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Everlasting Summer TEXT NANCY M. KENDALL


ally invited me to her house on the Maine coast in the fall, after she had picked her pumpkins and flung the vines over the fence. I call her Barefoot Sally because she’s always without shoes or socks. “We’re going to make wreaths today,” she said cheerfully over the phone. “I’ve got all the fixings.” She wasn’t talking about those fragrant, weighty Christmas wreaths. She meant the sublime driedflower creations that spring from garden plants that have died back and dried out, what horticulturists call “everlastings.” Those wreaths have always been the ones that scare me most. They look so delicate and unforgiving to hands like mine, accustomed to ropes of balsam and fir. But I said, “Sure, Sal. I’ll give it a try.” Before I left, words from Carl Jung whispered to me: “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct … The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” A burning bush was just coming into its flaming glory beside Sally’s house. It looked like an autumn bonfire. Her porch sits on a hillside; the wide-paned windows offer us wreath-makers a full view of the blue, endless sparkle of the ocean. Sally swears the sea breezes improve the raspberry color of her statice and yarrow. Her hydrangeas turn from white to pink to mauve, and her blue ones darken to a deep purple shade. All because of the cool, salt air, she claims. “And you’ve only got a window of a few days after a frost to get them at their best.” Sally has spent the last few weeks picking through her garden, snipping stalks, and filling boxes, baskets, and bags. The best dried flowers are those picked when the weather is dry and the morning dew is gone from the blossoms. Damp, foggy days are the bane of wreath-making. If you live on the coast, you’d better be outside picking once the fog rolls out. Sally had cut and suspended whatever plants and weeds had color and hung them in bunches upside down from the porch rafters, where they enjoyed the dancing play of light and shadow. You only hang flowers in small bunches, she advises. That way, all the cuttings can breathe. In the world

97 Victoria October 2017

of dried flowers, weeds and garden plants have equal status on the artist’s palette. Hanging from Sally’s porch rafters this year were rows of purples, blues, and lavender. Gold tansy, yarrow, and glorious black-eyed Susans gilded the canopy. I caught my breath as I looked upward at the variety of colors and textures forming a tapestry on high; it was like looking at the trembling points of color in a Monet painting. These flowers may preserve their color and form for as many as forty years, they say. What she could not hang, she placed carefully in baskets. Hydrangeas with their creamy, delicate petals rested in a large, wooden crate in a corner of the porch. The floor of the workshop was covered with faintly crushed greenery and twiggy clippings from our shears. They didn’t bother Sally’s feet one bit. On a large wooden table were playful boxes and bags of summer memories: rosebuds, spruce cones, rosehips, pepper berries, birch bark, and seedpods. A good wreath-maker collects all year, Sally says. By early afternoon, I was driving out of her yard with the best of the preserved world beside me from a garden that grows near the sea. Compared to my last year’s wreath, which I made by my own devices, this year’s was just short of a masterpiece. On a simple circle of willow, I managed to work in some blue globe thistle, ten broad lemon leaves, ivory rosebuds, and a wonderful, pale green eucalyptus. I thought it was a stunning accomplishment for my second dried wreath. As soon as he walked into the house that evening, my husband politely commented on my new addition to the entranceway. He was kind. He remembered last year’s wreath. Hanging from a beam were a variety of grasses from a nearby hayfield, a ragged bunch of cattails, snowy white hydrangeas, and a good-sized clump of black-eyed Susans. “What’s this?” he asked. I was eager to show off what I had learned at Sally’s house—a summer that never fades. “Oh, didn’t I tell you?” I replied, fluttering my eyes upward to my floral canopy. “Monet’s having dinner with us tonight.”

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