I never saw a real flower up close until my sixteenth birthday. All things beautiful existed, for me, only in books and magazines; that's because my parents cared little for material possessions. They had no need to surround themselves with objects of beauty or comfort. Those were things that I would see in movies or in the homes of friends and relatives.
While still a young boy, I came to realize that I enjoyed looking at anything that was colorful, patterned, textured or faceted. I would spend hours trying to figure out what happened to light when it refracted off the beveled edge of a mirror and turned into a color spectrum. I was curious to know how snow crystals on the ground converted the rays of neon lights into scintillating stars. I could study the pattern of an Oriental rug for hours wondering where its sinewy lines might lead. My eyes have always yearned to see all things beautiful. To this day, they never tire of looking at anything; even the label on a soup can stimulates my curiosity.
I spent my childhood in a densely populated neighborhood that, to my mind, resembled a grey concrete jungle. Everything around me was hard and cold. All that I remember was the rhubarb that grew wild out of the crack that separated the foundation of our home from the sidewalk. The colors and aroma of flowers were merely something my mother talked about when she spoke of her childhood. They were nothing I had ever experienced.
On my twelfth birthday, my family moved to a residential town with lots of trees and lawns where I hoped to see color. But that didn’t happen. In our new neighborhood, trees were so mature that they created green canopies that overhung the streets. As a result, sun and rain barely touched the ground; consequently, all the lawns were bare.
Then, when I turned sixteen, we moved to a newer town where green lawns were bathed in sunlight. To my excitement, empty flowerbeds prepared by the previous ownersurrounded our home. Since they knew nothing about gardening, my parents gave me free reign, to learn what I could from the neighbors who gardened, and to replicate their successes in our back yard. All that my father asked for was red flowers.
The first summer, when I saw my garden in bloom, marked the first time I saw real flowers, up close. It was also the first time that I saw my father smile. It happened one day when he returned home from work to see his red flowers in bloom. Up until that day, my father had been such a somber man that I didn’t recognize the happy person admiring my garden. When I got used to his brightened disposition, I promised myself I'd garden forever if only to keep him smiling.
One day, my mother discovered the strong aroma emitted by Lilies of the Valley growing wild in our back yard and she became enchanted. Never before I had heard my mother sigh with such pleasure. Happiness had been erased from her life by childhood tragedies. When she sang to my brother and me, the songs were cheerful but her vocal chords sobbed with grief. At last, thanks to plants, there would be real joy in her voice and under our roof. The aroma of my flower garden had brought newfound happiness both into her life and into our home.
That family transformation compelled me to expand my gardening horizons and I began to experiment, rather successfully, with fragrant plants such as roses, irises and nasturtium, and with every red plant that would grow in my climate zone. The greater the number of aromatic perennials that I could find, and the more varieties of red flowers I planted, the longer my parents' happiness endured. What an enormous burden for a young teenager to carry. Nevertheless, from that day onward, whenever they stepped into the garden, my mother would sigh with pleasure while a huge smile would explode across my father's face. That made me happy.
My parents' reaction gave me some measure of accomplishment. I felt useful and proud to give them a renewable source of happiness. Now, when I look back upon those formative years of gardening, I recall that I never planted flowers to please myself. I gardened to see my parents smile.
I continued my quest to bring happiness to others, through gardening, after I married. When I became a family man, my subsequent gardens were filled with pink and yellow flower because those were the colors my wife had chosen for her wedding bouquet. Later on, when my daughters grew old enough to speak, one of them would ask for blue flowers. That began a hunt for blue perennials that goes on to this day. I still have not decided what my favorite color flowers might be. I spend too much time ensuring that those who admire my gardens will find happiness there.