Mother’s Day: The time when we focus on honoring the matriarchs of our lives — our mothers, grandmothers or those who we consider motherly to us (I include my Aunt Ruthie in the list). Whether or not the maternal influences in your life are still living, a common and traditional way of honoring them is with flowers.
Flowers have been a part of the celebration since the beginning. Holiday founder Anna Jarvis handed out 500 white carnations at the first celebration of Mother’s Day in 1908 in Grafton. Boutonnières or corsages made with carnations were a traditionally given to mothers to be worn at church on Mother’s Day.
Many still observe the tradition of cut flowers for the holiday, bringing or sending mother a bouquet of flowers on the day. Carnations are still a cut-flower favorite, but so are orchids. Some stores still carry boutonnières or corsages made with orchids for the occasion.
Our family choice for flowers, though, were live ones you could plant: roses to plant in the garden or hanging baskets filled with beautiful fuchsia, petunias, begonias or other common basket-dwellers. It certainly is a fitting, and timely, tribute — most folks in West Virginia mark the beginning of the “frost free” growing season around Mother’s Day, so it is time to plant flowers in the garden.
It is sort of the official opening of the garden season. If you need evidence, just try to get to the Capitol Market in Charleston during the week before Mother’s Day — especially evenings and the Saturday before. It’s almost like Black Friday shopping — no parking and huge crowds.
While some of the maternal influences in your life may have passed on, it can be very moving and cathartic to honor them with flowers. Whether you buy a bouquet for home (or someone else) in their honor, go on a walk and gather wildflowers, or plant something in the garden to honor them.
I, for one, have many maternal influences that have directly affected me. My mother, of course, has been a big influence on my life, teaching me kindness, service to others and perseverance. Her sister, my Aunt Ruthie, has also been a great influence throughout my entire life.
My maternal grandmother, Annalee, was a major influence on my life. I spent most weekends and summers with my grandparents (they lived just down the road), and gained a love of hospitality, a sense of adventure, and a sense of humor from her. It was at her knee that I also gained a love of cooking and sense of experimentation in the kitchen — she could cook anything and wasn’t afraid to try a new recipe. She did grow some flowers as well (though my grandfather, a truck farmer, was the major gardener).
While I wasn’t as close with my paternal grandmother, Edna, mainly because they lived a little farther away, she was still a huge influence on my life. She’s the one who could grow anything. She could grow some of the best produce you ever saw, have the most flowers of anyone in the area, and have a house filled with vibrant houseplants. From her, I inherited a love of the plant world and a green thumb.
My grandmothers are gone, but I can still honor them by going back the roots of Mother’s Day — a flower, a plant, a bouquet, a single white carnation — something to remember them by.
A note on rhubarb
While we may be jumping from Mother’s Day flowers to rhubarb, it isn’t quite a stretch if you really think about it. Mention rhubarb, and most people will reminisce about their mother or grandmother making rhubarb pie, cobbler or a sauce/jam that sat on the table throughout the season. I can remember my grandmother, or, more appropriately, Mamaw Jackson (Annalee) making rhubarb cobbler. I didn’t like it back then, but I do now.
I’ve had several calls this year about rhubarb. It is becoming more and more popular with lots more people growing it. Sometimes the plants try to flower, which takes away nutrients from the stalks you are trying to grow. You’ll need to remove them to keep your rhubarb producing longer in the season.
There are a few things that cause it to flower — first is weather. Warmer temperatures during short days (spring) can cause it to bolt, or flower. We’ve had perfect weather for rhubarb flowering. Plants that haven’t been dug up and divided in the last three to five years that have grown large are also likely to flower, so dividing can help reduce it. And finally, applying fertilizer and lime to reduce nutrient stress can also help. Rhubarb likes fairly rich, fertile soil with a pH of 6 to 7. All you need sometimes is a handful of lime to help.