference to a wandering buck who found the back yard accommodating.

So one of these days I’ll I did rescan it and update it so you can see all the nuances in the greens, even highlights in Mimi though she looks like a blob with ears, and the bright area in the yard. The original scan is below for comparison—look in the greens especially, see that they are softer and with more variations in hues.

black cat in garden
“The Woodland Garden”, pastel, 7″ x 10″ © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Read more articles and essays about pet loss and also visit my series “Pet Loss in the First Person”.

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4 thoughts on “In the Language of Flowers

  • April 26, 2015 at 4:29 pm
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    A lovely garden. Dad really misses being able to work the soil all the joy that brings. He says maybe later this year, if things go well, we may have a little place to go outside for all of us to enjoy nature once again. Love the creative energy of this post.
    Timmy and Dad

    Reply
    • April 26, 2015 at 4:34 pm
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      Glad you enjoyed it! I love being able to share with others who love flowers and gardens even if they don’t have one right now. Mimi and I just enjoyed a bit of sunshine and checked all the new flowers, and I’ll have asparagus with dinner.

      Reply
  • April 26, 2015 at 1:35 pm
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    oh Mimi, we love that last photo of you – and our mom’s been looking for a statue much like the one in your garden. It’s lovely! Interestingly, mom’s been filming artist interviews these past few weeks and one of them was a woman who was doing woodland fairies partnered with flowers and their meaning. It was fascinating! And fun to see a similar theme here with such beautiful photography!

    Reply
    • April 26, 2015 at 4:31 pm
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      How could I get anything done without Mimi’s supervision? I do love this sleeping kitty, and now there are many more but I rarely see this one: http://www.kaccents.com/For_Home/Garden/Cats/19368.htm. Is the woman creating fairies to add to her garden or is she writing about them. Yes, flower meanings are a thing, and they change for everyone! Sometimes you can just enjoy looking at them.

      Reply

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