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 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.