Friday, August 6, 2010

On the Ephemeral

Peace bells toll, recall
the flash of light that erased
traces of being.

Flowers, like life itself, have a way of escaping us. Their ephemeral beauty unfurls before our eyes, captivates the passer-by, and in an instant disappears.

I refer not to seasonal displays of a continual succession of blooms, a veritable florid parade, that all gardeners strive to create (save for those who are most easily seduced when creating their gardens and just happen, by accident of exuberance, to purchase plants that flower at that particular time). From the early spring bloomers—the tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, paper white—to the mid to late spring rhododendrons, peonies, and irises; from the unfolding of the myriad summer blooms, to the autumnal delights of the asters, chrysanthemums, camellias, and Sedum Autumn Joy (though mine, exemplary of 2010’s acceleration of time—August heat in June!—is already in full bloom), we delight in the ephemeral displays as the mutable palette of the garden (spring pastels give way to the intensity of summer flowers and soon to the more muted, autumnal burnt colors) offers new vistas, captures seasonal light in peculiar sorts of ways, and permits us to feel the existence and passing of each season (something we really no longer do in our air conditioned cars and offices, carried away by the rhythms of a non-agrarian work life).

Rather, I refer to the more specific, technical sense of ephemeral as captured by the word’s Greek origins: epi (on) and hemera (day).

I have two plants whose ephemerality arrests: Golden Kate Spiderwort (Tradescantia x andersoniana) in the partial sun section of my shade garden, and Blaze Starr Rose Mallow (Hibiscus coccineus) in the sun garden.

Golden Kate is a lovely, delicate, yet hardy addition to the garden. Her tri-petaled purple flowers with bright yellow stamens are set off by chartreuse flowing leaves that positively glow in the sunlight (though be warned: she does not like much sun).

I've written on several occasions about Rose Mallow, but never about her flowers as she has only recently begin to expose herself fully to the world. Her large, palm-sized plus flowers spend the early morning emerging from their paper-thin green sheaves; by mid-morning, they appear as fuschia teacups with deep-red waxy interiors; and by late afternoon they fully unfurl such that their green sheaves look like exploding five point stars set behind deep red petals which invariably accentuate the burgundy colored stalks.      

This is not to say they only bloom on one day of the year and, should you happen to be on vacation or at the store, you miss their spectacular showing and are all the poorer for it. No. Each flower lasts one day, but the plant rewards or compensates as it were by producing a succession of blossoms.

Though a garden is ephemeral in the generic sense, a garden needs ephemeral plants in the technical sense. Somehow, they heighten our anticipation, awaken our senses of the unexpected, and allow us to appreciate the simple yet profound joys of nature.

Written in memory of all those whose lives vanished with, and whose lives were irreversibly affected by, that ephemeral flash of light on 6 August 1945, and again on 9 August 1945


  1. Wow! I have just spent the most enjoyable hour on your blog. Thank you! Your comments on your very first entry about the world of blogging made me nod in agreement and laugh out loud! Kudos! I will be back for more.

  2. Thank you, Beth, both for reading and for your comment!