In more eastern and acidic areas, they have their stunning spring shows of azaleas and rhododendrons. In our black gumbo, we have the crape myrtle, a reliable explosion of summer color from palest lavender to deepest red, from beautifully maintained small trees displaying graceful limbs in stately yards to overgrown shrubs growing exuberantly wild in abandoned home places.
I have a great fondness for the old flowers, the plants treasured and shared - a volunteer seedling dug carefully and babied along, a handful of seeds here, a cutting there - by hard working rural women who made time in their demanding lives for a bit of beauty. I remember waking up in my grandmother's house to the smell of roses and mimosa. Almost no one had air conditioning then and the windows were always open. My grandmother also allowed me, on occasion, to pick a bouquet of zinnias, or Old Maid's as we called them, to take indoors. She grew a riot of them every year, but never seemed to want me to pick any. I'm still mystified by that.
My Aunt Vera could be relied on for four o'clocks and marigolds. Mammy Tarver, a neighbor who actually served as an additional Grandma, taught me to root a rose cutting when I was no more than ten. Everyone seemed to have irises, althea, and japonica. My Mom was more practical, focusing on our huge vegetable garden rather than flowers, but we did have masses of hollyhocks in the corner formed by the ell of our porch. They stood next to the cistern where they thrived on bits of spilled water. When one of these old favorites blooms in my yard today, I feel a part of the chain of women who came before. My daughters and my granddaughter are gardeners. My little two-year great-grandaugher loves to plant seeds. The chain stretches out before and behind me and I am blessed.