As a child, I was given a small red poppy on the Sunday before Memorial Day during Sunday school. I wore that little plastic poppy all day Monday proudly. My grandfather explained to me the significance of the poppy and why there was such a thing as memorial day. I recall seeing veterans marching in a parade and each had a red poppy just like mine attached to their lapel.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 26, 2008. It is republished on Veterans Day as a tribute.)
Beginning this growing season I have opted to seek out plants and flowers that have a story attached to them. Whether it is a heartwarming story of love and compassion or one of antiquity, I am keen on filling more and more areas of the garden with plants and flowers that seem to have something to say. Considering today is Memorial Day, I am pleased to share with you one such discovery of a beautiful flower that has such meaning and offers a glimpse of why this day is set aside for remembrance.
It all started last Wednesday when I received a visit at work. I am a Business Administrator for a church and on any given day I can receive many visitors. My visitors are wonderful, kind spirited, giving, older ladies that love to bring me things. Because of my passion for gardening, I often receive seeds, cut flowers, cuttings and the like. These thoughtful gifts are usually accompanied by a cake, pie, cookies, brownies or something similar. Quite a lovely perk wouldn't you say? Well, this past Wednesday I was brought something very special. I was given a small silk "Buddy Poppy" to be worn on Memorial Day.
Memories started rushing back and I recalled vividly Memorial Days from early childhood. During Sunday school before Memorial Day all of the kids were given small plastic versions of the "Buddy Poppy". I remember showing my grandpa and he sat me on his lap and told me the story of why these little flowers were important. I will never forget his words and that is why this recent gift means so much.
For those of you that do not know, these artificial poppies are modeled after the poppies that were growing wild in what was once known as the County of Flanders. During World War I, this county did not actually exist but was used to describe the geographic region where some of the most intense fighting took place. It was here that a Canadian man named Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields" to express the pain he felt after witnessing the death of his friend.
Here is the poem that he wrote:
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
~ John McCrae
Though I was told most of this story as a child, I now have a much deeper and emotional understanding of why we have a Memorial Day. While conducting my research for this article I have learned so much. More than there is room for. I am so very grateful to the kind hearted parishioner who brought me the little poppy last Wednesday because it made me stop for a moment and remember.
Life is incredibly busy - too busy it seems. That is why we garden isn't it? In our garden we can a take a break from all that busyness and reflect. We can contemplate and take a moment to regroup and reevaluate what is truly important.
This Memorial Day I shall once again wear my little red poppy proudly. As I sit in my garden I shall say a quiet thank you to those who have died to preserve so much we take for granted.
As I bring this article to an end I am pleased that I have placed an order for seeds of yet another flower that tells a story - a very important story. Considering I live in Arizona my little patch of "Flanders Poppies" will most likely not be in bloom on Memorial Day next year but in the late winter or early spring as they show their gorgeous red faces I will once again remember and say another quiet thank you.
It is worth noting that we are not the only country that uses the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance of those lost in war. Depending on what country you live in, the day could be referred to as "Remembrance Day" or "Armistice Day" and artificial poppies are used to decorate memorials, wreaths, etc.
I am an old fashioned gardener. To me nothing is finer than the romantic cottage gardens. The colours and forms create a symphony to delight all the senses. I love to tell a good story and my garden provides my inspiration. I am blessed to have such a beautiful son and I enjoy teaching him to love and appreciate the goodness, peace and fulfillment tending a garden can bring. Finally, I shall be forever grateful to Alan Titchmarsh for inspiring me to get out there and make something out of a little bit of earth.