Tag Archive | Calla Lily


IMG_5194 (800x533)Calla lilies were one of the first flowers I loved.  When I was young, we would go two or three times a year on the four-hour trip to visit my Aunt Doris.  On the one hand, a trip to Aunt Doris’s house was something to look forward to.  She lives in a fascinating place:  in a cedar log house in the middle of a redwood forest on the side of a hill with a small creek at the bottom of the ravine.  There are even banana slugs there.  And she did everything you want an auntie to do:  she gave us little presents, she baked homemade cookies and pies, she shared her extensive collection of movies on videotape with us (it was the 1980s; this was high-tech), she let us help her as she fed the wild birds and squirrels which flocked to her deck, and she took us to interesting tourist spots or shopping centers or other fun places.

On the other hand, though, I was a teenager, and even in the most interesting and nurturing of places, I could find a way to be BORED!  One time, I started to look at the gardening catalogs in the basket next to her rocking chair.  Park Seed had the most varieties of flowers to read about.  Jackson & Perkins was fine, with good pictures, but a significant majority of their volume was dedicated to roses.  My mom already had roses, and they seemed kind of obvious and even old-fashioned.  But Wayside Gardens was the best; the photos on the pages of the catalog were larger and glossier, and there was hardly a variety listed that did not have an accompanying color-saturated photo along the outer margin of the same page.

I am not saying this was cool; I was BORED, you understand, so these were desperate times.  But after a while, I found myself looking forward to seeing what was new and different and exotic.  I was most drawn to those flowers with particularly striking colors or interesting shapes.  That is how I found the calla lilies.  They were just so fascinating.  The unique outer petal IMG_5656 (535x800)wrapped itself in a circle, but without symmetry.  It wasn’t a cup, like a tulip, and it wasn’t a trumpet, like an Asiatic lily.  It was more like a cape worn by the kind of gentleman who could ride a horse, draw a sword, and charm a lady, all without losing his dashing posture or wit.  The colors featured in the photographs were always stunning, too:  solid, bold hues of yellow, orange, purple, fuchsia, and white, with perhaps one or two varieties that gradually blushed from one color to another up the petals.  I have heard these catalogs described as pornography for gardeners, and as an adolescent, I was every bit as captivated by the beauty, the mystery, and the sensuality of those photos as I might have been by the other kind.

I am not sure why I never convinced my mother that we should order some of those calla lily specimens for our very own; perhaps I did not think they would do well in our yard, shaded as it was by four large oak trees.  But ever since I have been a homeowner, I have sought out calla lilies.  When we lived in Boston, I would carefully dig the rhizomes out of the ground each year after the first frost, dry them, store them through the cold season in my basement in a small crate lined with shredded newspaper, and then replace them in the front yard after the ground had thawed and the danger of frost was past. Although the flowers were lovely, the whole process felt like an awkward mix between an amateur scientist’s experiment and a fussy craftsperson’s new project.

Since we moved to the South, I do not have to fuss like that any more.  A few years ago, I smothered the grass around the mail box under several layers of wet newspaper and two or three inches of cypress mulch.  And one of the first things I planted in the resulting flower bed the following spring were some pink and yellow calla lilies I found at a local nursery.  I was thrilled, and I have continued to be thrilled every year since then as they thrust the tip of their first leaves above the rotting oak leaves in the early spring, unfurling them in a dramatic foreshadowing of the petals to come, then sending up their stems to reveal those gentlemanly capes of pink and yellow.

Well, almost thrilled.  A flower bed is never really perfectly arranged, is it?  Over time, the Mexican heather and gerbera daisies which alternate in a line between the calla lilies and the edge of the driveway have grown, spreading to crowd the calla lilies.  So last week, I decided it was time to dig up the bulbs of the calla lilies to move them three or four inches to the east, giving everything room to continue to grow.

And as I dug, I was amazed.  When I purchased the pink and yellow calla lilies, there were three or four stems growing in each pot.  Since they were already blooming, making them easier to sell at the nursery, I was careful to plant them without disturbing the roots any more than necessary.  And, of course, I had not seen anything of what was going on underground since then.  I suspected they had spread some, since the patches of leaves and flowers had increased in diameter each year.  But when I loosened the soil in my search for the rhizomes last week, I kept finding more and more and more.  In each place I dug, there were relatively large systems which included several nodules connected together, ready to produce multiple roots and stems in the coming weeks.  And there were even more independent little bulblets, each with its own small point on the top ready to push a tip through the rotting oak leaves and unfurl.  I kept sifting through the dirt, pulling out more and more, until I had two piles, one of the pink variety and one of the yellow, each with dozens of brown blobs ready to grow and bloom with my beloved calla lilies.

And I marveled for a few minutes about God’s abundance.  Our world was created as a place where, given the right conditions, beauty and joy can multiply over time.  Our world is a place where the asymmetrical, the dashing, and the fascinating can thrive and expand.  Our world rewards teenagers who are BORED, and homeowners who experiment and fuss, and gardeners who don’t have any idea what is happening under the oak leaves rotting on top of the ground.  Our world fosters growth by providing caring aunties, glossy photographs of bold hues, and flower beds that have to be rearranged every few years.  Our world never ceases to amaze me, and its Creator never ceases to deserve a doxology:  praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

I put the most complex systems of rhizomes back in the ground, alternating the pink and the yellow, in a line that is longer now, wrapping down the slope and around to the front of the mailbox.  I am not sure all of them will grow; the ground stays pretty wet as it gets closer to the street, so some of the roots might rot.  And the rest I potted this evening, reusing the cheap plastic containers from plants I have brought home from the nursery.  I watered them, and I will put them out in the sun tomorrow, hoping the tips of the leaves poke up in the next few weeks.  If these potted calla lilies grow, I will give them to the Windsor Forest Garden Club to put out at their annual plant sale at the end of next month.  Because calla lilies were one of the first flowers I loved, and I want to share the abundance of beauty and joy our world produces with others.

