Dispatches from Quarry Farm: The Allium

Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.

“Each season brings a world of enjoyment and interest in the watching of its unfolding, its gradual harmonious development, its culminating graces-and just as one begins to tire of it, it passes away and a radical change comes, with new witcheries and new glories in its train.”

Mark Twain, ROUGHING IT, Chapter 56

Mark Twain may have said the above quote, but now it’s summer though, and to me, that wins the race. I can’t imagine a better place to be than at Quarry Farm in the month of June. The flower gardens are trading colors, building toward their midsummer crescendo and the sun has been beaming down, melting memories, one by one, of the cold dark winter. Would I appreciate it this much if it weren’t for the four to six months of leafless browns, grays and tundra whites that dominate the landscape? Maybe not.

I lived in Southern California for four years one year. Seventy-two degrees and sunny every single day—even on Christmas.  All while the confused children sang about dashing through the snow and sleighs and snowmen. As an Upstate New York native, I was elated at first to miss the blizzards and darkness and the sideways wind that’ll cut any man down to a shivering little chipmunk. It was great there for a while but I completely lost track of time. It was a rudderless existence that felt like the single longest year of my life.

Allium in bloom

One of my favorite flowers that grow up here at the farm is the Allium. They are straight from the world of Dr. Seuss. A purple globe the size of a softball made of hundreds of tiny flowers perched atop a stem not much thicker than a pencil that’s at least three feet tall. They’re at their most abundant in late May and early June.  When they are peaking, the gardens are a caricature of themselves.  Purple swaying spheres everywhere that appear to be hovering above the fresh green below. It’s a vibrant child’s painting earning an A-plus for creativity.

After these characters are done showing off, they wither, like all flowers and everything else in the world does. They retract to a single little bulb that spends the rest of the year underground. They recharge and store their energy in complete darkness, they freeze solid for months and they hide and wait for their time to come again.

Allium bulbs

Since flowers don’t think, talk, or listen like we do I can’t ask them how they feel about this Twain quote and still expect a straight answer. Who knows? They might be underground shivering and humming California Dreamin’ all winter long—the poetry of a rural winter landscape totally lost on them. Actually, that’s me for the entire month of March. I imagine these little Allium bulbs are just sleeping.

It is also said that the Allium Flowers symbolize, among other things, patience, humility and good fortune. Before I started writing this, I had no idea! I thought I felt something though. With this being the case, we should plant these flowers everywhere. Who, on this big beautiful planet, couldn’t use a boost in any one of these qualities? I mean waiting half the year underground just for your brief chance to shine is the epitome of patience. And now that I think about it, even when they are blooming, there’s humility in it. Anything that only gets two weeks of glory after fifty weeks of preparing and waiting has certainly been humbled at some point throughout this cycle—and that is something we can all keep in mind when the hours feel long and the inspiration is seemingly nowhere to be found. Beautiful things will happen when the time is right. Good Fortune could very well be the result of patience and humility.

Within each season is a constant flow of change. Nothing is ever one thing for very long. From Daffodil to Tulip to Allium to Iris to Lilac to Lupine to Lilly. Then the Black-Eyed Susan and the Coneflower and the Daisy and the Sunflower, along with all their seasonal contemporaries, come and go in the relative blink of an eye. The late-august chill appears overnight and the hardy Mum takes us all the way to the end of fall. But let’s pump the proverbial brakes for now and enjoy the month of June.

 It’ll be July soon enough and January just eight minutes later. I’ll try to remember the trees, full and green, and the birds talking back and forth. I’ll try to remember all the yellows and purples and reds that don’t exist in the wintertime and I’ll find it almost impossible to do. I’ll love the first snowfall with every branch covered in white and the muffled silence of a blue winter evening. I’ll be good for a while. And when March comes in and I begin to tire of it all. I’ll picture those little bulbs deep down under the snow and earth beginning to stir. I’ll be just like them: patient and humble, Ready again for glory of radical change, and the good fortune of the month of June.