At Random: Plant leads to thoughts of spring

Last month, as morning marched toward noon, I could feel the day simmering into a slow boil of hurry and worry. I had answered some early deadlines, and was heading to a lunchtime medical appointment, my son’s science fair, then a return trip to the office to finish my work. I quietly wondered how everything would get done.

That’s when I saw master gardener Margaret Hawkins in my office lobby. Margaret had come for an impromptu visit, and as usual, she was bearing gifts.

“This is for you,” she said, pressing a small container of tiny, salmon-colored flowers into my hand.

I was holding a pot of limonium arborescens, also known as statice, which “The Southern Living Garden Book” gives yet another name, sea lavender.

Each blossom was small, about the size of a gemstone in an engagement ring. The massing of miniature flowers reminded me of gypsophila, or baby’s breath, which has those pea-size blooms so often used in floral arrangements.

Both Southern Living and Margaret mentioned that statice, like baby’s breath, can be dried and used in bouquets.

As a bonus, Margaret also gave me a cutting of a High Fragrance camellia wrapped in wet tissue. As the name suggests, the blossom gave off a strong, rosy scent, as if the first gust of spring had suddenly tickled my nostrils.

Being presented with a plant in the middle of a hectic Wednesday took my afternoon in a different direction. The urgency of the day’s demands receded as I thought instead about the two words written on the plastic label of the statice, “full sun.” The phrase was meant as a planting direction, but it seemed like a promise, too. Winter is giving way to a milder time, when the light is more constant, the air warmer, the ground greener. The season of full sun is almost upon us.

That prospect seemed clear enough as I headed to the parking lot with the statice cradled in one hand, the camellia bloom in the other. The noon sky was cloudless and bright, and as an old bald guy with flowers in front of me, I looked like the world’s homeliest homecoming queen.

A few feet ahead, I saw a woman approaching, although she didn’t yet see me. Her head faced down as she scrolled her mobile phone, combing through messages like a triage nurse who was considering, with furrowed brow, which crisis to answer first.

But she looked up eventually, and as she noticed the flowers I was hauling to my car, her eyes lightened, and a smile broke across her face.

She was no longer someone simply tunneling through a work shift, but had instead become a private witness to beauty, color and the possibilities of a tender garden plant at the close of February.

It’s for moments like this that gardeners go out at this time of year, and begin to dream about what will happen next.