I recently finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I admit I was a bit disappointed by what felt to be too much plot at its climax, but I found the central theme relating to the meaning and intentions of flowers to be marvelous. And the book offered me a replacement for it is what it is – a phrase I adopted after the passing of my dad: A rose is a rose is a rose. The Language of Flowers also caused me to dig through my drawers to find Flora’s Interpreter, a spineless, beaten up book that I rescued from my grandmother’s belongings after her death. As Portland dives deep into its Rose Festival this weekend, and knowing that my grandmother was once part of the princess court, makes a rose feels all the more relevant.
My grandmother, my namesake, Dorothy Haradon Montgomery, loved flowers. When we lived on the banks of the Willamette in Wilsonville, she lived an acre away where as a little girl I began a habit of visiting her most days. When I was 15, and we both lived in Portland, I bought her earthworms for her birthday to add to the pots that seemed to multiply in the patio of the apartment she lived in during her final of life’s chapter, the Vista St. Clair. Her patio, the largest available to tenants, was crammed with dozens and dozens of pots full of flowering plants, shrubs and even small trees. I didn’t know about Flora’s Interpreter until later.
Last month I enjoyed pretending to be West Linn’s famed Dorothy Maddox at West Linn Historical Society’s Voices in the Park. While my husband Russ played Virgil Maddox, a prodigious boat builder, I was allowed to imagine being the gardener that I have only truly fantacized about. While I love gardening – my flower beds will never be like those of Dorothy Maddox, and my pots will never be like my grandmother’s. Impatience, neighborhood deer, and lack of direct sun remain my excuses.
The book I now hold in my hand is the fifth edition of Flora’s Interpreter written by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale in 1832, and now available as an online archive. I carefully thumb through this fragile book that exudes a faint aroma of mildew. My fingers stop on page 111: Lichen. Solitude. Retiring Lichen climbs the topmost stone, And drinks the aerial solitude alone. Darwin.
Oh to the offerings of plants (okay, and fungi!) – from the rose to the lichen.