Going through the list of items from the "How to build community poster," I knew there would be a couple of easy ones. Today I'll pick "Plant flowers."
When we installed the orchard I knew the trees and shrubs would eventually flower in spring, bear fruit in fall and add winter interest under the snow. As with most new construction, the orchard started out drab and sparse. When I sowed the groundcover clover seeds, I mixed in a variety of marigold and zinnia seeds, wishing them well as they fluttered to the ground, and hoping at least some would germinate on their own.
The terrace, as we call the strip between the sidewalk and the street here in Madison, was also a barren canvas on which to plant some flowers, and I threw down several packets of perennial seed mixes with the hope that a few would germinate and show some summertime color.
And then there are the alyssum plants that my neighbor added to our front yard orchard. I planted them at the bottom of the driveway and they grew into wonderful pillows of white and purple flowers.
That summer, many marigold and zinnia seeds germinated and flowered, and the orchard was a riot of color for several months. The terrace seeds also germinated and are now a perennial source of beauty and pollen where in the past there was nothing but grass.
So how does planting flowers build community? I think there's a number of ways flowers add to a neighborhood. The first is it slows people down. I think that flowers can soften the hardest of hearts and slow down the fastest drivers, even if for a brief glance upon their soft and delicate aspect.
I think planting flowers shows passersby that this is a place where the owner respects not only the soil but the neighborhood, the bees and all other things that benefit from beauty. Is it possible that it's more difficult to throw trash among flowers than upon bare soil or a gravel lot?
Flowers, or anything beautiful for that matter, offer something to talk about. "What is that flower?," or "Have you smelled of this one?" I think children are innately curious about the beauty of flowers and we can all (re)learn to stop and smell them once in a while.
Flowers also add diversity to the landscape, in my case, breaking up patch after patch of mown grass, adding some height, some color, some scent, home to insects and refuge for birds.
But most of all, I think flowers offers refuge for the human mind to land on and pause and wonder, for just a moment, at the beauty of a plant that comes from a seed to become a flower for all to enjoy, even if just for that moment it's looked at.