A Sucker for Beauty

IMG_0959 (602x800)I’m a sucker for beauty.  The other day, my wife and I stopped at the big box store (please don’t judge us) for a light bulb and a new number 2 to stick on the front of our mail box.  The old one fell off months ago, so we have been displaying to the world an incorrect address; we cannot have that any longer, particularly when the solution to the problem costs 58 cents.

I think my wife believes I cannot go to such a store without at least sauntering through the garden section.  She may not be wrong.  This time of year, I did not expect to see anything interesting in the garden section; they had the typical pansies, dianthus, stock, and other flowers in their vivid fuscias, pretty pinks, pure whites, and splashy purples.  In other places, these annuals appear in the spring, just before the last frost date, to be put out when the crocuses, tulips, grape hyacinths, and daffodils bloom.  Around here, the crocus, tulips, and grape hyacinths just rot in their holes because the weather never gets cold enough for them to work right, and the daffodils I have tried tend to come up early then wait to bloom until the weather gets too hot for them.  When I am lucky, and when I haven’t planted them too deeply, they flash their sunny glory for about a day or two, then they fade because it’s just too warm.  And, around here, the pansies, dianthus, stock, and other flowers are out all winter, embracing the occasional dip below 32 degrees not as a life-threatening crisis but as a refreshing break from the wilting 70s.

But then, as we wandered the aisles of early-blooming annuals, we saw an end cap overflowing with calla lilies.  They were in the colors calla lilies are known for.  There were the cheery yellows and the almost-blacks.  There were warm reds and oranges.  There was a purple color that faded to a creamy rim, and there was another solid purple, lighter than the others, but still rich in its tone.  And no one had tried to make the store display all neat and orderly, with the reds together with the reds, and the yellows with the yellows, and all of that.  All of the colors were mixed up together, with broad, green leaves stippled with white dots under the flowers to give them the heft that colors like that need.  They were like the photos of calla lilies in the catalogs which make us dream each winter of the warm days of the late spring to come.

And they all had that unique calla lily shape.  I think that is why I find flowers like callas and iris so appealing.  These are no daisies, with orderly petals evenly arranged around a center, although those flowers have their own beauty, too.  These are odd, asymmetrical, twisted, and wrapped in their form.  The single colorful petal wraps itself around the stamen like one of those old-fashioned woolen cloaks with no sleeves or buttons, IMG_0960 (699x800)which just hang from the wearer’s neck and shoulders and wrap him up in warmth.  I’ve always wanted to be able to wear a cloak like that, and I have always found the form of the calla lily to be beautiful.

A couple of days later, after worship on Sunday, I went back to the store to buy some of those calla lilies.  I had to have them.  And, of course, they wouldn’t look the same if I just bought one or two.  Part of the effect of the whole display was the great mix of all the colors.  So I bought six of them.  Yes, six.  It was utterly ridiculous.  They cost about $8 each, and I really shouldn’t be spending that kind of money on something as frivolous as flowers for my yard.  And more importantly, it is way too early for calla lilies here.  It is true that we are having an unusually mild winter.  The air temperature only dipped solidly below freezing one day, and that was just last week.  But we have another solid month with a good chance of a real cold spell, the kind that lasts three or four days, with the nighttime temperatures dipping in the 20s and the daytime barely making it over 45.  Calla lilies don’t tolerate that kind of weather.  The callas in my front yard usually don’t poke the pointy ends of their leaves out until the middle of March.  The labels on the calla lilies at the store said they were grown by an outfit in Miami.  And no wonder; fully-grown, blooming calla lilies have no place this far north in the middle of February, even in a mild year.

But I really wanted them, not because it was a reasonable decision, not because it made sense, but because they are beautiful, and I’m a sucker for beauty.  At many times in my life, that has been the best way for me to explain my faith, too.  I choose to see the world through the lens of faith because I’m a sucker for beauty.  Or, put another way, I believe in beauty.  Beauty has to be more powerful than anything else in the world.  At the end of it all, I expect that beauty will win, because beauty is so, well, beautiful.  There is just too much of it in the world.  The natural world is beautiful.  People are beautiful, not because all of our teeth are straight and our lips are adequately pouty or our lumps are smoothed over or our bulges fit into skinny jeans.  They aren’t, and they don’t.  People are beautiful because we are capable of appreciating beauty when we see it, and we are capable, too, of projecting beauty in our actions and words and our laughter and empathy.

Of course, there is plenty of ugliness in the world and in the people who populate it; please don’t dismiss me as naive.  But I look at the beauty of a display of calla lilies in the midst of the sparse, functional big-box gardening department, and I am struck by the mixed-up colors and wrapped-up petals and broad, stippled leaves adequate to back it all up.  And I wonder if I am gazing at “the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.”  Calla lilies are breathtakingly beautiful, so maybe beauty rules the world after all.  People can perceive and reflect beauty in unspeakable ways, so maybe beauty will win at the end of it all.  That is faith.

Although they cost more than I should have spent, and although they don’t really belong there, at least not right now, there are now six calla lilies planted in a circle around the bird bath in my back yard.  They are interspersed with the variegated vinca vine which I planted there last fall, which is right now responding to our mild winter by growing full-force toward the sky, ready to flop over and wind around in a thousand different directions as soon as it gets long enough.  It looks like the temperature will be dangerously near 32 degrees on Saturday night, so I might have to dig out an old sheet to cover them up.  Who knows; they may not even survive the spring.  But there they are, because I am a sucker for beauty.